Common Vegetarian No-Nos
We now know that not all vegetarian diets are healthy. Do the majority of your food choices come from a package and have a list of ingredients you can’t envision? Think about what you eat each day. Better yet, go grab that package of frozen chickenless patties out of your freezer. Read each ingredient and then close your eyes and try to envision each one. Modified vegetable gum - can you see it? What about soy protein isolate? If a large proportion of your food contains ingredients such as these, it’s time to make some changes. To gain a better understanding of what an unhealthy vegetarian diet looks like (aka muffin-lovin‘ vegetarians and carbivores), here’s a list of some common meatless foods that should be limited, or avoided altogether:
- Soy meat protein substitutes (frozen veggie burgers, chickenless nugs, veggie dogs, etc.): These are highly processed foods, made with artificial ingredients, additives, sugar, and processed soy. Make your own veggie burgers! Here’s a couple of my favorite recipes. They can be made in batches, frozen as patties, and tossed in a hot skillet when you get a hankering for a healthy burger. If you want to be extra bold, go for a gluten-free bun, wrap those babies in collard greens, or top your salads with a patty sliced into strips.
- Tofu: Though tofu is made from soybeans, they are often genetically modified and the product is highly processed. If you love tofu scrambles as much as I do, make sure you’re opting for organic varieties. Better yet, look for organic sprouted tofu. Nasoya is a good brand, and can be found at most large grocery and health food stores.
- Cheese and Processed Non-Dairy Cheese: This is the ultimate food weakness for many vegetarians. Cheese is incredibly fattening, acid-forming, and it's one of the most common food allergens. If you have allergy problems or asthma, get rid of the dairy. It’s no good for you, and you will see an improvement with these conditions the more you abstain from dairy products. Many people who give up cheese use non-dairy cheese products to satisfy those uncontrollable cravings, but they too are highly processed and contain unhealthy ingredients. If you absolutely cannot live without cheese, eat organic, minimally processed varieties, such as goat cheese or feta. Even better, make your own non-dairy cheese alternatives. Here’s my favorite “dairy-free ricotta” recipe:
It tastes especially amazing in pasta-free dishes, such as the lasagna recipe below. When I first made this for my carb-loving boyfriend, I saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes that my plant-based culinary adventures were going to be more satisfying than anticipated.
- Protein Powders: Though we know we can get all the protein we need from a varied diet of veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, many carbivores worry about not getting enough, so they supplement with protein powders. The problem with protein powders is they often contain whey protein, which is difficult to digest. They also often have additives, such as sugar and artificial flavors. Not all varieties are unhealthy, such as raw organic hemp protein powder. Nutiva is an excellent brand. Try it in the following smoothie recipe, which contains 36 grams of plant-based protein:
Plant-Based Protein Smoothie
1-2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup raw organic hemp protein powder
2 tablespoons of chia seeds or flax seeds
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
A couple drops of liquid stevia or a tablespoon of honey (optional)
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth and creamy, enjoy! This is a great post-workout snack or afternoon pick-me-up.
- Simple Carbohydrates (white pasta, rice, and bread, as well as sugary processed snack foods):
Simple carbs don’t do much for our body except take us on a blood sugar roller coaster ride, cause mood swings, feed candida, and attribute to weight gain. Start replacing some of those white breads and pastas with whole grain and gluten-free varieties. Ancient Harvest offers delicious quinoa pasta, and Tinkyada makes my preferred brown rice pasta. Both of these can be found at most large grocery stores. Some excellent alternatives to white bread include organic sprouted Ezekiel bread or millet bread. Not quite ready to go from white to millet in the blink of an eye? Look for whole grain breads that don’t contain added sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup.
Read your labels. Be informed. Get Inspired
As you start reading your food labels more carefully, remember the concept of envisioning the food you eat. Think about what it does for you. If it does more harm than good, it may not be worth it. Step away from the veggie dogs - this time anyway. Think of highly processed vegetarian products like any other processed food; you should enjoy them only in moderation. They shouldn't be a staple on your grocery list. Start experimenting with more plant food recipes, such as the ones above. Get inspired. Get healthy... One positive plant-based choice at a time.