Vegetarianism, the Food Trend That’s Here to Stay?

Vegetarianism, the Food Trend That’s Here to Stay?

Leigh-Anne Wooten MS, RDN/LDN, FAND, LSS BB

Registered Dietitian

 

Vegetarian.  Flexitarian.  Vegan.  Pescatarian.  Veg-curious (yep, that’s actually a thing).  There’s quite a spectrum of vegetarians and while motivations may be different; health, performance, trendy, longevity, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, they all revolve around one main theme: eating more plants and fewer animals.  So, if you’re veg curious, let’s dive in and see if all the hype around this latest food trend is really warranted.

Myth Busting Time!

We’ll start by busting a few common misconceptions about a vegetarian diet.

  • You can’t get enough nutrients. People may be surprised to know that if planned properly, you can get all the nutrients you need through plants.  It all comes down to ensuring there is enough variety as each seed, nut, legume, fruit and veg all bring a unique combination of nutrients to the table.  For example, chia seeds are loaded with not only healthy omega-3 fats, protein, and fiber but are also packed with minerals like manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, iron and magnesium, and calcium. 
  • There’s not enough protein. I hear this one a lot.  First, most Americans eat significantly more protein than they need in a day.  Second, you absolutely can get enough protein on even the strictest of vegetarian diets.  And finally, protein is hiding in almost all plants – even ones you wouldn’t think of like oats (5 grams in ½ cup), lima beans (6 grams in ½ cup), chia seeds (5 grams in 2 Tbsp), and spinach (5g in 1 cup).  The list goes on and on.
  • Vegetarian = healthy. This one can be confusing, but you can easily go down one of two paths while being vegetarian, healthy and not quite so healthy.  Someone could eat cookies, chips, and French fries all day and while that qualifies as vegetarian, it is not considered a long-term healthy eating plan.  Further, there are a lot of foods out there marketed as “plant-based” but are still loaded with added sugar, salt, and/or saturated fat.  Learning how to read a nutrition facts panel is a great first step in weeding through the options.

 

The Benefits

According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “a properly planned vegetarian diet is healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provides health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”  Simple as that!

 

You may be asking yourself, what is a ‘properly planned’ vegetarian diet?  That basically means that you focus on variety, emphasize eating real plants, and minimize added sugar, salt, and saturated fat.  And how does eating more plants support my health?  When done right, this way of eating reduces saturated fat and cholesterol (which in high enough amounts can promote a host of health issues) and replaces them with plants that are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants all of which support our body’s long-term health in their own unique ways. 

 

As an example, let’s look at just a few of the (many) nutrients in chia: 

  • Omega-3 fat supports heart health, aids in brain and eye development, and helps decrease chronic inflammation among other things.
  • Antioxidants fight the production of free radicals that can damage cell molecules and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer.  

SOW even has a chia milk which basically delivers all of these nutrients in the form of a drink!  Plus, its enriched with vitamins A, D, and E, three nutrients found traditionally in cow’s milk that are important for bone and tooth health, as well as having anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties that support immune health, muscle function and brain cell activity.

 

Will You Give it a Try?

Making a big change, like reducing the amount of animal-based foods you eat, can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be.  Do what fits your lifestyle and personality.  Are you a “go big or go home” kind of person?  Then maybe you take the plunge!  Do a little research, decide what your motivators are (health, environmental sustainability, animal welfare etc.) and get the veg party started!  Or, maybe you’re more of a “dip the toe in the water” kind of person.  That’s cool!  Perhaps you start with one meal a week like a Meatless Monday.  Here are a couple amazing recipes that utilize chia milk to get you started: forever green smoothie, pink refresh smoothie and spicy pumpkin chia soup. Added bonus of using this milk?  It’s substantially smaller carbon footprint - a win for you AND the planet!


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