Deciding to go green with your diet is more popular than ever. People all over the world are choosing to skip the meat and switch to eating more of a plant-based diet. A survey by Dalhousie University found that around 2.3 million Canadians consider themselves vegetarians — that’s about 9.4% of the population.
October 1 is World Vegetarian Day, which kicks off World Vegetarian Month. Could this be the inspiration you need to consider a change to your diet? Here are some of the benefits of going vegetarian – and how to get the nutrients you need from a vegetarian diet.
Different Types of Vegetarian Diets
Vegetarians usually get lumped into one big category, but there are a lot of ways you can be a vegetarian!
Vegan: Probably one of the most well-known forms of vegetarianism, a vegan diet excludes any foods that have dairy, poultry, meat, eggs or fish.
Lacto-Vegetarian: Excludes foods that have poultry, meat, eggs and fish but includes all dairy products.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: The same as Lacto-Vegetarian but also allows eggs.
Ovo-Vegetarian: Excludes any foods that have dairy, poultry, meat, or fish but allows eggs.
Pescatarian: Excludes any foods that have dairy, poultry, meat or eggs, but allows fish.
Semi-Vegetarian or Flexitarian: Mainly a plant-based diet but includes dairy, poultry, meat, eggs or fish in small quantities.
Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
Studies have shown that a well-balanced vegetarian diet can prevent serious diseases like hypertension, diabetes, cancer, dementia and much more. It’s also beneficial for people with health issues such as obesity or cardiovascular disease.
Plus, last year’s release of the Canada Food Guide has recommendations to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. The guide also recommends getting proteins from plant-based sources more often (think beans, pulses, nuts, and seeds).
Vegetarian Diet: Nutrients You Can’t Miss
Plant-Based Diets Aren’t Always Healthy
Going vegetarian is a great way to improve your health, but you need to be sure you do it in the right way. Some vegetarians can end up eating too many meat and dairy substitutes that are processed with things like fat, sugar and sodium. Here are some essential nutrients that your body needs and how you can get them through a vegetarian diet.
These are found in whole grains like pasta, bread, brown rice and quinoa, giving you vitamins and energy for your whole body.
Calcium is key for keeping strong bones and healthy teeth. It also helps muscles, nerves and cells work normally. Eliminating dairy can greatly reduce your calcium intake. Dark and leafy greens like kale, collard greens and broccoli provide a lot of calcium so try to include them in your diet as much as you can.
Vitamin D helps absorb the calcium you need for strong bones and teeth. Your body can also make Vitamin D naturally from the sun, but as we head into winter and reduced hours of daylight, we’re not getting as much Vitamin D as we need. Adding this as a supplement to your diet – whether you’re a vegetarian or not – is a good idea.
This one gives you the power to produce red blood cells that help prevent anemia. It also gives you the nutrients you need for your brain and nervous system to operate properly. Vegetarians can get this from eggs and dairy, but if you’ve eliminated those from your diet, you may need to take a supplement.
Protein is one of your main sources of fuel and makes sure you keep those muscles growing! It also helps with maintaining bones, organs and skin. Meat is a huge source of protein but so are dairy and eggs. Don’t worry if you’ve cut all three out of your diet, though. Nuts, meat substitutes, seeds, legumes and soy are all sources of protein.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These help you keep a healthy heart! People usually call these ‘essential’ fatty acids because your body can’t make them on its own, so it’s important you get these through food. They’re usually found in foods like eggs and fish, so if you’re not including them in your diet you need to make sure you’re getting them somewhere else. Try walnuts or chia seeds.
Iron is great for your blood. Without it, you are potentially at risk for anemia, which causes weakness, fatigue, dizziness and more. If you’re dropping meat from your diet, dark leafy greens, beans and tofu are also sources of iron. But you’ll need to have a lot of these plant-based foods in your diet - iron found in plants is not as easily absorbed into the blood as the iron from meat.
This mineral is a big help to your immune system. You can find lots of zinc in dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains – not to be confused with refined grains often found in bread and pasta.
We’ve found some great recipes that cover a full day to get you started with your vegetarian journey.
Egg and Veggie Scramble
- 6 eggs
- 60 mL (1/4 cup) skim milk
- 1 mL (1/4 tsp) ground black pepper
- 5 mL (1 tsp) canola oil
- 375 mL (1 1/2 cups) mixed frozen or fresh vegetables (such as onions, bell peppers, mushrooms)
- In a bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and ground black pepper
- Add oil to a non-stick skillet and heat on medium heat. Add the mixed vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes stirring until they are tender
- Reduce heat and pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Continue cooking, without stirring, for 3 minutes or until the eggs start to set. Gently push the egg and vegetable mixture towards the centre of the pan and fold over.
- Continue gently folding the eggs until they are cooked through, about 3-5 minutes more. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Carrot Ginger Lentil Soup
- 10 mL (2 tsp) canola oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 30 mL (2 tbsp) fresh ginger, finely grated
- 5 mL (1 tsp) ground cumin
- 1 mL (¼ tsp) black pepper
- 5 large carrots, peeled and chopped
- 250 mL (1 cup) dry red lentils, rinsed
- 5 cups vegetable broth, no added salt
- Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions and sauté over medium heat, stirring often, for about 2 minutes.
- Add garlic, ginger, cumin, black pepper and carrots and sauté for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add lentils and stir to combine. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
- Turn down heat and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes, until lentils are cooked and carrots are soft.
- Remove from heat. Ladle into blender in batches or alternatively, using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth.
Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry
- 1 package (350 g) extra firm tofu
- 5 mL (1 tsp) ground ginger
- 2 mL (1/2 tsp) curry powder
- Pinch fresh ground pepper
- 10 mL (2 tsp) sesame oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 L (4 cups) fresh or frozen cut vegetables
- 175 mL (3/4 cup) no salt added vegetable broth
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) hoisin sauce
- 5 mL (1 tsp) cornstarch
- 5 mL (1 tsp) sesame seeds, toasted (optional)
- On a cutting board, cut tofu into cubes. Toss cubed tofu with ginger, curry and pepper in a bowl.
- In a non-stick skillet, heat oil and brown tofu. Remove to plate. Spray skillet with cooking spray and return to medium heat. Cook onion and garlic for 2 minutes to start softening. Add vegetables.
- In a small bowl, whisk together broth, hoisin and cornstarch. Pour into skillet and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Add tofu back to skillet and stir to coat well.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving, if using. Enjoy this over cooked brown rice noodles.
Whether you’re going full vegetarian or trying the flexitarian route, vegetarian meals have many benefits.