What is a vegetarian/vegan diet? 

Vegetarian diets are plant-based diets, and what’s not to love about a diet rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and low in saturated fat?

A vegan diet is a vegetarian diet that is void of any animal- or insect-derived products, including dairy, eggs, and honey, as well as animal- and insect-based food dyes, binders, and additives depending on the person and the choices they make as a vegan. 

Is vegetarian eating healthy? 

Appropriately planned, well-balanced vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful and may play a significant role in disease prevention. Plant-based diets are linked to numerous health benefits and may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. Such diets contain higher amounts of magnesium, folate, and fiber compared to the typical American diet. 

If you are vegan, you can avoid nutrition shortfalls of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fat acids by planning your meals to incorporate plant sources; or enhance absorption of certain minerals by incorporating key vitamins, for instance vitamin C.; and in some cases taking supplements. For example, B12 only comes from animal sources, so supplementation is necessary. Seeing a dietitian can provide you the guidance to plan your diet appropriately to ensure you are successfully meeting all your nutritional needs. 

Why do people choose plant-based diets? 

People are vegetarian for different reasons. Some people turn to plant-based diets for health benefits, ethical or environmental reasons, to live a more sustainable lifestyle, for animal rights, or personal preference, while others may do so with weight loss in mind. That is why you will see different practices among vegetarians, and more specifically with vegans. Honey is a common example. Some who follow a plant-based diet eat honey, and others do not, all the while reading labels faithfully to make sure they are absent of any animal-derived products. 

According to a report by Packaged Fact, 6 percent of the US population is vegan, while 36 percent of consumers report the use of meat alternatives. Even if you do not follow a vegan lifestyle, vegetarian meals are a wonderful way to get away from heavy meals. Focus on fresh, whole, real foods with variety in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils). You would be amazed at how filling and satisfying a meal of lentils and vegetable soup with whole grain bread can be. You will even be surprised how many seeds and grains are high in protein. Check out my past blog posts to learn more the variety and benefits of seeds and ancient grains. Have fun with trying different healthy foods, try new meatless recipes and go vegetarian a few if not most days of the week. 

Is bread vegan?

Most often yes, but check the label for ingredients. A vegan would generally avoid ingredients such as eggs, milk, honey, casein and whey, and gelatin. Other ingredients, such as mono- and diglycerides and lecithin, are typically plant derived, but these can be tricky because they can come from animal sources as well. In this case, it may be a little harder to figure out if they are truly vegan. With that said, you will be pleased with the vegan bread choices out there. Of course, it all depends on how and why someone is vegan as to the degree of what they eliminate from their diets. In any case, keep your breads whole grain and high in fiber for the biggest health benefit. 


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Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information

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