Time and time again we hear that a vegetarian diet is good for health. Yet the thought of giving up beef, chicken, and fish can be disheartening. Here’s a secret: you don’t actually have to give up meat completely in order to reap the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Simply by incorporating vegetarian meals into your weekly eating habits can have profound effects on your health. Why is that? Well, there are several benefits to vegetarian foods.
For instance, our body should always be in a state of alkalinity – as opposed to a state of acidity. When our body is alkaline all of our systems run and function better. Excess consumption of meat creates acidity within our body. However, vegetarian meals are alkalizing, so the more we include them in our diet, the better our overall health will be.
Another benefit to vegetarian foods is that they are usually low in fat and high in nutrients – just be careful about “take-out” or “processed” vegetarian meals, as these can be high in fat. Yet when prepared at home, vegetarian sources of food provide us with significant amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients that are important to help in body functions such as immunity, proper digestion, and weight loss.
Meat-based meals are beneficial in the sense that they provide a high source of protein. However, a diet high in meat can also cause inflammation, because most cows and chickens are fed with refined grains that are high in omega-6 fatty acids.
The body needs a proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. When omega-6 intake rises too high, inflammation takes hold, which can lead to arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, colitis, eczema, and other conditions. Vegetarian foods are great because they provide an excellent source of protein, but very little omega-6 fatty acids.
Fibre is an important part of digestive health. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. These types of fibre are found in many foods that form the basis of vegetarian meals. Soluble fibre is found in beans and legumes, while insoluble fibre is found in many vegetables.
Fibre helps to promote bowel regularity, digestion and intestinal health. Malfunctioning intestinal health can lead to inflammation and allergies. By including vegetarian meals within your diet you are boosting you fibre intake, while still getting a great source of protein. Meat, poultry, and fish are great sources of protein, but unfortunately contain zero fibre.
We now know that vegetarian meals are great because they are alkalizing, as well as being low in fat and high in nutrients. We also know that they can help to reduce inflammation in the body and boost fibre. The question remains: what kinds of foods should we choose to make a vegetarian meal?
Simply forgoing meat on pizza or pasta is not the healthiest way to eat a vegetarian meal. Every meal should include at least some form of protein. Vegetarian meals simply require vegetarian sources of protein.
There are many sources of vegetarian protein. Here are a couple of options that are readily available in any grocery store. They provide tasty, high-quality nutrients and they typically cost less than meat, poultry, or fish.
Tofu is rich in many nutrients including selenium, calcium, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids and contains phytoestrogens which have cardiovascular health benefits.
Tofu comes in many forms, including silken, firm and extra-firm. These refer to the consistency. Silken tofu is very delicate and breaks apart. The firmer varieties are higher in protein and are great additions to pasta sauces instead of ground beef. Tofu can also be stir-fried, or simply marinated and baked or grilled. It’s important to remember that tofu doesn’t have much natural flavour and should be marinated with sauces and spices, such as soy sauce and garlic.
Beans & Legumes
The most nutritious form of beans are the dry kind . They then need to be soaked overnight, and simmered for approximately 45 minutes. This can be time consuming for some people, in which case buying the beans in a can makes more sense.
Beans can be substituted in many recipes. In your next soup or stew, replace the meat with beans. If you like chilli, you can double the bean content, while eliminating the ground beef. On top of salads, try sprinkling some beans instead of chicken or cheese.
Incorporating vegetarian meals into your diet is an inexpensive way to add low-fat sources of protein that are high in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Try substituting 3 – 4 vegetarian meals into your diet every week. If you're unsure of where to start, look through our recipes link and try some of these ideas out! You can't go wrong when you try...
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Nadine Todd (BA, MA, MEd, RYT) is a writer and holistic nutritionist from Oakville, Ontario. She focuses on health and wellness education in order to empower people to make the right choices in their daily lives.