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Vegetarian Nutrition

By Leigh Davenport, RD, LD, CNSC, Nutrition Services

It is an exciting time in the field of nutrition. An awareness of “food is medicine” is driving a change to more wholesome eating patterns every day, rather than jumping on the latest diet fad. What we choose to eat can have a major impact on our modifiable risk factors of chronic disease.

A vegetarian diet can mean different things to different people. Generally a person classifying themselves as vegetarian will avoid poultry, pork and beef products.  Some choose to include fish, eggs and dairy, and some will choose to disclude one or all of these. A vegan is a person who consumes a diet free from all flesh foods and derivatives of, including honey and gelatins.

However a person describes their vegetarian diet, the research is clear – vegetarian diets are clearly associated with a number of health advantages, including lower overall cancer rates, lower risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure levels and incidences of hypertension, and lower blood cholesterol levels.

A nutritionally-complete vegetarian diet isn’t simply created by omitting the meat from your meals, but by including plant-based protein sources regularly. Some delicious plant-based proteins include beans and lentils, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, millet, nuts and nut butters. Calcium, a vital mineral to bone health, can also be found in plentiful vegetarian sources if someone chooses to omit dairy products from their diet. Or, consider trying a fortified vegetarian milk or tofu.  Kale and other dark greens, butternut squash, sweet potato, beans and figs are also great calcium sources!  Lastly, a vegan diet must be supplemented with Vitamin B12, which plays a key role in cell metabolism.  Adults require about 2 micrograms of Vitamin B12 daily, generally found in vegan B12 nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast has a delicious, cheesy flavor, which makes a great addition to soups and chili, rice or even sprinkled over popcorn for a snack.

Thinking about making the switch? First, think of three recipes you already prepare regularly that are easily adapted to include plant-based protein. For example, replace the beef in chili with black beans and quinoa, or omit the chicken from your favorite stir fry in favor of tempeh. Next, choose three new vegetarian recipes to try!

Wentworth-Douglass Hospital is proud to participate in the Meatless Monday movement. Each Monday a different vegetarian entrée is featured in the hospital cafeteria.

If you are interested in learning more about vegetarian nutrition and making the transition to a plant-based diet for yourself or your family, a registered dietitian can help.  Please ask your provider to fax a signed order to 603-740-2398 (fax), and we will contact you to arrange for your appointment. Nutrition Services are often covered by health insurance.  Please check with your insurance provider for your plan’s coverage.

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