Six stumbling blocks in the vegetarian diet and how to avoid them

Candid Talk with Nutritionist Brenda Davis

There are some impressive health benefits to eating a vegetarian diet, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight and obese and live longer. However, going vegan does not guarantee a healthy diet. After all, chips and sugary drinks are generally 100 percent vegetarian, as are many other fatty, salty, and sugary foods that are unhealthy.

In this article, we’ll take a look at six of the most common stumbling blocks for vegetarians and how we can avoid them.

1. Transition from meat to potatoes and pasta with bagels.

The most common mistake new vegetarians make is switching from meat to potatoes, pasta and bagels. While it’s true that pasta and bagels are familiar, delicious foods, they are not a complete meal. Noodles, bagels and other white flour products are refined carbohydrates. Whenever refined carbohydrates become the mainstay of the diet, they contribute to overweight, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Carbohydrates are good, not a problem. In fact, the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world are found in areas with high carbohydrate intake. However, in healthy high carbohydrate diets, these carbohydrates come from whole plant foods such as vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds. These foods are present in the diet, complete with nutrients such as fiber, phytosterols, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.

To avoid this common stumbling block, simply replace the meat with beans and greens. Rely on raw plant foods for carbohydrates. Minimize the use of refined flour products.

2. Replacing meat with dairy products and eggs.

Often, new vegetarians try to replace meat, chicken, and fish with dairy products (mostly cheese) and eggs. Typical dishes include pizza, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, fried cheese sandwiches, cheese omelettes.

Dairy products are a poor source of iron and they inhibit iron absorption. The iron contained in eggs is poorly absorbed. Thus, when vegetarians replace meat (which contains a significant amount of bioacceptable iron) with dairy products and eggs, the consequence may be a decrease in iron content in the body.

To avoid this problem, vegetarians should replace meat with a good plant source of iron, such as legumes.

Other good sources of iron: nuts and seeds (especially pine nuts and pumpkin seeds), dried fruits, molasses, mushrooms and some vegetables (greens and peas), grains (especially quinoa, amaranth and iron-fortified grains).

Eat also vitamin C rich foods such as fruits and vegetables along with iron rich foods to increase iron absorption. Avoid concomitant intake of products containing wheat bran, as they are rich in phytates, which significantly reduce the absorption of iron.

3. Consumption of trans fatty acids.

Trans fatty acids are unsaturated fats that have been converted from liquid oils to solid fats, primarily through the process of hydrogenation. From a health standpoint, trans fatty acids are a disaster. These fats are embedded in cell membranes, changing their shape, flexibility and permeability and disrupting their functioning.

About 90 percent of trans fats come from partially hydrogenated fats found in processed and fried foods. The most concentrated sources are margarine, crackers, cookies, muesli, baked goods, chips, snacks, and deep-fried foods.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that less than 1 percent of calories come from trans fatty acids. For a person consuming 2000 calories a day, that’s about 2 grams, or about half of what you would get from one donut or a medium serving of french fries. The intake of trans fatty acids depends almost entirely on the amount of processed and fried foods consumed.

To avoid trans fatty acids, read labels and avoid anything that contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

4. The assumption that all nutrients we get naturally.

While this is true in theory, it is not true in practice. All nutrients are found in nature; however, due to our lifestyle, several nutrients become difficult to access in certain situations.

For vegetarians, vitamin B12 is a good example of how a nutrient that is found in abundance in nature is practically absent from the foods we eat. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is produced primarily by bacteria. It is present in anything contaminated with B12-producing bacteria. While animal foods are reliable sources of vitamin B12, plant foods are not. This is because we are removing B12-producing bacteria in an attempt to minimize the presence of pathogenic bacteria. Vegetarians get less B12 compared to omnivores, and vegans have the lowest levels of any group.

A lack of vitamin B12 in the diet causes megaloblastic anemia, nerve damage, gastrointestinal disturbances, and elevated homocysteine ​​levels. Elevated homocysteine ​​levels could potentially eliminate any cardioprotective effects of a vegetarian diet.

Reliable sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians include fortified foods (nutritional yeast, grains, non-dairy drinks, meat alternatives, etc.), supplements, and animal products (dairy products). Animal products are not considered a reliable source of vitamin B12 for those over 50, as older people can be significantly impaired in their ability to break down B12.

To get enough vitamin B12 from food or supplements, we need to get at least 1000 to 2000 micrograms of B12 weekly. Seaweed, fermented foods, and organic vegetables are not reliable sources of vitamin B12.

5. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids.

While vegetarian diets tend to be lower in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than omnivorous diets, they generally offer no benefit over non-vegetarian diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This is partly because vegetarians don’t eat fish, the richest source of omega-3s in an omnivore diet.

Vegetarians have a greater need for omega-3s than non-vegetarians because vegetarians must convert plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids into the more physiologically active long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Thus, vegetarians are advised to include at least 1,25 percent of their calories from omega-3 fatty acids, or approximately 3 to 5 grams per day, in their daily diet.

The best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed and flaxseed oil, hempseed and hempseed oil, chia seeds and chia oil, canola oil, walnuts, green vegetables, and sprouted wheat. One tablespoon of flaxseed provides about 2,6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, while one teaspoon of flaxseed oil provides about 2,7 grams. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can get some omega-3 fatty acids from eggs, and vegetarians and vegans can get some omega-3 fatty acids from cultured microalgae capsules.

6. Overeating!

Many people believe that a vegetarian diet will protect them from being overweight and obese. While it is true that vegetarians and vegans tend to be leaner than their omnivorous counterparts, a vegetarian diet does not guarantee a lean body.

A healthy diet and lifestyle leads to a healthy body weight for many people who switch to a vegetarian diet, but not always. For some people, going vegan means doubling their fat intake. Overeating leads to overweight and obesity, and vegetarians, like most Americans, have plenty of opportunities to overeat.

Of course, the concern is that being overweight and obese can effectively stifle many of the health benefits that typically result from a vegetarian diet. Being overweight increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, gout, and sleep apnea. Obesity has been found to add about 20 years to a person in terms of declining health.

Portion control is paramount. While it’s much easier to overeat when deep-fried foods, salty snacks, white pastries, and sugary drinks are the mainstay of the diet, it’s also possible to overeat on exceptionally healthy foods, such as fruit smoothies and homemade whole grain breads.

To avoid overeating, limit your diet to processed foods and fats. Limit the calorie content of drinks. Focus on high fiber, whole plant foods. Be careful what you consume. Eat slowly. Include at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity per day in your daily routine.  



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