While following a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of several chronic diseases, it is far more important to live a healthy lifestyle than simply cutting out animal products. Vegetarians and vegans can acquire the same unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits as omnivores: for example, favoring affordable, popular, and easy-to-prepare foods and neglecting fruits and vegetables in favor of delicious-tasting vegan sweets whose temptation is hard to resist.
A vegetarian diet is a solid foundation on which to build a healthy lifestyle. In order to strengthen this foundation, let me offer you 10 tips that will strengthen your determination to maintain common sense and perseverance.
1. Sodium intake
The average U.S. vegetarian adult consumes 4-6 times more sodium than necessary, but slightly less than omnivorous Americans. The lion’s share of sodium comes from processed foods: “television dinners” (meat or fish with a side dish wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic) and meatloaf, as well as salty vegetarian foods such as pretzels, bagged soups, salted nuts, and prepared foods. It is unlikely that you can say exactly how much sodium is contained in a restaurant dinner, but we can safely say that the amount is most likely considerable. Needless to say, it increases your total sodium intake.
What are the dangers of consuming too much sodium?
A diet rich in salt is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. In addition, an increase in sodium in the diet leads to a loss of calcium – this fact may be of particular interest to vegans whose diet is low in calcium. Let’s do the calculations. If you consume less than 1500 mg of sodium daily (or no more than 400 mg per meal, leaving room for snacks), you are doing very smart.
“How much are those vegan cookies that are on display in the window?” Before asking this question, remember that there is no need for additional sugar! And if the statements about sodium hold true for sugar, vegetarians consume the same amount of sugar as the average American—about 100 pounds a year. Most of this sugar comes from high-fructose corn syrup, which is commonly found in sodas and juices.
The health effects of excess sugar are definitely not “sweet”. Obesity can lead to diabetes, cancer and heart disease. In addition, hardly anyone is eager to spend more time in the dentist’s chair, fighting holes. And foods high in sugar often crowd out those fruits and vegetables that your mother constantly told you about the benefits. The best option is to consume as little sugar as possible.
3. Whole grains
Another problem with the vegan cookies in the window is white flour. White flour is the product that remains after wheat has been processed and the bran and germs, sources of most of the fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in whole grains, have been removed.
Thus, these products made from white rice and white flour (pasta, bread, etc.) are pale imitations of such “energy generators” as whole grains. Try to choose foods made from whole grains. At your favorite Asian restaurants, ask for brown rice; Eat more whole grain breads and pastas, and more barley, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, spelled, and kamut. Keep the grains in your diet whole; brown is wonderful.
4. Good and bad fats
While many vegetarians pride themselves on their low animal fat intake, their diets can contain significant amounts of saturated fats, from dairy and eggs, palm and coconut oils, and trans fats, from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats are also found in baked goods, margarine and fried foods. Saturated and trans fats significantly increase the risk of heart disease. The healthiest fats are olive oil, canola oil, and oils from whole avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Vegetarians should also be aware of omega-3 fats (which are commonly found in fish). Omega-3 fats have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Vegan sources of this substance include ground flaxseed, hemp seeds, flaxseed oil, and walnuts. Instead of oil-fried Indian samosas or oil-drenched Chinese vegetables, order Indian whole-wheat bread and steamed Chinese vegetables with a separate sauce. Vegan cookies are also worth checking out.
5. Control the consumption of all processed foods
Processed foods are high in sodium, sugar and fat and low in whole grains. Many vegetarians enjoy soy substitutes for common meats such as chop, chicken, and bacon. Like most other processed foods, these foods do not contain the same amount of nutrients as unprocessed whole foods and should not be staples in the diet. Try to eat less processed soy products like tempeh, tofu, miso, shoyu, tamari, and soy milk.
6. Consuming an Adequate Amount of TZLO
The most powerful “tools” in the vegetable “arsenal” may be dark green leafy vegetables. – so powerful that they deserve their own abbreviation: TZLO. This group includes spinach, cabbage, brauncol, mustard leaves, turnip leaves, beet leaves, and broccoli.
Most dark green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants, minerals, and fiber, and very low in calories, sugar, sodium, and fat. Besides, they are cheap. The amount of TGLO consumed by vegetarians is only slightly higher than the amount of TGLO consumed by non-vegetarians – we are talking about (approximately) 1/4 cup per day. This is a completely inadequate amount, regardless of what other foods are included in the diet. In this way, Vegetarians need to pay special attention to increase their intake of TZLOs.
7. Good Sources of Minerals Like Calcium, Iron, Iodine and Zinc
Minerals such as calcium, iron, iodine and zinc play an important role in our bodies. They help build strong bones, prevent anemia, stimulate thyroid function, support the immune system, and promote growth and development. Minerals are present in many foods. Kale, brauncol, tofu with calcium sulfate, soy milk and calcium-fortified juices, and soybeans are good sources of calcium. Beans, greens, and whole grains are the best sources of iron for vegetarians.
Foods such as oranges, tomatoes, and cantaloupe are rich in vitamin C: when taken with foods containing iron, the body’s ability to absorb iron improves. Products such as tea, some spices, coffee, and dairy products prevent the body from absorbing iron. Iron supplements may be needed, especially for women during pregnancy and pre-menopause.
Vegan foods containing significant amounts of iodine are limited to seaweed and iodized salt: Sea salt and salt in processed foods usually contain negligible amounts of iodine. People who limit the amount of salt in their diet should take in adequate amounts of iodine, which can come from either dietary supplements or seaweed.
Good sources of zinc are dried beans, oatmeal, wheat germ, nuts, and soy products. Adzuki beans (azuki) and pumpkin seeds provide the body with the maximum amount of this vital nutrient. Vegans should aim to consume more zinc than the RDA (Recommended Dosage for a Specific Nutrient (Bioactive Substance)) to compensate for the minimal intake of zinc from foods that are often included in vegan diets.
8. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone formation, cancer prevention, and calcium absorption, especially when calcium intake is low. In Caucasians, an adequate amount of vitamin D can be synthesized by exposing the hands and face to sunlight for 15 minutes daily. Elderly people, people of color, and people whose skin does not regularly come into contact with sunlight need other sources of vitamin D, such as foods fortified with this vitamin and dietary supplements containing it. Without getting enough vitamin D, we run the risk of “deboning” ourselves!
9. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that the human body needs only in small amounts.; however, if it is missing from your diet, serious problems can arise. This vitamin is especially important for infants, children, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Vitamin B12 is not found naturally in plant foods, so vegans should make a double effort to include it in their diet. Reliable non-animal sources of vitamin B12 include Red Star Vegetarian Support Mix nutritional yeast, B12-fortified cereals and soy milk, and dietary supplements containing this vitamin.
10. Physical exercises
Although exercise is clearly associated with a reduced risk of various diseases and improved health, vegetarians feel about exercise in much the same way as non-vegetarians. An exercise program is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is directly related to bone density, which is important given the moderate calcium intake typical of vegetarians.
Three types of exercise are needed to achieve overall health of the body.: weight lifting (increases bone density and muscle mass), cardiovascular exercises (strengthens the heart and lowers blood pressure), and stretching/flexibility exercises (improves coordination, reduces the risk of falls).
It is possible to enhance the health-promoting nature of a vegetarian diet by making appropriate changes to it. Perhaps the best way to follow a healthy vegetarian diet is to BE a healthy vegetarian who recognizes and embraces healthy habits that deserve extra attention or improvement. When appropriate, see a registered dietitian or professional counselor.