Vegetarian Basics Part 2

By Sudha Raj, Assistant Professor, Syracuse University

Tips for Planning Meatless Meals

Choose a variety of foods from all food groups. Not eating foods from one or more food groups increases the likelihood of not getting certain vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients that are common to that group. Meatless meals can be unhealthy if they emphasize one nutrient over others or include unhealthy alternatives, for example including high-fat dairy products, and few whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

  1. For adequate amounts of protein, concentrate on non-meat protein sources such as beans, peas, other legumes and tofu. Due to variability in essential amino acid patterns (that is protein building blocks that can be obtained only from the diet) in plant protein foods, try to combine grains and legumes or grains and/or legumes with dairy products or non-dairy calcium and vitamin D fortified alternatives such as soy beverages. This is known as complementing or supplementing proteins and is a way of life in many cultures across the globe. A few examples include, rice and beans, cereal and milk. Cookbooks from various countries in the Asian continent provide many plant-based recipes. In addition, substitutions with local produce can improve vegetarian meals.
  2. Lacto and lacto-ovo vegetarians can meet their calcium needs by getting two to three servings of vitamin D fortified dairy products a day. If fat is a concern, then lower fat alternatives may be selected. Vegans can focus on vitamin D fortified non-dairy beverages, tofu processed with calcium, greens such as bok choy, kale, broccoli, soy beverages or other cereal and fruit juices and beverages fortified with calcium.
  3. Vegetarians can get iron and zinc by consuming fortified breakfast cereal, dried beans, dried fruit, seeds, prune juice, whole grains, wheat germ, nuts and tofu. Foods rich in vitamin C such as berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries and dark green vegetables can help in absorbing iron as well as in providing important phyto-chemicals in the diet.
  4. Vegetarians can get the required amounts of vitamin B12 by consuming products such as soy beverages and cereal fortified with vitamin B 12.

Key References on Vegetarian Basics

  1. Mangels AR, Messina V, Melina V. Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada. Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003; 103: 748-65.
  2. Key TJ, Appleby PN, Rosell MS. Health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006; 65: 35-41.
  3. Raj S, Ganganna P, Bowering J. Dietary habits of Asian Indians in relation to length of residence in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc. 1999; 99: 1106-1108.
  4. Thompson J, Manore M. Nutrition: An Applied Approach. 2006. Pearson Benjamin Cummings San Francisco, CA.

Internet Resources of interest

About the Author:Sudha Raj is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management in the College of Human Services and Health Professions at Syracuse University. She obtained her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Madras and Bombay University in India, and her PhD in Nutrition Science from Syracuse University. She is currently Director of the Graduate program in Nutrition Science, and her research interests are in the area of cultural nutrition.

She is a co-author of the American Dietetics Association’s Ethnic and Regional Practice Series on Asian Indians and Pakistanis as well as “Indian Foods: AAPI’s Guide to Nutrition, Health and Diabetes” – a publication of the American Association of Physicians from India. Dr. Raj has served as the Senior Editor for Vegetarian Nutrition Update, a quarterly newsletter published by the Vegetarian Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association, and as Chair for the Vegetarian Nutrition DPG of the American Dietetic Association. See also Vegetarian Basics: Part 1

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