Show Me the Veggies! It’s National Vegetarian Awareness Month!

October is National Vegetarian Month. Vanessa Chrisman, RD, CLE, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s, sheds some light on the vegeterian diet.

“I’m a flexitarian. I’m vegan. I’m pescaterian. I’m vegetarian – I eat chicken only. I’m on the see-food diet. I’m on the paleo diet. I’m on the raw food diet. I’m on the carb-lovers diet.” People describe their eating styles/diets in a variety of ways & new fad diets are popping up all the time. This month – we focus on the vegetarian diet since October is National Vegetarian Awareness Month. October 1st kicks off this theme as the official World Vegetarian Day.

So what exactly is a vegetarian? The most commonly known type is the lacto-ovo vegetarian. They exclude beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish or animal flesh of any kind from their diet but they do eat eggs & dairy products. Lacto-vegetarians exclude beef, pork, poultry, fish, seafood, & eggs but will consume dairy products. Ovo-vegetarians exclude beef, pork, poultry, fish, seafood, & dairy products but will eat eggs.

The strictest type of vegetarian is known as a vegan who avoids all types of animal flesh, fish, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, as well as animal by-products such as gelatin & honey. The key to any vegetarian diet is that it is plant-based (not flesh-based). A well-balanced vegetarian diet is typically rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.

Currently, it is estimated that over 400+ million people world-wide follow a vegetarian diet. People choose the vegetarian lifestyle for a variety of reasons. Some follow a vegetarian diet because they want to live longer healthier lives and/or they want to preserve the Earth’s natural resources. Others may choose the vegetarian lifestyle for spiritual reasons or because they love animals & are ethically opposed to eating them. The vegetarian diet used to be considered more of a fad, but more & more research has shown numerous health & environmental benefits from following a plant-based diet.

So – what are the health benefits? According to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, vegetarian diets are associated with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure levels, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower risk of hypertension, & lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians also tend to have lower body mass indexes (with lower obesity risk) & lower overall cancer rates. This is because a vegetarian diet is typically low in saturated fat & cholesterol, and is often higher in fiber, flavonoids, vitamin C & E, potassium, magnesium, carotenoids, & other antioxidants/phytochemicals. Many protective foods come from plants & can help prevent the onset of chronic diseases. It is important to consume a variety of different plant foods to get the full health benefits from this diet.

Interested in the vegetarian lifestyle? Here are some easy ways to incorporate more plant foods into your diet:

1) Go meat-free one day a week

2) Anack on dried fruits & nuts instead of candy

3) Make spaghetti using less meat (or soy meatballs) and add more veggies to the sauce

4) Grow a small veggie garden at home

5) Let your children pick out produce and help in the kitchen

6) Add grated carrot/zucchini/apple to muffin recipes

7) Replace meat in recipes with beans, tofu, lentils, or other meat alternatives

8) Be adventurous by trying new plant foods and new recipes! Make it a family affair.

Happy Vegetarian Awareness Month!

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