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Going veggie

By VERDEL BISHOP Wednesday, March 12 2008

click on pic to zoom in
A meal for a vegan made of legumes, vegetables and whole grain....
A meal for a vegan made of legumes, vegetables and whole grain....

MORE AND more Trinbagonians are adopting the vegetarian lifestyle. In response to this increased popularity of meatless food, there are now more choices for vegetarians in local supermarkets. Also, an increasing number of restaurants and schools are providing vegetarian options.

However, problems can develop with people who are not fully educated about vegetarianism.

Medical studies have shown that a vegetarian diet is easier to digest, provides a wider range of nutrients and imposes fewer burdens and impurities on the body.

In some instances, the choice of turning to vegetarianism is a matter of economics, as meat costs more than rice and vegetables. However, people choose to be vegetarians for reasons other than costs.

June Holdip, a registered dietician attached to the Caribbean Food and Research Institute advised, “If you’re choosing a vegetarian diet, the most important thing you can do is to educate yourself.”

Holdip said a vegetarian diet needs to be appropriately planned, since “simply dropping certain foods from your diet isn’t the way to go if you’re interested in maintaining good health.”

She said although vegetarians are said to be healthier than their meat eating counterparts, this does not necessarily mean their medical bills will be smaller, as vegetarians are afflicted with many of the same health issues as persons with an alternative diet.

“Saying that vegetarians are healthier than non vegetarians is a controversial statement. Vegetarian or not, a healthy diet is low in cholesterol and saturated fat and is based around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Eliminating the meat doesn’t automatically make for a healthy diet,” Holdip said.

It is tougher to pure vegetarian (a vegan). However, vegans can get complete proteins from grains, legumes beans, and nuts or seeds.

“People talk a lot about vegetarians not getting enough protein, but it isn’t really much of a concern, as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products all contain complete protein – that is, all 22 amino acids. Complete protein in the vegan diet is found in the grain. Soybeans and products made from soybeans like tofu and tempeh, also contain complete protein.

“The vegan is the group which is most likely to be at risk for vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12. It’s hard to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet if you are vegan, so a nutritional supplement will have to be used. However, the vegan can get enough protein with proper planning.

“Vegetarians have to be careful to include nutrients that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet, such as iron, calcium, protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and zinc,” said Holdip.

If meat, fish, dairy products, and or eggs are not going to be part of your diet, she pointed out, you’ll need to know how to get enough of these nutrients, or you may need to take a daily multiple vitamin and mineral supplement.

Different people follow different forms of vegetarianism. A true vegetarian (vegan) eats no meat at all, including chicken and fish. This is a stricter form of vegetarianism, as not only are eggs and dairy products excluded from a vegan diet, so are animal products like honey and gelatin.

A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats dairy products and eggs, but excludes meat, fish, and poultry. A lacto vegetarian eats dairy products but not eggs, whereas an ovo vegetarian eats eggs but not dairy products.

Holdip noted that over the years another group has come into the picture which does not fall in the conventional “vegetarian” groups – pesci-vegetarian.

“Some will tell you, I eat sea food but no meat or chicken. We have come to accept them because they consider themselves vegetarians,” she said.

Transitioning into a vegetarian lifestyle calls for a lot of commitment, Holdip said.

“There are people who do it gradually and some stop using red meat and stick to poultry and fish. It all depends on the individual. It is no hard and fast prospect. It depends on a person’s lifestyle and why they choose to move from one form of food habit to the next.”

Holdip said that transitioning into a vegan is usually more challenging than being a vegetarian.

A vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t have to be boring, as there are many exciting options for a tasty vegetarian meal. For example, if you are a vegan it might mean that you may use peas and beans for breakfast. Holdip explained that by being creative, you can take peas and beans and transform them in different ways. You can make loafs, patties, pies and casseroles.

“You have to come up with creative ways so it is not monotonous. You can eat products made from textured vegetable protein which is basically soy based products. There are tasty mock hot dogs and mock sausages which taste very much like the real thing.”

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