Whether you are thinking of converting to a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle or have been eating all “veg” your entire life, there are some pitfalls that a majority fall into when eating a mostly plant based diet. Although we all like to think that by avoiding eating animal protein is better for us, it is easy to find yourself void of essential nutrients and even adopting unhealthy eating habits that are putting you at a greater risk for suffering than the animals you are saving.
Although I am not a fan of labeling the way anyone eats, it beneficial to explain the general difference between vegetarian and vegan.
Vegetarian: typically avoid animal meat of all kinds including fish. They may eat milk and eggs-food that an animal is not sacrificed for but creates as “gifts”.
Vegan: does not consume or use any food/beverage/product that either contains or is produces by any animals (including bees). This includes milk, cheese, eggs, honey, bee pollen, leather, fur and fish oil.
Ironically, both titles include veg, insinuating that it is mostly about vegetation ie. fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, that is usually the area that sees the littlest love in the weeniest amounts in any diet.
Regardless if your reason to eat this way is for optimal physical fitness, allergies, animal rights or conscious of mind and the environment, it is imperative that you don’t find yourself saving the life of an animal but sacrificing your own. Below I have listed the most common pitfalls that many veg pros find themselves in and also, some key tips to doing it veg style successfully.
TIME TO CHECK YO’SELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YO’SELF.
Do you fall under any of the following categories?
THE CARB-TARIAN: When removing some or all animal protein from your diet, it is common to overdo it when it comes to the bread basket, mashed potatoes or pasta dish. Eating high levels of grains/carbs including bread, pasta, cereal, cakes, bagels, pancakes, granolas etc. is not good for you. First off, these foods are HIGHLY INFLAMMATORY, meaning they cause inflammation, stiffness, sluggishness and even weight gain.
THE DAIRY-TARIAN: This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue for vegans but is something that many vegetarians rely on for what they consider their calcium and protein source. Unfortunately, the only dairy we have available to many of us is pasteurized, void of enzymes/nutrients necessary for proper digestion and full of hormones. The only dairy I really suggest is raw, unpasteurized cheese, primarily from goats. Check out more about the effects of dairy.
THE TOFU-TARIAN: Tofu turkeys, tofutti cream cheese and tofu hot dogs seem to answer the longing cries for meat flavored substitutes. The truth is folks, soy is not good for you. Not only can it mess with your hormones, but it is one of the most inflammatory foods, is CHEAP for manufacturers to use in EVERYTHING and is one of the HIGHEST GMO FOODS out there. Regardless if it is soy milk or tofu, you really want to avoid it as much as possible. The only soy I recommend is fermented soy such as miso and tempeh.
THE JUNK-TARIAN: Swedish fish, gummy bears and Goldfish crackers are actually more detrimental to your body as the animals they are named after. Unfortunately, junk and fast food like french fries and soda find themselves in the PETA loving hands of many vegetarians/vegans. These foods are filled with hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, loads of sugar and refined grains. Just because it is animal-free, doesn’t make it crappy ingredient free. READ YOUR LABELS.
THE PEANUT BUTTER-TARIAN: Although nuts are a great sources of protein, healthy fat and other nutrients, peanuts are actually considered a legume. Not that big of a deal breaker but they are one of the most susceptible foods for rancidity and are inflammatory. Opt for organic almond, cashew or walnut butter to increase your health. If you must have peanut butter, ALWAYS BUY ORGANIC AND PREFERABLY FRESHLY GROUND.
THE PIZZA-TARIAN: Although the fuel source for the Ninja Turtles, this is NOT A FOOD GROUP. Many vegetarians (or most people in that case) find themselves relying on cheese pizza for a majority of meals. If you are confused at why this is not a good thing, please revisit the first two pitfalls.
Now, I am all about indulging in some kick ass ‘za from a quality place with quality organic ingredients (Transfer offers a gluten free crust and Whole Foods has the best organic pizza out there although not gluten free). There are great gluten free crusts you can buy and make your own at home opening up a whole new level of options and flavors for your mouth to explore.
SO WHAT THE F$#% DOES ONE EAT?
Eating vegetarian or vegan successfully is definitely possible but it does take some proper planning and awareness. Many people will feel lighter, more regular (yes, on the toilet) and even experience a sense of calm or peace.
Even if you are not a vegetarian nor plan to ever become one, I suggest you try going veg for at least one day of the week to give your body (especially your colon) a break from digesting heavier proteins.
The following foods should be considered to make an appearance in all diets to achieve that level of awesomeness we are all striving for. Of course, if there is an apparent allergy, I would not suggest consuming them.
VITAL VEG SUPER FOODS:
- B12 (with methylcobalamin): IMPORTANT NUTRIENT THAT YOU MUST SUPPLEMENT WITH. B12 is directly associated with the nervous system and is a nutrient that many vegetarian/vegans are deficient in. Don’t become that crazy vegetarian, TAKE YOUR B12.
- Vitamin D3: Known as the sunshine drug (with ample reason), most people get their daily dose from the sun. However, especially during the winter months, our Vitamin D3 intake is seriously low. If you eat farm fresh, grass fed eggs, you are getting some sunshine goodness from that. Otherwise, be sure to get your D3 in on the daily. Aim anywhere from 3500-6000mg a day with food.
- Iron: This is especially important for the ladies. Iron deficiencies (anemia falls under this), can affect your energy, menstrual cycle and overall vitality. Great food sources are commonly found in most animal proteins such as red meat and oysters. However, you can find iron in pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, pistachios, apricots, kidney beans and blackstrap molasses. Eat these iron rich foods with broccoli, brussel sprouts, strawberries, oranges, white wine, and red pepper to increase iron absorption. Coffee, tea, swiss chard, isolated soy protein and red wine decrease the body’s ability to absorb iron so be sure to eat separate when pumping iron;)
- Chia: These little birdseed looking beauties used to frequent the pockets of Aztec runners for energy and stamina. They have superhero anti-inflammatory abilities and kick flax’s butt when it comes to their stability (meaning they don’t go rancid) and digestibility.
- Nut Milks: Ease your dairy woes by drinking organic unsweetened (or homemade) nut milks such as almond and hemp. Coconut milk is a great substitute as well.
- VEGETABLES/FRUIT: Sounds pretty obvious but this is the area we all struggle with. Visit your local produce section of the grocery store and dabble in some foreign veg. Experiment with roasting, sautéing, salads, soups, and smoothies. Add raw to roasted, blended to blanched. Throw together your favorite salad dressing and get chomping.
REGARDLESS OF WHAT DIET YOU FOLLOW, 60-75% OF THE FOOD ON YOUR PLATE SHOULD COME FROM VEGETATION, WITH THE MAJORITY BEING FROM VEGETABLES.
KICK ASS PROTEIN SOURCES:
- Hemp Seeds: These nutty nuggets are an excellent source of protein (16g in only 3 tbsp), are easier to digest than most proteins and provide high levels of Omega 3s. Due to its wide range of amino acids and beautifully balanced EFAs (essential fatty acids), hemp seeds are a key ingredient to getting your protein on. Add them to smoothies, salads, soups and even in a mocha fit for a superhero.
- Quinoa: SUPER GRAIN to the gods that is actually more like a root veg than a grain, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WHA), is a complete protein. Make sure to rinse these grains before cooking and use it in place of pasta or rice. Can be served savory or sweet. Check out my kicking recipes for more ideas.
- Spirulina: The highest source of protein found in nature (60%), spirulina is a blue-green algae that contains all essential amino acids and is highly bio available. Add it to your smoothies and even juices. This is VEGAN approved.
- Lentils/Beans: Due make sure to buy these fresh and soak them overnight before cooking to make them more digestible and less farty. Add them to salads or make them into a veggie chili that the biggest of meat eaters will drool over.
- Goji Berries: Considered a super food by many, these little red beauties are not only a complete protein but are abundant in nutrients such as multiple B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium and a boatload of other trace minerals.
- Avocado: As a personal favorite that finds itself on my plate quite frequently during these chillier months, I find it amazing that an avocado has more available protein than a medium steak. Crazy, huh? Avocado is rich in EFAs and is also a complete food due to its balance of healthy carbs, fats and protein.
- Green Vegetables: Although there are sources of protein in most green vegetables, you need to make sure to eat a lot of them and preferably paired with healthy oils to make their nutrients more available for your body to absorb. Kale, broccoli, spinach, watercress, romaine, frisse, dandelion greens, mustard greens, collard greens, celery, cucumber, you get the picture. EAT THEM!
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