What does it mean to be a vegetarian?
For some, it’s a way of eating; for others, a whole lifestyle. And now- vegetarians simply may enjoy the ﬂavors and get the health beneﬁts from plant-based dishes—regularly or as an occasional switch from their everyday fare.
today vegetarian eating styles and dishes are capturing more attention among consumers, health professionals, fast-food and sit-down restaurants, and the food industry. Have you noticed how many vegetarian products have hit the market, including tofu burgers, veggie cheese, soy- burgers, frozen dinners, and bowl entrées?
Vegetarian eating styles differ, as do the many reasons why people choose to become vegetarians. With today’s focus on wellness, many cite health reasons. Others express concerns about the environment, compassion for animals, or their belief in nonviolence. For some, religious, spiritual, or ethical reasons deﬁne their strict vegetarian lifestyle. Several religions advocate vegetarian eating—for example, Hinduism and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. For some, being a vegetarian reﬂects their ethical approach to addressing world hunger. Still, others simply prefer the ﬂavors and food mixtures of vegetarian dishes and may recognize that a plant-based diet often costs less.
Either choice—vegetarian or nonvegetarian eating— can supply enough nutrients and food substances to nourish you, promote your health, and help prevent health problems. No matter what your approach, the nutrition bottom line depends on your food choices over time. In fact, eating a vegetarian diet can be an easy way to follow the advice of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid.Studies show a positive link between vegetarian eating and health. In general, the incidence of, or the death rate from, some health problems—heart disease, high blood pressure,
type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer—tend to be lower among vegetarians. Body Mass Index, an indication of overweight and obesity, is typically less, too. Among vegetarians, total blood cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol are usually lower; however, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels may or may not be affected. Food choices may not be the only reason for the health beneﬁts, however. Vegetarians often make other lifestyle choices that promote health, such as regular physical exercise, not smoking, and moderating ingestion of or avoiding alcoholic beverages.
What do vegetarian bodybuilders eat?
Can vegetarian eating supply your body with enough nutrients? Yes. As with any eating style, you need to choose foods carefully—and consume enough food energy, or calories, yet not too many. Here’s why—and how
For optimal muscle growth, aim to eat 20-30 grams of protein at each main meal. Vegetarian foods that pack a protein punch include:
Versatile and nutritious, beans and lentils provide up to 15 grams of protein per cup when cooked. Use dried beans and your slow cooker to make these Vegan Tacos with Walnuts. Or try lentils in a Moroccan Lentil Soup or Greek Lentil Power Bowl.
A cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein, and the protein in ½ cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese is closer to 12-15 grams. My favorite way to use yogurt is in a smoothie, like this Sunshine Smoothie.
Soy milk packs just as much protein as dairy milk, and other soy foods, like tofu and tempeh, have up to 10-12 grams of protein per cup. Check out these 17 Tofu Recipes of 14 Tempeh Recipes!
Sushi along with many other nutrients, whole grains add a surprising source of protein to the diet. Among grains with the highest protein levels are quinoa and whole wheat pasta (8 grams per cup), old-fashioned or steel-cut oats (5 grams per ½ cup), and whole wheat bread (5 grams per slice). Quinoa is a great base for a salad, like this simple one with black beans and a honey-lime vinaigrette. Or make It a vegan sushi night with this quinoa bowl.
Making a great addition to salads, smoothies, and yogurt, nuts and seeds also contribute a good amount of protein. Examples include hemp seeds (10 grams per 3 Tablespoons), almonds (6 grams per ounce), and peanut butter (4 grams per Tablespoon). Whip up these Cinnamon Roasted Almonds for a yummy mid-day snack.
Consuming protein from a variety of sources helps you get a range of nutrients in your diet.
For example, you might eat a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and a glass of milk at breakfast, a black bean quesadilla for lunch, and a salad with hemp seeds, tofu, and a hard-boiled egg for dinner. These meals alone provide over 60 grams of protein!
If you throw in snacks such as Greek yogurt and a peanut butter sandwich, that number jumps up to nearly 100 grams – an amount of protein that would easily meet the needs of a 150-pound person looking to build lean body mass!
Carbohydrates are essential and provide energy for all sorts of activities. If you limit carbs, you will not be able to perform at your best or build lean body mass efficiently. Aim to make 45-60% of your diet come from carbs.
Regardless of how much protein you consume, you will struggle to build muscle without lifting weights or doing some other form of strength training. If you are new to strength training, you can try out a circuit class, find a personal trainer, or watch YouTube videos to get started.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The body can make some amino acids, but it relies on the foods you eat to supply other amino acids. The ones it cannot make are called ‘essential amino acids’. Why am I telling you this?
There are two types of protein– ‘complete protein’, which contains the 9 essential (the ones the body cannot make) amino acids and ‘incomplete protein’, which does not have all 9 amino acids. Most plant-based proteins are incomplete, except for quinoa, soy, hemp, and chia. In comparison, ALL animal proteins are complete proteins.
Can you build muscle as a vegetarian? Since most vegetarian proteins, such as beans, lentils, and brown rice are incomplete, it’s important to pair them with other foods to make a complete protein. Pairing two or more vegetarian sources together so that they provide the essential amino acids is referred to as ‘complementary proteins’.
Some pairings that make complementary plant-based proteins are:
- Beans and rice
- Nut butter and whole-grain bread
- Lentil and barley
- Hummus and pita
- Oats and almonds
While there are plenty of vegetarian iron sources, plant-based sources of iron are not absorbed as well as animal sources. Iron plays a main role in carrying oxygen throughout the body and making red blood cells. If you don’t eat enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which could potentially lead to iron deficiency anemia. [See 12 plant-based sources of iron here.] Long story short, stock up on those iron sources such as legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.
Protein is a hot topic right now, but the daily requirement is actually much less than you may think. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound – the best way to calculate the minimum amount of protein your body needs (in grams) is to multiply 0.36 by your body weight. For a 150-pound person, that’s only 54 grams of protein per day!
Athletes need a bit more protein, around 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 1.0 grams per pound. That’s about 75 to 150 grams of protein for a 150-pound person.y
If you’re not sure how much protein you’re getting on a daily basis, try tracking your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal. It’s definitely not something you need to continue long term, but even tracking for 5-7 days can open your eyes to how much or little you’re consuming.
Believe it or not, the average American consumes just as many snacks are meals each day. But most snack foods are rich in carbs and low in protein. Make sure you’re getting enough protein at snacktime with these options:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Nut butter with sliced fruit or veggie sticks
- Chocolate milk
- Roasted chickpeas
- Hummus and veggies
- Cottage cheese on a whole-wheat English muffin
- Chia seed pudding
- Guacamole & veggies
- Loaded oatmeal
For pregnancy and breast-feeding: either a lacto vegetarian eating plan or a vegan eating plan can supply the nutrients and the food energy needed to support the increased needs of both mother and baby. If you’ve already mastered the skills of vegetarian eating, adjusting your food choices for pregnancy and breast-feeding won’t require much extra effort. How- ever, if vegetarian eating is new to you, seek nutrition advice from a registered dietitian to make sure your diet is healthful for you and your baby. You know that good nutrition during pregnancy and breast-feeding is important for both mother and baby. When a mom puts herself at nutritional risk, her baby’s development may be affected, too. If you’re pregnant or nursing, follow these tips if
you choose a vegetarian approach to eat:
Keep tabs on your weight gain during pregnancy. For vegetarian and nonvegetarian women, pregnancy requires about 340 to 450 extra calories a day in the second and third trimesters; breast-feeding, about 330 to 400 calories more than needed before pregnancy. Healthy weight gain for a full-term pregnancy is 25 to 35 pounds for most women. Research shows that babies born to vegetarian moms are similar in birth weight to babies born to nonvegetarian women—as long as the mother is well nourished during pregnancy. That’s good news. Caution: If you don’t consume enough food energy (calories) during pregnancy, your weight gain may be too low to sustain the normal development of the fetus. As a result, your baby may be born with low birth weight. And if your calorie intake is less than needed while nursing, your body may not produce enough breast milk.
For enough calcium during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you need 1,000 milligrams daily if you’re age 19 or over, and 1,300 milligrams daily for teens. If you consume dairy products, getting enough calcium for pregnancy and breastfeeding is easy. Just follow the guidelines from MyPyramid.Babies need calcium for developing bones and teeth. If you don’t consume enough calcium during pregnancy and breast-feeding, your body will give up some calcium stores in your bones. That may put you at greater risk for bone disease as you get older.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, your need for vitamin D is the same as before—but you still need enough to help absorb calcium. If you’re lacto vegetarian, drink milk fortiﬁed with vitamin D. If you’re a vegan, you may need a vitamin D supplement, especially if your exposure to sunlight is limited.
Most pregnant women—vegetarians and nonvegetarians—are advised to take an iron supplement. Consult your doctor or a registered dietitian. If you take one, follow the recommended dosage. Too much iron can interfere with zinc absorption, putting your newborn at risk for a zinc deﬁciency.
For vegetarians, vegans especially, getting enough vitamin B12 during pregnancy and lactation is of special concern. For vegans, consume a reliable source of vitamin B12—perhaps fortiﬁed breakfast cereals or a vitamin B12 supplement. During pregnancy, you need more for the developing fetus and your own increased blood supply. Without enough vitamin B12 during pregnancy and nursing, your baby may be at risk for anemia and nerve damage.
With a vegetarian diet, you probably consume enough folate. Still, as a precaution, get enough folate prior to and during pregnancy to avoid neural tube (spinal cord) defects in the fetus. Many plant-based foods are good sources: leafy vegetables, legumes, some fruits, wheat germ, and grains products forti- ﬁed with folic acid. Be aware that whole-grain foods may not be folic-acid fortiﬁed. A folate (folic acid) supplement still may be advised. Consult your doctor or a registered dietitian.
During pregnancy and breast-feeding, consuming enough essential fatty acids is essential for the infant’s brain and neurological development. If you’re a vegan, make sure you consume sources of linolenic acid (ground ﬂaxseed and ﬂaxseed, canola, or soy
oil) to help increase the linolenic acid in breast milk. Or perhaps get more from a supplement. Limit corn, safe- ﬂower, and sunﬂower oils, as well as trans fats to increase the essential fats in breast milk.
The need for zinc increases by 50 percent during pregnancy. Vegetarian women may need a zinc supplement if they don’t consume enough from food.
What can vegetarians eat for breakfast?
Not Just for Vegetarians: Quick and Healthful Snacks
*Choose those with less trans fat.
- Popcorn, plain
- Dairy or soy yogurt, low-fat or
- Cottage cheese
- Oatmeal cookies*
- Sunﬂower and pumpkin seeds
- Fresh or canned fruit
- Dried fruit
- Peanuts, soy nuts, or tree nuts
- Fruit shakes
- Fruit juice
- Raw vegetables (carrots, broccoli,zucchini)
- Dried fruit rolls (fruit leather)
- Tomato juice
- Crackers* and cheese
- Trail mix
- Bean tacos or burritos
- Cheese and veggie pizza (or cheeseless pizza)
- Bagels and peanut butter
- Focaccia bread (with or without cheese)
- Hummus (mashed chickpea dip)
- with pita points
- Nut butter and crackers
- Fruit/cereal bars, calcium fortiﬁed
- Milk or calcium-fortiﬁed soy
- beverages or rice beverages
- Fig cookies
- Tofu dip
- Smoothies made with milk, or
- with soy or rice beverages
- What vegetables have more protein than meat?
- What should a vegetarian eat after a workout?
- What should vegetarians eat every day?
- How can I get enough protein without eating meat?
- What vegetarians can not eat?