October 1 is World Vegetarian Day. September 27th was ” Hug a Vegan/Vegetarian Day”. A vegetarian diet is known to reduce the risk for a number of chronic diseases, but as a vegetarian, I know that just avoiding animal products and non-vegetarian food will not keep me healthy. Since vegetarianism is a great basis for a healthy lifestyle, I know I must include enough fruits and vegetables instead of relying on the supermarket’s packaged foods to stay healthy.
If you are vegetarian or considering switching to vegetarianism, here are…
ten healthy eating tips:
Control your sodium intake
Our main source of excess sodium/salt is processed foods. Examples are pretzels, packaged foods like soups, salted nuts and other ready to eat or ready to cook foods. If you eat out often, there is no way to tell how much salt is going into you. What is true is it all adds up. But why should you care?
Here’s why: a high-sodium diet can lead to heart disease and stroke, besides depleting the calcium in your bones. Vegans with low calcium intakes are at higher risk of bone loss.
Control your sugar intake
Like excess salt, sugar can cause havoc in your system. We are often unaware of the sugar we consume in the form of soda and packaged juices. Too much sugar can affect your health, resulting in unpleasant conditions like obesity which in turn can lead to diabetes, cancer and heart disease not to mention oral health issues in the form of cavities. So how much sugar is okay? Avoid it as much as possible.
Go for whole grains
Most bakery goodies are made of white flour – processed wheat that is free from healthy bran and germ, which are the main sources of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in whole grain. Foods like white rice, pasta, bread are basically empty calories that add up and put you on the road to fat and unhealthy. Instead, choose healthy options that contain whole grains – go for brown rice, whole wheat pasta, barley, quinoa, buckwheat etc. Go for brown! Brown is the new black!
Be alert to good fat, bad fat
Even though vegetarians do not consume much animal fat, their diet is likely to be rich in saturated fats that come from dairy products, eggs, palm oil and coconut oil. Then there are those trans fats from hydrogenated vegetable oils, baked goods, deep fried foods and margarines. Saturated fats and trans fats are bad fats that are known to increase the risk of heart disease.
What are healthy oils, then? Olive oil, canola, avocado oil, nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fats reduce the risk of heart disease and vegetarian sources for these are ground flaxseeds, hemp seeds, flax oil, and walnuts.
Beware of processed foods
Processed foods are high in sodium, sugar and fats. Even soy-based substitutes for meat products that vegetarians enjoy are processed foods. Go for unprocessed whole foods or less-processed soy foods like tempeh, tofu and soymilk.
Eat lots of dark green leafy vegetables
If there’s one thing that is extremely powerful in the vegetarian diet, it is the dark green leafy vegetable. This includes spinach, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, Swiss chard, and broccoli. They are rich in anti-oxidant nutrients, minerals and fiber and very low in calories, sugar, sodium and fat.
Get you VITAMIN D
Bone health depends on Vitamin D which also helps in cancer prevention and calcium absorption. So get out in the sun. As you grow older you might need to supplement with vitamin-D fortified foods.
Know that Vitamin B12 is Vital
We need Vitamin B12, an essential nutrient only in small amounts but not getting enough can cause big problems especially in babies, children, pregnant or lactating women. Vegetarian sources for Vitamin B12 are from fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk and vitamin B12 supplements.
Know your Calcium, Iron, Iodine and Zinc sources
Minerals like calcium, iron, iodine, and zinc help in bone health while preventing anemia, promoting thyroid function, strengthening the immune system, and overall healthy growth and development.
Good non-dairy Calcium sources are foods like collards, kale, tofu made with calcium sulfate, calcium-fortified soymilk and juice, and soy- beans.
For iron, look for beans, greens, and whole grains. Get your vitamin C from oranges, tomatoes, and cantaloupe – in fact, if you eat them with iron-rich foods, it will help iron absorbtion. Know that tea, spices, coffee and dairy products can inhibit iron absorption. If you are pre-menopausal or pregnant, consult your doctor for iron supplements.
As far as iodine is concerned, vegetarians must depend on sea vegetables and iodized salt. If you are keen on cutting down salt, talk to your doctor about iodine supplements.
Foods like dried beans, oatmeal, wheat germ, spinach, nuts, and soy products and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc.
Unless supplemented with exercise, the food we eat does not result in good health. Exercise reduces the risk of disease and keeps you healthy. Make it a habit and ensure that you include the following:
- weight-bearing (increases bone density and muscle mass)
- cardiovascular (strengthens the heart and reduces blood pressure)
- stretching/flexibility (improves balance, reduces risk for falls).
So that’s ten healthy eating tips to focus on if you are a vegetarian.
Are you a vegetarian?
How do you stay healthy?
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