Vegetarian Facts and Myths

July 30th, 2011

The vegetarian lifestyle has long been the subject of debate, if not controversy. While we’ll probably never agree on whether meat and animal products are good or bad, there will always be conflicting facts from both sides. Indeed, vegetarian facts and myths have come and gone for decades, with studies debunking or supporting each other from both sides. How do you know whom or what to believe? Here are some vegetarian facts worth keeping in mind–and a few myths worth forgetting.

Fact: Vegetarians tend to be healthier, if not thinner.

One could argue that a diet of Big Macs, pizza, and ice cream qualifies as vegetarian, although that’s about as unhealthy as a diet gets. But on the whole, vegetarians are less prone to diseases associated with excess weight. Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer all occur in lower numbers among vegetarians than meat eaters.

Myth: Vegetarians don’t get enough protein.

It’s all a matter of planning. Beans, legumes, dairy, grains, and tofu are all excellent sources of protein, and all are cheap and readily available. Meat contains more protein, but research reveals that most Americans are actually getting too much. Animal and plant proteins are different, though–plant proteins aren’t as easily absorbed and must be aided by Vitamin C sources to be fully effective.

Fact: Vegetarian diets are cheaper.

Recession is a great time to go vegetarian. You can fill a grocery cart with vegetables and not spend more than $25, whereas chicken breasts alone can cost you almost half of that. Imported and out-of-season vegetables are naturally more expensive, but that’s easily solved by buying local and choosing whatever’s in season.

Myth: Vegetarians eventually go vegan.

Vegans are like vegetarians on overdrive–they not give up meat, but will avoid anything and everything that comes from animals, including leather wallets. It’s a bold choice, since even the most innocent-looking products, like cherry drops and gelatin, can involve animals at some point during manufacturing. Going vegetarian is a common starting point for going vegan, but it’s not the only logical path.

Fact: Vegetarians can be physically active.

The notion that vegetarians are weak and skinny comes from the same line of thinking as their supposed lack of dietary protein. Several notable athletes are notably vegetarian–bodybuilder Bill Pearl, footballer Joe Namath, and tennis player Martina Navratilova are just a few examples. Indeed, a vegetarian diet coupled with regular exercise is the best way to stay in shape well into your 70s.

The Vegetarian Food Pyramid

July 23rd, 2011

The food pyramid we learn as kids includes a healthy dose of meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Indeed, most of us grow up knowing that we need our meat to grow up healthy. So when you go vegetarian and slash off a third of that list–or more if you’re going vegan–aren’t you messing with the age-old concept of a balanced diet? Experts say it isn’t–it’s more like moving some things around.

The bottom of the food pyramid contains the foods you should consume the most. In both pyramids, these are the carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy. Most sources are vegetarian, so there isn’t much of a difference. Bread, rice, pasta, cereals, and grains are among the most common. The recommended dose is six to 11 servings a day. If you’re not very active, you don’t need that much energy, so stay within the lower range.

Next up is the fruit and vegetable group. Doctors recommend two to four servings of fruit and three to four servings of vegetables every day. Opt for fresh or dried produce as much as possible–avoid canned or processed ones, as even the low-sodium varieties have more sodium than you really need. Breakfast is a good time to get some fruit into your diet, as well as after lunch as a light dessert.

Protein sources are a must, but must be taken in smaller amounts than fruits and vegetables. This is where the two food pyramids differ the most. While meat and dairy are the main sources of protein in most diets, vegetarians are limited to plant sources. Fortunately, there are many: nuts, legumes, seeds, and beans are among the most common. Meat alternatives such as seitan and TVP are also acceptable, although you should watch out for excessive processing and artificial flavors. This group also includes milk and eggs, or acceptable substitutes if you’re on a vegan diet. Two to three servings of each are recommended per day.

Finally, you have the fats and oils group, which should be taken sparingly. You don’t want to eliminate them completely from your diet, but make sure not to overdo it. Use low-fat oils such as olive and sunflower for cooking, as well as for salad dressings. Allow yourself the occasional sweet–a slice of cake or a scoop of ice cream–but stick to the recommended dose of about one serving per day.

Easy Vegetarian Recipes for Breakfast

July 20th, 2011

We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this is also the case for vegetarians.  As the name suggests breakfast is the first meal of the day after the body has rested and this meal is important in jump starting our metabolism and fuelling our bodies for the day ahead.  When it comes to breakfast it is also important to consider the foods that you should eat for this important meal.

There is a huge range of foods that are great for breakfast and surprisingly many of these breakfast foods are suitable for vegetarians.  Regardless of whether you have a cooked breakfast or some cereal in the mornings there are some great vegetarian recipes for breakfast that are both nutritious and easy to make.  Below are some easy vegetarian recipes which are suitable for breakfast and even people who are not vegetarians will think they taste great.

For people who usually don’t have a lot of time in the morning and rush around frantically while getting ready to go to school or work need to consider breakfast foods that can be eaten on the run.  The easiest way to make sure that you always have a vegetarian option for breakfast is to prepare breakfast foods such as muffins the day before and also making sure that healthy options such as fruit are also on hand for when you rush out the door to work or school.  This will also save you from eating form fast food places which can be expensive and unhealthy.

If you are looking for vegetarian recipes for food that is easy to make and you have a bit more time in the morning to sit down and eat breakfast before going out then you may want to consider something such as cereal or toast.  Having the time to make some breakfast means that you can sit down and enjoy a bowl of cereal, some toast or if you are in the colder months then a hot bowl of oats or porridge.

On the weekend or days off when you have plenty of time to prepare and enjoy a vegetarian breakfast there are a huge variety of breakfast foods to choose from.  Vegetarians can eat most breakfast foods such as pancakes, eggs cooked many different ways such as scrambled, muffins, French toast, scones, omelettes, smoothies and even quiche.

Vegetarian Crock Pot Recipes

July 7th, 2011

Slow cooking involves cooking food slowly over low heat, instead of the stovetop method of using short bursts of high heat. Crock pots, the vessels used in slow cooking, are more closely associated with heavy meat dishes, as the method lends itself well to tenderizing tough cuts. But vegetables go surprisingly well in crock pots, and can even make convenient one-dish meals.

The advantage of slow cooking is that it gives food more time to render its flavor and allows different tastes to blend in the pot. On the practical side, it’s also less time-consuming, despite its name–all you have to do is place your ingredients in the pot, press a few buttons, and leave it to cook for the day. So you come home to a warm, ready-to-eat meal that’s worlds better than a TV dinner, not to mention healthier.

Vegetarian crock pot recipes often rely on heavy vegetables, including beans, legumes, and root crops. These provide most of the volume in meatless recipes, and also absorb flavors from the rest of the dish to make it richer. Potatoes and carrots are fairly popular, but don’t be afraid to experiment–turnips, radishes, and rutabaga also make excellent crock pot ingredients. You can use dried or canned beans, but the former may need to be soaked overnight as they can get mushy if allowed to soften in crock pots.

Greens and light vegetables can also go in the pot, but the long cooking time can make them too soft and/or wash out their flavor. This can be avoided by adding them a little later than the rest, or if you’re going to be out most of the day, putting them on top where the heat is less intense. Likewise, the slower-cooking ones such as potatoes and carrots should go at the bottom where it’s hottest. Dark greens such as broccoli and kale work best for crock pots.

Meat imitations also go fairly well in the crock pot, although it largely depends on their consistency. Dense products such as tempeh and tofu can keep their texture fairly well, but some varieties of seitan can go soft. If you plan on slow-cooking fake meat, go for premium brands and choose only the freshest. Also make sure to set the times right; most crock pot recipes take eight to twelve hours to soften the meat, but with vegetables it can take as little as four.

Indian Vegetarian Recipes

July 6th, 2011

For people who choose to eat a vegetarian diet, Indian food has a huge amount to offer in terms of the large number of dishes that are endemic to this country that have no meat.  A large proportion of Indian dishes are meatless and taste great as they are infused with flavours from spices which are commonly used in Indian cooking.

One of the great benefits of Indian cuisine is unlike most countries Indian cuisine offers a wide range of nutritious and tasty vegetarian foods rather than just having vegetarian food options as an afterthought.  These vegetarian dishes are commonly found on the menu at many Indian restaurants making it easy for vegetarians to select a dish that tastes great and not having to place a special order with the kitchen.

Another great thing about Indian Vegetarian recipes is that they are always full of flavour and taste great.  Indian cooking combines many spices which gives the dish a great aroma and taste.  These spices infuse through the dish and give the ingredients a sweet taste or a warm to hot taste for the curry dishes.

Traditional Indian dishes including curries are mainly vegetarian and consist of a huge range of vegetables.  If you are eating at an Indian restaurant look through the menu and you will generally find a large proportion of vegetarian options.  It is also a good idea to try different vegetarian dishes as Indian cooking includes vegetables that you may not have tried before and taste great.

As well as dining out in restaurants for your fix of vegetarian Indian this style of cooking is quite easy to cook and prepare at home.  There are recipe books and hundreds of recipes online for Indian cuisine that is vegetarian, easy to cook and tastes great.  One of the advantages of cooking your own vegetarian Indian food is that you can control the amount of spices used in the dish.  This is important as you won’t enjoy the food as much if it has too much chilli and you don’t like hot food.

Lastly when it comes to vegetarian Indian recipes there are no hard and fast rules.  Many Indian dishes can be changed with ingredients added or taken out depending on taste.  One of the great benefits of Indian vegetarian is the variety of foods that are prepared in dishes and also the ingredients which can be purchased from any local supermarket.