How to be a Healthy Vegetarian/ Vegan
70% or more of your diet:
Fruits and vegetables, fresh and unprocessed
30% of your diet
Wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy.
For optimal gut and overall health eat
45+ varieties of plant-based foods each week.
This includes different varieties and colours of fruits (eg black and green grapes), vegetables (purple and orange carrots), sprouts, a variety of grains (such as quinoa, brown rice and rye), different legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans), nuts and seeds, seaweeds, herbs and spices, and plant-based food supplements such as spirulina and barley grass juice powder.
Eat plenty of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables
for iron, calcium and other phytonutrients. They are powerhouses of nutrition!
Eat whole fruit as your main snack and dessert. Raw nuts too.
Fruits are full of so many different antioxidants, flavanoids, Vit C, fibre, anthocyanins, miconutrients, vitamins and minerals. The fibre stops the sugar in them from upsetting your blood sugar. It’s a perfect snack food. Avoid fruit juices. Raw nuts are also great but limit them to a small handful or so a day.
Eat a balance of omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids.
Most people get plenty of omega 6, which is pro-inflammatory, and not enough omega 3 which is anti-inflammatory. Therefore, consciously add more omega 3 oils to your diet with flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, berries, wild rice, mangoes (yes mangoes!) and honeydew melon.
Eat some protein with every meal
This helps keep blood sugar balanced and curb sugar cravings. This can include lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. From my research, soy in the form of edamamde, soymilk, tofu, tempeh and miso, are good forms of nutrition and protein for vegetarians and vegans, but not the processed soy meat substitutes, or soy protein powders.
Buy the best quality you can afford
Organic food is usually grown in better soils, and is not sprayed with toxic chemicals. If you eat dairy, have the best quality dairy you can. If you are going to eat chocolate, buy a good quality dark chocolate and savour a small amount. You and your health are worth it. Your cells including your brain cells, are made from the food you eat, so give them good quality building blocks.
3 Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
#1 Eating too much fat and processed junk food
Includes: all types of chips; processed soy products (fake meats); white flour products and pastries; sweets and cakes including too many raw desserts; too many avocados, nuts and seeds; too much dairy, nut milks or cheese. Fill up on fruits and vegetables and proper meals, not high-fat and processed foods. A handful of seeds/nuts and 1/2 avocado is plenty of fat for 1 day.
#2 Sugar addiction and cravings
This can be alleviated with eating sufficient quality protein at every meal, eating 3 proper meals a day including breakfast, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables for their essential nutrition.
Quality vegetarian and vegan proteins include nuts and seeds (max. 1 handful a day); sprouted Eziekal bread; legumes such as chickpeas (eg hummous), lentils (eg dhal); and beans including soy such as edamame, tofu and tempeh. Combined with wholegrains and a diet with lots of vegetables, it is easy to get sufficient protein. Quinoa is a useful pseudo-grain which is actually a seed and high in protein.
Avoiding all flour and sugar in your diet can be very helpful to avoid the sugar roller coaster.
#3 Potential mineral & vitamin deficiencies
Zinc: a common deficiency in Australia, zinc is important for hundreds of enzyme reactions in the body, and is particularly important for healthy stomach acid, healthy skin, and for the immune system. Low zinc can lead to poor absorption of other minerals and vitamins. It is found in wholegrains (but not refined grains); dairy; soy; nuts; seeds and legumes. However it is found in much higher amounts in red meat, and for many people, a supplement can be beneficial, as low zinc is common and affects so many bodily processes.
Iron: Iron is important for healthy blood and for energy, and many women in particular are low in iron due to menstruation. Iron can be more difficult to absorb from vegetarian sources, especially for some people. Eating plenty of dark green leafy vegetables daily is one of the best ways to get enough iron, along with apricots, figs and prunes. Iron is absorbed much better when consumed with foods high in Vitamin C such as citrus fruits. There are some good supplements on the market nowadays for those who are chronically low in iron, and it can be worth checking.
Calcium: for vegetarians who eat dairy regularly, calcium is unlikely to be of concern but for vegans, on a diet lacking in the right foods, calcium can become an issue. Make sure to consume lots of leafy green vegetables, brocoli, butternut squash, tofu if eaten, unhulled tahini, and calcium enriched foods.
Iodine: this is an important part of thyroid hormones which control our metabolism. Low levels are common (50% of Australian children and breastfeeding women were found to be deficient). Deficiency is associated with breast, ovarian and stomach cancers, and thyroid disease. Include plenty of seaweed in your diet, such as in Japanese food. Kelp granules and dulse flakes can be used as condiments and added to soups and stews or kelp tablets taken as a supplement.
B12: This is essential for brain and nervous system health and is mostly found in animal products. Vegetarians may get enough from dairy products, but it is something that vegans should generally supplement. Many people are B12 deficient whether they eat animal products or not.
Nutritional supplements may be beneficial and help provide a buffer, particularly when our soils lack some minerals, and it can be difficult to know if we are getting enough even on a good diet. Times of stress or poor diet can easily lead to deficiencies. Deficiencies are common in many Australians and can lead to health issues over time.