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Going Vegetarian Diet In 2021? Here’s What You Should Consider

We’re living in times when everyone is eager to boost immunity and is becoming more aware of how our food systems impact the environment.

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With the onset of the pandemic, there’s been a spike in immune supporting health practices, including going vegetarian. In America, sales of plant-based foods have risen over 148 percent this year and meat sales are down for the first time in six years, according to industry sources. Whether you who want to lean into plant-based eating to improve your health, protect the environment, prevent animal suffering or a combination of reasons, nutritionist Hessa Al-Saeed helps us understand more and explains how to eat healthily and keep in shape while going meat-free. 

Before getting into the finer details of a vegetarian diet, Al-Saeed explained how vegetarians may differ in their eating habits. Total vegetarians only eat foods from plants such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts. Vegans go as far as excluding animal products like honey and gelatin. Incidentally, many consider taking a pledge to go vegan in January, a big diet trend thanks to Veganuary. The non-profit organisation has been encouraging people worldwide to go vegan for the first month of the year and maybe beyond since 2014. Then come the lacto-vegetarians who eat plant-derived foods plus cheese and other dairy products, while lacto-ovo vegetarians add eggs to this. There are also ovo vegetarians who eat eggs but not dairy products. Semi-vegetarians don’t eat red meat but they include white meats as well as plant foods, dairy products and eggs and pesci-vegetarians eat fish, but not poultry.

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Why it's so good to go green

A plant-based diet can be an excellent source of all the necessary nutrients such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, as well as all nine essential amino acids. But some vegetarians will need to add supplements to ensure they are getting all the essential nutrients they need, according to Al-Saeed.

Most vegetarian diets are lower in fat than non-vegetarian diets and are better for the health as most of the foods vegetarians eat contain a rich amount of vitamins and natural oils, Al-Saeed said. “Studies also show vegetarians have a lower risk of suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, coronary problems and cancer,” the nutritionist added. 

However, the kind of vegetarian diet you choose to follow should include a wide variety of foods so you can obtain the energy your body needs. “I highly recommend vegetarians stay away from foods that are rich in fat and sugar because they are low in nutrition and high in calories,” Al-Saeed said. “Choose fat free or low fat dairy products and milk so you can benefit from them, and stay away from artificial and non beneficial products.”

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Soups & salads

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Soups and salads are the best kinds of foods to help you shed weight and keep you feeling full and comfortable. “When making a salad try to choose a dressing that contains lima and herbs and stay away from fatty dressings that contain mayonnaise, oils and butter,” the nutritionist explains. Al-Saeed said another tip is to ask the waiter to bring the salad dressing on the side so you can control the amount you add to your salad when you’re dining out. “Remember to not over do it,” she added.  

When it comes to soups, they are perfect comfort foods because they are warm and fulfilling. They conserve much more of the vegetables and beans’ natural nutrients, vitamins and general essence than when you fry or stew them. Al-Saeed recommended you make sure your soup is rich with the proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins that exist in vegetables and beans. “Soups, whether hot or cold, are great for your body. They will fill you up with contentment and love so try to take advantage of that and add a bowl of soup to your daily diet,” she said. According to Al-Saeed you can throw in any vegetables you love from carrots, cabbage and cauliflower to zucchini and more. But try to stay away from potatoes, as they are full of carbs your body does not need, especially when you are striving for weight control.

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Weight control on a veggie diet

Research shows vegetarians tend to eat fewer calories, weigh less, and have a lower body mass index (a measure of body fat) than their meat-eating counterparts. If you’re doing it right—eating lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains—you’ll probably feel full on fewer calories than you’re allowed each day. With that “calorie deficit” and a little physical activity, you’re bound to shed some kilos.

When you plan to lose weight, you should limit all types of carbohydrates like pasta, rice and bread and focus on fresh, green salads instead, Al-Saeed said. If you fancy a cooked vegetable stew, aim to eat it with a fork rather than dipping some bread in. “Eating with bread makes you feel full, but there aren’t any real benefits to it. If you must have a small amount of rice or bread, make sure they are brown so you get some nutrition out of them,” she added.

Being on a diet should be about losing weight a healthy way and a food pyramid can be a helpful tool to guide you through the types and amounts of foods you should eat during every meal, according to Al-Saeed. The Vegetarian Diet Pyramid proposes which types of foods and how much the body requires in order to stay healthy.  “Your vegetarian diet pyramid should include whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables as well as moderate amounts of nuts and seeds, soy, egg whites, dairy products and plant oils,” she said. The pyramid is divided into daily, weekly, and monthly periods, but does not recommend serving size.

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Water, Water, Everywhere

Al-Saeed said she could never talk enough about the importance of drinking water. “Make sure you always walk around with a bottle of room temperature water. You need at least eight full cups a day to benefit from it,” she said. “Water helps with balancing the structure of your diet, prevents your body from becoming dehydrated and helps you acquire good and healthy skin.”  She also recommended drinking green smoothies or juices loaded with vegetables and fruits that are great in hot weather.

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Vegetarian Diet Q&A

- Does it have cardiovascular benefits? 
Yes, provided you have a healthy plan. Research has linked vegetarian diets to reducing cholesterol, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease. As long as you’re not devouring a lot of French fries and doughnuts, you’ll tilt the odds of having heart disease in your favour. 

- Can it prevent or control diabetes? 
Yes, it’s a good option to take into consideration.

- Are there health risks? 
No, as long as you have a sensible eating plan.

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Make sure you're getting enough of these

• Fibre: Getting enough helps you feel full and promotes good digestion.

• Potassium: This counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, reduces bone loss and lessens the risk of developing kidney stones. Beans, and dairy products are some potassium powerhouses.

• Calcium: As well as building and maintaining bones, it gets blood vessels and muscles functioning properly. Ovo-vegetarians can compensate with dark-green veggies like collard greens, kale, and broccoli.

• Vitamin B-12: This nutrient is important for proper cell metabolism. Focus on yogurt and fortified foods, like cereals, to help ensure you get enough.

• Vitamin D: If you don’t get to see the sun enough, make sure you counterbalance with food or a supplement so you’re not prone to bone fractures. Low-fat dairy and fortified cereals will help do the job.

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