What Do Vegetarians Eat?

There are a number of reasons why people choose to become vegetarians or vegans. Probably the most important reason is to optimize health. Other reasons can include opposition to animal cruelty, to save money, to guard the environment, or for religious convictions. Vegetarians usually live longer, healthier lives with less heart disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. You can't just remove meat from your diet without replacing it with something better, however. And don't go cold turkey, especially if you've been a heavy meat eater. Back off in stages until you've completely eliminated meat from your diet. Don't worry about losing vital nutrients, or getting enough protein. A well-balanced vegetarian diet will supply everything you need.

What Do Vegetarians Eat?

People who think that all vegetarians eat alike are mistaken. And they eat more than just alfalfa sprouts and tofu! There are several "varieties" of vegetarians.

• Lacto-ovo Vegetarians: just don't eat any flesh foods, including fish. They do use dairy products and eggs.

• Lacto-vegetarians: also omit eggs from their diet, as well as foods that contain eggs. They do use dairy products, however.

• Ovo-vegetarians: use eggs, but no dairy products.

• Pescatarians: omit dairy, eggs, and all meats except fish.

• Pollotarians: eat chicken and other poultry and eggs, but not other meats or dairy.

• Vegans: don't eat any animal products at all, with some even excluding honey.

Then there are folks who are primarily vegetarian, but occasionally will eat a little meat. Some vegans also will indulge in dairy or eggs on occasion.

1. Soy Products

Just what do vegetarians eat? Soy products are the mainstay for replacing meat in the diet. Combining soy and wheat gluten protein makes for a variety of flavors and textures.

  • Tofu

Soymilk curds formed into blocks of high protein make tofu, which low in fat and carbohydrates.

  • Soy Milk

Vegans use milk alternatives such as soymilk.

  • TVP

Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is a dehydrated form of "veggie burger" made from soy and/or wheat gluten.

  • Tempeh

Tempeh (pronounced tem-pay) is made from soybeans in a controlled fermentation process. It's a good source of protein, and can be used to replace hamburger or other meats.

2. Grains

Whole grains form the base of the vegetarian food pyramid and are good sources of protein and complex carbohydrates.

  • Seitan

Most often called gluten steaks or soy meat, seitan is made from protein-rich wheat gluten–flour minus carbohydrate. Mix gluten flour with seasonings and water, form into patties, and boil in flavored broth. Bread and fry the patties or cut them up for stews or stroganoff, etc. Buy it ready-made or make it at home.

  • Quinoa

Quinoa is a protein-rich super grain, with a nutty flavor. It can be sprouted or cooked and used as a side dish or in salads.

  • Millet

Millet is a grain high in the B vitamins. It comes from Asian grasses. Use it hot in a side dish or cold in a salad.

  • Other Grains

Brown rice is a wonderfully versatile food. Other whole grains are good as well–wheat, corn, rye, oats, and barley.

3. Dairy Replacements

What do vegetarians eat? Dairy replacements are numerous. Milk, cheese, yogurt, whipped topping, and ice cream replacements are made from soybeans, almonds, cashews, rice, or coconuts.

4. Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes

Beans, lentils, garbanzos, all kinds of nuts, sunflower, flax, and pumpkin seeds can be eaten in so many tasty ways. Who doesn't love a bowl of good homemade chili and a pan of cornbread on a cool day?

5. Fruits and Vegetables

Using a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure that you get a full complement of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients vital for good health.

6. Processed Vegan Foods

Many processed foods contain no animal products. Always read labels when trying something new, as some may still contain animal fats. They include breakfast cereals, snacks, some baked goods, such as Little Debbie products (Hostess still uses animal fats in their products), refrigerated and frozen foods—Morning Star Farms meat analogs, Ore-Ida sweet potato fries, Amy's Kitchen TV dinners, Boca burgers, and Quorn brand meat analogs.

For many vegans, it's not just about the food. It's a lifestyle that is conscious of farmland conservation and animal cruelty. It's also a great way to live a long and healthy life!

How to Get Enough Nutrients in Vegetarian Diets

After learning about "what do vegetarians eat", you may be curious about whether eating only vegetarian food can meet your daily nutrition requirement. Here is some advice.

1. Calcium

Calcium is found in legumes, certain leafy greens, tofu, seeds, nuts, or fortified foods such as soymilk, orange juice, or cereals. You may wish to take a calcium supplement to ensure good bone health and avoid osteoporosis.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is best received from sunlight. Allow the sun to shine on your body for the length of time it takes to just begin to turn pink, which will vary with skin types. You may also take vitamin D supplements, or use fortified cereals and soymilk.

3. Iron

Iron is found in beans, peas, lentils, leafy greens, and fortified grain products. Eat vitamin C-rich foods to aid in your body's ability to absorb iron. Women who are menstruating may need an iron supplement as iron is lost in the blood flow.

4. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found only in animal sources, so you will need to take a B12 supplement or use fortified foods, such as soymilk and cereals. Pregnant or breast-feeding women should be especially alert to getting enough vitamin B12.

5. Protein

There is concern that vegetarians don't get adequate protein, but this isn't a problem if you use protein-rich soy products, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. Certain combinations of these foods form complete proteins, such as eating beans and rice together. These foods are much healthier than meat protein.

6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, some leafy greens, canola and soybean oil all contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds can be ground and used as an egg replacer, or just eaten with a spoon. They don't have much flavor, so are easy to consume. A handful of walnuts daily is beneficial, or use them in patties or casseroles.

7. Zinc

Good sources of zinc include whole-grain breads, vegetables, soy foods, beans, and lentils. Zinc boosts your immune system, so be sure you're getting adequate amounts. Many multi-vitamin supplements include zinc.

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