A Closer Look at the Vegetarian Diet

The second installment of the series on eating patterns is about the Vegetarian Diet. Last month, we explored the Vegan diet, and learned that while it’s rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, there are definite nutritional considerations related to the lack of animal products in the diet, such as protein and vitamin B12. Vegetarians eat similarly to vegans, but include animal products such as dairy and eggs, and avoid meat and poultry.

Vegetarianism: Ranked number 11 (out of 41) by the U.S. News and World Report Best Diet report, the Vegetarian diet is both a familiar eating pattern and one that encourages increased plant consumption. Most vegetarians can be referred to as ‘lacto-ovo vegetarians,’ as they include both dairy and eggs in their diets. Some vegetarians may exclude dairy (‘ovo-vegetarians’) or eggs (lacto-vegetarians), and some include fish (pescatarians). The vegetarian diet is high in fruits, vegetables and legumes (beans), which are a source of protein. Participating in ‘Meatless Monday’ can be an easy way to experiment with the diet, and gradually increasing the number of meatless meals per week is one way to transition to a vegetarian style of eating. While buying more fresh produce may be pricey, the grocery budget should balance out by not buying meat, which is often the most expensive item in the store.

Nutritional Considerations: Because vegetarians include animal products like diary and eggs, meeting daily protein needs isn’t especially difficult. An ideal vegetarian diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as sources of protein such as milk, yogurt and eggs. However, there are lots of processed and less-healthy ‘vegetarian’ options as well, like French fries and breakfast pastries, that don’t have a lot of nutritional value. Whole grains also supply many vitamins, minerals, fiber and even some protein, and should not be excluded from a vegetarian diet.

Target Audience: Those who dislike meat or want to avoid it due to ethical reasons. Some vegetarians believe a plant-based diet lowers your risk of cancer or heart disease, but studies have not yet revealed significant results. While eating a vegetarian diet isn’t difficult, it does take time to plan and prepare meals at home. Almost all restaurants have vegetarian options on the menu, so eating out is easy. Some vegetarians like to eat meat-like products, such as burgers made out of black beans or chicken nuggets made from soy. Others prefer to skip meat substitutes and simply get their protein needs met through beans, dairy, and eggs.

Foods to Highlight: Vegetarians do need to be cognizant of meeting their protein needs as they avoid meat. Good sources of protein for vegetarians include eggs (7 grams per egg), dairy (8 grams protein per cup of milk) and cheese (approx. 7 grams per ounce, approx. 5 grams per slice).   Non-animal sources of protein include beans, nuts and grains, such as edamame, almonds and quinoa, respectively. Protein powder (approx. 18-22 grams per serving) is a nice choice to add to smoothies to up protein intake at a meal or snack.

Holly R. Layer is a Registered Dietitian and a freelance writer.  She teaches fitness classes at the Southtowns YMCA and leads nutrition tours at the East Aurora Cooperative Market.  She lives in the village with her husband, Andrew, an East Aurora native. She blogs at www.thehealthypineapple.com. Questions can be emailed to Holly at eanews@eastaurorany.com. 

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