How to have a healthy vegetarian/vegan diet

BY Marlene SCHNEIDER, EEB4, S4DEA.

Survey results: …


Healthy vegan food lunch, top view. Vegetarian dinner table, people eat healthy food. Salad, sweet potato, vegan cake, vegetables on a white background.

There is a noticeable change in the number of vegetarians and vegans at our school: more and more students tend to stick to a life without meat. Many people argue that such a lifestyle is to be considered unhealthy. According to them, meat is essential for us thanks to its fats and proteins. While it is true that protein (most commonly found in chicken-breast meat, eggs and almonds) is important for us, that does not strictly mean that being a vegetarian or vegan is unhealthy. There are products that can also supply us these necessities (such as the above listed almonds). In fact, leading a vegetarian/vegan life can actually be beneficial to your health! Let me give you a few suggestions of foods you can consume instead of their non-vegetarian counterparts (as well as their health benefits).

Iron

Firstly, it is crucial that you maintain a good level of iron in your blood. Nuts can be a solution; Tofu, Tempeh, Natto and Soybeans are also great alternative sources of the metal. In fact, soybeans contain around 8.8 mg of it per cup, or 49% of the RDI​*​. The same portion of natto, a fermented soybean product, offers 15 mg, or 83% of the RDI. (See more) Additionally, you could also consider trying iron pills, although I would strongly recommend that you consult a dietician beforehand. (Also, beware of the possible side effects of these pills, such as diarrhea!)

Protein

Secondly, keeping to a vegetarian/vegan diet means that you will have to significantly increase your intake of legumes. A good example thereof is hummus. For those of you who don’t know what hummus is, it’s like a dip you make out of chickpeas. Hummus is a great source of plant-based protein, providing 7.9 grams per serving. In addition, hummus includes iron, folate, phosphorus and B vitamins. Not to mention, it tastes amazing with flatbread or simply in a sandwich! Other representatives of the “legumes” family you should consider, include  lentils (providing 6.6 mg of iron per cup cooked) and other beans and peas…

Fats

Thirdly, do not forget how important fat actually is for a healthy diet (of course, NOT saturated or trans saturated)! That’s right – I am talking about monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, chains of carbon atoms with one or multiple double bonds! Without straying too far into the chemistry behind it, it is important to understand that vegetables and/or fruits are, in fact, healthier sources of ‘beneficial’ fats, than meat. Excellent sources of monounsaturated fats are avocados and olives. The avocado, for one, is a very popular and tasty fruit. Examples of polyunsaturated fats include dark green and leafy vegetables.

Calcium

This fourth tip is only for vegans. As a vegan you don’t drink milk or eat any dishes, that comprise of dairy products. That being said, given how vital milk really is for your bones, it is crucial for you to provide your body with an alternative! Although, arguably, not drinking milk does not directly result in an unhealthy lifestyle, your bones would be very grateful if you did supply them with some source of calcium. As a vegan replacement, you should consider products the like of: fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks and (again) green, leafy vegetables (ex. broccoli, cabbage and okra) They all contain calcium and, as such, have a similar beneficial effect to your bone structure as regular milk. Another alternative is almond milk (although it has to be specifically augmented to include calcium). Almond milk is low in calories and sugar, helping your heart and protecting you from diabetes.

Here are a few recipes:

Vegan porridge (See more)

  • almond milk
  • oatmeal
  • nuts
  • berries or fruits

Guacamole (See more)

  • avocados
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • tomatoes

Lentil soup (See more)

  • lentils
  • potatoes
  • vegetable stock
  • carrots
  • celery root

If you stick to this article and eat each of these ingredients at least once a week, you should have be able to achieve a good health balance without eating any meat.

Our survey


Note 1: Supplying your body with a full variety of nutrients is crucial during adolescence, hence before boarding on a new lifestyle be sure to consult a dietitian! Beware also of potential health issues you may have, that may require you to refrain from cutting down certain sectors of the food pyramid (as well as intensifying others)!

-Editorial Team

Note 2: Maybe you are the type of person who recognizes all the benefits of vegetarianism, but simply can’t say “No.” to that beef steak once a week or so…. Don’t worry, you are not alone! You don’t have to fully switch your diet all of a sudden. Gradually reducing meat and increasing its nutritional alternatives may be the way to go; or you could simply try avoiding meat as much as possible, without strictly limiting yourself from its consumption! It is entirely up to you!

-Editorial team


  1. ​*​
    RDI = Recommended Dietary Intake

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