Many vegetarians rely too much on white carbs, overly processed meat alternatives, and cheese, to reach their energy needs. But, regularly eating this type of diet is not healthy for your heart.
A vegetarian diet can, however, be very healthful and nutritious, when carefully planned to include all of the essential nutrients, which the body requires.
A vegan or total vegetarian diet includes foods from plants such as fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), grains, seeds and nuts. A lactovegetarian diet includes these plant foods, as well as some cheese and other dairy products. And, the ovo-lactovegetarian diet also includes eggs.
You will know that there are essential nutrients, which you need to make sure you are getting, if you follow a vegetarian diet. Here are some of the most important:
Protein — you can get all of your protein needs from plant sources of protein. Just make sure your diet is varied, including a mixture of foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, grains, soy, and vegetables. Try not to rely on one or two sources of protein in your diet — variety is important.
Fats — choose mono and poly unsaturated fats, along with omega-3 fatty acids, to boost your heart health, by including a range of foods, such as avocados, natural nut butter, olive oil, flax seed oil, soybeans, nuts, and seeds. It's also important to avoid trans fats as much as you possibly can.
Iron — you can get iron from foods such as dried beans, spinach, dried fruits, blackstrap molasses, fortified cereals, green vegetables, tofu, and eggs.
Vitamin B12 — you need to make sure you are getting B12 from fortified foods, like fortified soy milk, fortified cereals, and some brands of brewer's yeast, etc.
Vitamin D — food sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, egg yolks, fish oils, and mushrooms. However, exposing your skin to sunlight for a short period of time, without sunscreen, is the best way to get your bodies vitamin D levels up to a healthy level. If you don't want to spend much time outdoors, you may need to speak to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.
5 Steps To A Heart-Healthy Vegetarian Diet
Your diet should be full of foods like nuts, eggs (see why eggs can be included in a heart-healthy diet), tofu, and legumes. Smaller amounts of foods like cheese and milk are also okay, as long as you stick within recommended portion sizes.
Eat some foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts, almonds, flax seed, olive oil and soybeans.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, particularly green, leafy vegetables. Aim for 7 vegetables each day, and 2 servings of fruits.
Avoid all white bread, pasta and flour products. All too often vegetarian diets are filled with these foods, which is not healthy. You should eat a little from the whole grain group each day, but do not rely on these foods. Choose brown rice, 100% wholegrain breads and pasta, and oatmeal, etc.
Use the plate method to make sure you are getting your portion sizes right. Begin by filling half of your plate with vegetables. One quarter of your plate should be a combination of beans and another protein source (such as tofu). And, one quarter of the plate should be whole grains.
Sample Vegetarian Meal Plan
Breakfast: two eggs with a slice of wholegrain toast, followed by some fruit.
Lunch: mixed vegetables with 1 cup beans, 1/2 avocado, and 1 cup milk or soy milk.
Dinner: mixed vegetables, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1/4 cup tofu.
Snacks: 1/4 cup raw nuts/seeds, 1 cup Greek yogurt, raw vegetables and dip.
Melanie Thomassian, registered dietitian, online health coach, and author of Dietriffic.com, cuts through the misconceptions about diet and fitness to help you transform your health for life. Visit her website to learn more, or check out her new healthy eating guide.