Friday, May 28, 2010

Vegetarian Nutrition for Your Whole LIfe

I am honored to be able to join four of my favorite dietitian bloggers at the Food for Your Whole Life Symposium in next weekend, where we will be live blogging and tweeting. Corinne, Janel, Lindsay, Jess are so excited to see the entire line-up of amazing health and nutrition professionals.:Dr. Oz, Brain Wansink,Mollie Katzen, Michael Roizen, David Katz, Roger Clemens, Karen Collins RD, Keri Gans RD, James Joseph, Petra Kolber, Joan Sabate, and Elisa Zied RD.

For the past two month's we've been posting on a variety of nutrition/healthy living topics that cover the entire life span on the official conference blog. Check out what’s already been written about here, and follow each of our blogs for updates on posts.

I decided to highlight the Hows and Whys of Vegetarian Nutrition in my post. You can see it here or I have attached it below!

There are many reasons for why one decides to become a vegetarian or vegan. Maybe you don’t like the idea of having to kill animals for sustenance, you want to be more environmentally friendly, or you are looking to improve your diet. Whatever the reason, you’re definitely not alone. More than 5 million Americans are vegetarian[1] and these people are not all tree-hugging, dreadlocked hippies! Maybe you have heard of Alicia Silverstone and Tobey Maguire, even Aristotle and Einstein! I personally believe strongly in the power of a plant-based diet. I have been vegan for more than a year and a half, and vegetarian for many years before that. I ran my first marathon on an entirely plant based diet, and find my energy levels drastically increased when eating this way. But don’t just take my or anyone else’s word for it. As a nutrition student I strongly believe in the importance of scientific proof to back up nutritional claims. Before you decide whether this diet is right for you, it’s important to arm yourself with some facts! While a simple Google Search will find you bundles of information, I’ve outlined some of the Whys and Hows of vegetarian nutrition just for you!


For Your Health The typical vegetarian diet includes lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals when compared to the Average American diet, and this has been shown to reduce the likelihood of having chronic diseases. Vegetarians also appear to have lower LDL (Bad) cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension.[2] Vegetarians are also at a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes.[3] Studies have found that diets high in fruits in vegetables may reduce cancer risk, while a meat heavy diet increases the risk of certain cancers. [4] Plant foods contain many beneficial compounds that, by acting through multiple mechanisms, provide protection against heart disease. [5] Vegetarians have been shown to have a 24% lower risk of dying of heart disease than non-vegetarians.[6]While you don’t have to be sickly thin to be a vegan or vegetarian, people with these diets usually have lower body weights and BMIs.[7] With over 2/3 of Americans either overweight or obese, this is welcome news to the healthcare community. Obesity is associated with many chronic disease, mainly, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of cancer.

For the Planet’s Health: Vegetarian diets are also usually LOW CARBON diets. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide, even more than transportation![8]Livestock production also takes a significant toll on natural habitats, and in large scale operations can render much of the landscape barren.[9] Growing plants also uses less water than livestock need. While an estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound. [10]Plant-based protein also requires 1/20th of the fossil fuel energy needed to produce beef! By reducing meat consumption, we can help to cut our fossil fuel demand


But What am I going to eat? There’s a whole bounty of foods to choose from! Nuts, Grains, Fruit, Vegetables, and Beans are the basis of vegan diets, and vegetarians also eat dairy and eggs. These foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals, to protect you from cancer and heart disease. If you find that you are missing sausage in the morning, there are also many faux meat products to choose from. I much prefer Tofu scrambles to egg whites, any day! Instead of looking at this as an EXclusion diet, think of it rather as an INclusion diet-have you ever tried green chickpeas or Romanesco cauliflower? Browse the produce section of your grocery store and pick out something new to try this week!

What About Protein? This is hands down the most common question any vegetarian will ever receive, and ultimately of very little concern. The American Dietetic Association [11]A recommends that healthy Americans get around .4 g of protein for every pound of body weight. For a woman who weighs 150 lbs that is 60 g of protein. A common misconception is that meat is the only source of protein. Quite the contrary-in fact only fruits and oils have no protein. Beans, Nuts, and Grains are great sources of protein in a vegetarian diet. 1 cup of chickpeas provides 18g of protein (1/3 of our example’s needs) and 1 oz of walnuts (about 14 halves) has 4g of protein. Plant proteins also provide many other nutrients. Those walnuts are also an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, needed for heart and brain health.

Myth: I can’t cook, and I won’t be able to eat out with my friends ever again! Contrary to popular belief, all vegetarians do not have to sit alone at their kitchen table with a plate-full of iceberg lettuce. Due to the increased popularity of meat-free diets, almost all restaurants now offer a wide-array of vegetarian dishes! Don’t be afraid to ask your waitress if special accommodations can be made. Pepperoni can easily be held on a pizza, and Cesar salads are perfectly fine without the chicken. Certain cuisines are very vegetarian friendly-try Indian or Asian! Invite your friends to dinner at your house to highlight some fine vegetarian cooking. Besides the plethora of cookbooks you will find in your local bookstore, the internet is a cornucopia of great vegetarian and vegan recipes! Some of my favorites are,

Do I need to supplement my diet with a multivitamin? If you are eating a well-balanced healthy diet, then you have very little be concerned about. The two nutrients that cause strict vegetarian and vegans are Iron, Calcium and B12. Incorporating fortified soy milk, and whole grain cereals in the diet will help insure these needs are being met.

Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables! Even though you are no longer eating meat, you cannot eat all junk food! Just because oreos and potato chips are vegan, doesn’t mean they should be eaten every day. A diet of soda and Doritos is not a healthy diet, vegetarian or not. Remember the root of the word vegetarian, and eat your fruits and vegetables. Try to get 5-9 servings of both each day. Before you get scared away from that number-incorporate 1 piece of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables with every meal, and have two pieces of fruit as a snack every day!

Whether you’re a carnivore, omnivore, flexitarian, pescetarian, or locavore, everyone can incorporate more vegetarian meals in their life! Join many cities and people around the country and try implementing “Meatless Mondays” in your life. Set aside just one day a week to be vegetarian.

A well-planned vegetarian diet is healthy for all stages of the life cycle, from pregnancy, through adulthood, and appropriate for athletes. If you incorporate a wide range of whole, plant-based foods within your diet, these foods may provide health benefits in the prevention of certain chronic diseases. You can also sleep well at night, knowing you have lessened your impact on the environmental degradation and needless animal suffering. While I strongly believe that everyone should find the diet and lifestyle that best suits them, I hope you will consider some of the benefits of a plant-based diet, and join us at least once a week!


[1] Craig, WJ., Mangels, AR, Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION July 2009 Volume 109 Number 7 p. 1266-1282.

[2] See 1.

[3] Tonstad, S, Butler, T, Yan, R, Fraser, G. “Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care May 2009 vol. 32 no. 5 791-796

[4] Cross AJ, Leitzmann MF, Gail MH, Hollenbeck AR, Schatzkin A, et al. (2007) A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk. PLoS Med 4(12): e325.

[5]Rao, V, Al-Weshahy A. “Plant-based diets and contol of lipids and coronary heart disease risk.” Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2008 Dec;10(6):478-85

[6] Key TJ, Fraser GE, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, Beral V, Reeves G, Burr ML, Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Kuzma JW, Mann J, McPherson K (1998). “Mortality in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: a collaborative analysis of 8300 deaths among 76,000 men and women in five prospective studies.”. Public Health Nutr 1 (1): 33-41. PMID 10555529.

[7] Newby, PK, Tucker, KL, Wolk, A. “Risk of overweight and obesity among semivegetarian, lactovegetarian, and vegan women.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 81, No. 6, 1267-1274, June 2005.

[8] Steinfeld, H. e al. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture organization of the UN. Rome 2006.

[9] Marlow, HJ, et el. “Diet and the environment: does what you eat

matter?American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 89 (5): 1699S. (2009)

[10] Kreith, M. “Water Inputs in California Food Production.” Water Education Foundation. 1991.


Are you vegetarian or Vegan? Are you willing to reduce your meat consumption for your own health and the health of the planent? I don't believe we all have to be militant, and that even going meat free for a day a week is a step in the right direction. Animal products should be looked at as special treats or sides to a meal, with plant-based food forming a strong foundation.


Jess said...

I read this on the FFYWL blog yesterday and thought it was excellent! I liked that you encouraged what to INCLUDE in the diet vs. EXCLUDE. I used to get Romanesco cauliflower all the time when I lived in SF, but have yet to find it here! Maybe I'll grow some in my garden this year... :-)

So excited for NY!

Rachel said...

Wow, thanks for the comprehensive info on this post! I rarely buy beef, and usually stick to tofu and chicken. Actually, my newest conquest is cooking dried beans (I used to only use canned)! Thanks for your comment on my sushi post. We need to plan a sushi partay!!

Mariel BOOM said...

Very comprehensive! When is your book coming out? I love you inclusive report. Although I don't eat a lot of meat I have decided not to go veggie for a number of reasons, my goal this summer is to start buying local meats on a more consistent basis and suck it up and pay the extra money for organic/free range milk and eggs (already eat organic yogurt), because I think it's really important to support those industries

Ricki said...

Great post, Elizabeth. And how exciting to be at the health symposium with all those revered experts! Hope you have a fabulous time. :)

landanimal said...

Great post! I love all the citations. Wonderful wonderful :)