Congratulations on taking a more active role when it comes to your health! As a naturopathic doctor, I teach my patients that diet comes first when it comes to good health. Although the “ideal” diet differs from person to person, it is true that there are many benefits of consuming a vegetarian diet.
The pros of eating an animal-free diet include:
- Moral reasons - no harm to animals.
- Little-no chemical or hormone residues, which are commonly found in animal protein.
- Plant-based foods are a great source of fibre and can improve digestion.
- Less saturated fat means a healthier heart, including the potential to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
- It is more economic (which means you can spend your savings on better quality food).
- Increased life span and lower rates of diseases, such as cancer. Research suggests that vegetarians may live longer than meat eaters. This in itself is a reason to cut out the meat!
- To protect the environment. Eating a veggie burger instead of a beef burger saves 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 133 gallons of water, and 24 square feet of land (http://www.pbjcampaign.org/).
- Weight management. Remember that animal protein can be high in calories and saturated fat. Vegetarians who do not simply substitute carbohydrates for meat, and fill their plates with more vegetables and plant-based protein should be at a healthy weight.
It is crucial that you be a responsible vegetarian. You must ensure that you are getting enough protein, omega-3, vitamin B12 and iron in your diet – all of which are abundant and more readily absorbed from animal protein. The good news is that supplementation is a great way to ensure that you stay “nutrient-rich”.
For those who are either new to vegetarianism or have eaten animal-free for years, I highly recommend:
- A vegetarian-friendly, multivitamin mineral supplement such as Jamieson’s Vegetarian Vita-Vim, which contains extra B12 and iron.
- A vitamin B12 supplement, in the form of methylcobalamin, at a dose of 1000 mcg per day. Jamieson makes a well absorbed sublingual and B12 strip product, both of which are well absorbed.
- An iron supplement at a dose of 30-50 mg, 1-2 times per day, depending where your iron levels are.
- Boost omega-3 with a good quality flax oil.
- Please consult your health care practitioner regarding supplementation.
Below is a vegetarian meal plan that is protein and nutrient-rich. It includes 3 breakfast, lunch and dinner meal options, and several snack ideas, that can be easily mixed and matched over the course of 1 week or more.
To help balance blood sugar and keep your “digestive” fire and metabolism burning, I recommend eating 3 smaller meals and 2 healthy snacks per day. To promote satiety and benefit all the cells in your body, I advise you to consume 3 servings of vegetarian protein or more per day.
This meal plan can be easily modified for those who eat a vegan diet, which is free of both animal protein and animal derived products and/or feel best avoiding any or all common food allergens, including: wheat (gluten), dairy, soy and peanuts. If weight loss is a goal, simply reduce the amount of carbohydrates eaten per day. For example: skip the bun and wrap your veggie burger in a large piece of lettuce.
For some, this meal plan will be easy to follow and they may enjoy it so much that they continue to eat animal-free. For others, they may decide to commit to eating “vegetarian” a few days per week or significantly reduce the amount of meat in their diet. If this is the case, I advise you to buy “lean clean organic” meat and/or wild fish when possible. These options are less likely to be contaminated with health hindering chemicals.
BALANCED BREAKFAST OPTIONS
Start your day off hydrated by consuming a large glass of water with juice from ½ a fresh lemon. Then choose one of 3 energizing meals below.
*FACT: hemp hearts are a complete source of protein, and a rich source of essential fatty acids and iron.
(Makes 1 serving)
Combine and enjoy:
Steel cut or whole oats (3/4 cup cooked)
Milk or fortified milk substitute (1/2 cup)
Banana (1/2, sliced)
Hemp hearts (1 TBSP)
Cinnamon (1/2 tsp)
Honey or maple syrup to taste
EGGS ANY WAY
*FACT – One large egg contains around 6 grams of complete protein.
(Makes 1 serving)
Free range eggs (2 whole or 1 whole + 2 egg whites) – cooked any style you like.
For example: Scramble your eggs with sautéed kale and mushrooms (1 cup). Serve over cooked quinoa (1/2 cup).
Option to top with goat milk feta or pecorino cheese (1 TBSP).
Season with sea salt, black pepper and/or garlic powder.
Cook with 2 tsp of coconut oil.
THE GREAT GREEK YOGURT
(Makes 1 serving)
*Fact – blackberries have more antioxidant power than any other berry.
Combine and enjoy:
Greek yogurt, plain, fat-free or regular (6 oz)
Berries (1 cup)
Walnuts (8 halves)
Raw whole oats (1 TBSP)
Honey (1 tsp)
EASY LUNCH OPTIONS
Remember you can always prepare soups on the weekend, then enjoy for a few days or freeze lunch-sized portions for later.
CREATIVE LENTIL VEGGIE SOUP
(1-1.5 cups per serving)
First combine and sauté with coconut or grapeseed oil (2 TBSP):
Yellow onion (1 medium, chopped) and fresh garlic (2-4 crushed cloves)
Bring to boil, then simmer the ingredients below for 20-30 minutes:
Fresh chopped or canned tomatoes – BPA-free can (1/5 cup)
Your favourite 2 colourful vegetables (2 cups). Examples include chopped: carrots, celery, peppers, spinach, and/or green beans). NO RULES APPLY.
Dried lentils, rinsed (1.5 cups)
Water or organic vegetable broth (6 cups)
Italian seasoning or herbes de Provence dried spices (1 TBSP)
Stir in apple cider vinegar (1 tsp) and season with sea salt and/or black pepper to taste.
(Makes 1 serving)
Your favourite leafy greens: spinach, arugula, or romaine lettuce (2 cups).
A blend of other fresh vegetables: green onion, tomatoes, cucumber, and/or peppers (1-2 cups).
Chickpeas or black beans – canned, BPA-free (1-2 TBSP)
Toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds (1 TBSP)
Goat feta or your favourite unprocessed cheese (1 TBSP)
Drizzle blend of: extra virgin olive oil (1 TBSP) and apple cider vinegar (1 tsp)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste.
BEAN & QUINOA BURGER
(1 patty per serving)
Mix ingredients together until paste forms:
Chick peas, cooked, or canned (rinsed) (2 cups)
Quinoa (1 cup)
Free-range egg (1 large, whisked)
Onion (1 small, minced)
Garlic (1 clove, crushed)
Fresh parsley and/or basil (1-2 TBSP)
Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Form into ½-inch thick patties. Cook in pan on stovetop (medium heat) until both sides begin to brown.
Enjoy between a whole grain or gluten free bun or wrap in a large piece of lettuce to avoid extra carbohydrates.
Garnish with your favourite condiments. Add vegetable slices to your burger and/or have as a side.
DELICIOUS DINNER OPTIONS
If you find you have little time to prepare the lunch options above, you can always eat leftovers from dinner at lunch.
GREEN 3-BEAN CHILI
(1–1.5 cups per serving)
First combine and sauté with grapeseed oil (2 TBSP):
Yellow onion (1 medium, chopped), fresh garlic (2-4 crushed cloves), chilli powder (1-2 TBSP), cumin (1 TBSP) and oregano (dried, 1-2 tsp).
Add, cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes:
Carrots (3 thinly sliced)
Green pepper (1, chopped)
Tomatoes, diced, fresh or canned (4 cups)
Black beans, kidney beans and pinto beans (15 oz can of each, rinsed and drained)
Water (2 cups)
Kale (2-4 cups, finely chopped)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste and garnish with fresh cilantro.
Enjoy over cooked brown rice (1/2 cup.)
BAKED TOFU WITH QUINOA AND GREENS
(1/2 – 3/4 cup baked tofu per serving)
Marinate firm organic tofu (1 pack, sliced ½ inch thick) in sesame oil (1 TBSP), fresh ginger (1 tsp, grated), soy sauce (1 TBSP) and fresh garlic (1-2 cloves, crushed).
Bake in oven (400 degrees F) on pan coated with grapeseed oil until both sides are brown (turn once).
Serve over cooked quinoa (1/2 cup) with a side of sautéed bok choy (1 cup) and shiitake mushrooms (1/2 cup)
Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
PESTO PASTA WITH WHITE BEANS AND GREENS
Beans are a high-fibre, low-calorie way to add protein to pasta dishes.
To make pesto, mix the following ingredients in a food processor: olive oil (2 TBSP), fresh lemon juice (1/3 lemon), pine nuts (2 TBSP), garlic (1 clove), fresh basil (2 cups), parmesan cheese (1 TBSP, grated) and a dash of sea salt and black pepper.
Mix pesto (1-2 TBSP) with rice pasta (3/4 cup, cooked) and cooked white beans (1/2 cup) (example: cannellini beans) and serve with steamed broccoli (1 cup)
GUILT FREE SNACKS (or lighter meals)
Vegetable sticks: carrots, celery, snap peas, cucumber) 1 cup with hummous (1/4 cup)
Apple (1 medium, sliced) with almond or hazelnut butter (1 TBSP).
Fruit and protein smoothie – blend your favourite berries (1 cup) with milk/milk substitute or water (1 cup) and rice, hemp and/or pea protein (1 scoop). Add a splash of water to dilute if necessary.
Homemade trail mix (1/4 cup per serving) - combine dried cranberries (1/2 cup, sulfite and sugar-free), almonds or walnuts (1/2 cup, raw), pumpkin seeds (1/2 cup, toasted) and raisins (1/4 cup, sulfite and sugar free).
Simple chocolate truffles (2-3 inch balls per serving)
Mix the following ingredients in a food processor: medjool dates (1.5 cups, pitted), walnuts (1/5 cups, raw), cocoa powder (4-5 TBSP) and cinnamon (1/2-1 tsp). Roll into 1 inch balls, then coat with shredded coconut.
What to do when DINING OUT? You can always create your own salad, wrap or stir fry with all the colourful vegetables your heart desires and add nuts, seeds, tofu, beans and/or quality cheeses for protein.
TIPS AND THINGS TO CONSIDER:
- Choose BPA (bisphenol-A)-free lined cans to avoid burdening your body with this hormone-disrupting chemical.
- Buy non-GMO (genetically modified), organic soy products versus those of poorer quality.
- Opt for certified organic eggs and dairy (milk and cheese), which are free of hormone and antibiotic residues. Research shows that organic produce is your best bet for avoiding chemical pesticides.
- Sweeten your food with stevia or xylitol versus honey or other sources of natural sugar if you are trying to restrict sugar in your diet.
- STAY HYDRATED! Aim to drink 8 glasses (2 Litres) of filtered water per day. Invest in a refillable stainless steel water bottle versus drinking from plastic water bottles.
- Although olive oil is known for its many health properties, it is not best for cooking. Grapeseed and coconut oil can better withstand high heat.
- Dr Sara Henderson, N.D