Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tips for Tree-Huggers ... Er, Vegetarians

The most helpful tip for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike is to eat clean. "Clean eating" seems to be a buzz phrase right now, but what does it really mean? To me, a clean diet means I'm trying to consume foods in their most natural state and avoid chemicals and other food additives big corporations keep sneaking into our foods.

The other big tip for a healthy diet is to include lots of protein, which helps keep you full, nourishes your muscles (which you should be exercising), and promotes efficient use of energy and metabolism. 

But what if you don't eat meat? 

No fear, my friends, you can still eat clean and get your protein by eating plants. Of course, vegetarians still might consume dairy and other meat-derived products like eggs. But, even if you're more strict than that and only want to follow a vegan diet, you can still follow a healthy diet. So, no excuses!

Just because you're a vegetarian or vegan doesn't mean you're automatically healthy. There are plenty of fried foods and salty, sugary, fatty carbs out there to completely sabbotage your so-called "granola" lifestyle. That's why it's so important to research, to read labels, to share knowledge and gain wisdom about what you're putting into your body.

The Bible says, "My people perish for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6). So, stay "in-the-know" and do your body good by investing time and energy into what works best for you.

Here are some of the BEST vegetarian food sources I'd recommend:

1. Green Vegetables

My mom used to hide spinach in our hamburger helper. I used to hate green vegetables. I might eat a salad if it was lathered with creamy ranch, but spinach? Uh, no thanks! You have to try all kinds of foods and decide which ones you love and which ones are okay to dismiss. You don't have to love it all. Now, I happen to love spinach, but years of eating lots of raw veggies has actually broadened my palate preferences. 

Other choices include broccoli, collard greens, kale, spring mix, chard, mustard greens, arugula, green beans, asparagus, brussel sprouts, green peppers, jalapeños, and zucchini. I often say these are "free" foods because of their high nutritional value and low caloric value. Eat lots and lots of these!

2. Colorful Vegetables

Don't abandon the other veggies. They'll get their feelings hurt! Adding color to your diet is fun (maybe that's just the kid in me) and healthy. Did you know that the color of veggies and fruits can actually tell you what kind of nutrients are in them?

Eat lots of squash, bell peppers, cauliflower, garlic, onions, mushrooms, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (actually a fruit), egg plant, carrots, roots (ginger, parsnips and rutabega), and anything else you can find in the produce section. Throw them in a big stir-fry or a crockpot. Purrèe them in soups too.

3. Beans & Lentils

Protein doesn't have to be a problem for vegetarians. You can get plenty of it from non-meat sources. Some of the best candidates are beans and lentils. These are high in fiber, keeping your tummy full and regular. My favorites are black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, white beans, red lentils, edamame and tofu. Try combining them with a whole grain like brown rice for a complete protein source.

4. Nuts & Seeds

For vegetarians/vegans and meat-eaters alike, it's very important to get enough "good" fats. It almost sounds like we're cheating even thinking that ... "good fats." But, the healthy fats in raw nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews actually help your body burn fat and speed up your metabolic rate because they help promote hormone stability and increase the rate at which fat is turned into energy. Other good sources come from seeds like flaxseeds, hemp, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds. You can eat them raw or in their butter forms, as long as the product isn't packed with additives and sugar.

5. Fruits

Fruits may have sugar, but the sugar they contain, called fructose, is a naturally-occurring sugar, and is easily turned into energy as long as you don't overdo it. No need to worry about high fructose corn syrup if you just eat the real thing: berries and pomegranates are the best choices, but apples, oranges, grapes, mangoes, kiwi, bananas, peaches, apricots, papayas, pears and melons are all healthy choices. I recommend eating fruit in the earlier parts of the day and not paired with other kinds of foods because it sits in your gut and ferments for a while, often causing acid reflux if eaten late at night.

Also, eat coconut! Coconut oil and coconut butter are great sources of saturated fats. Eat avocados and extra virgin olive oil. Again, these help your body use fat as energy and also aid your body in absorbing much-needed vitamins that support hormone health, brain function and hair/skin health.

6. Whole Grains

Today, the biggest trend going on is go gluten-free. Paleo dieters and other grain-free eaters swear up and down that we shouldn't eat wheat. I believe that wheat is okay in moderation, as long as you don't have an allergy towards it, and it's a non-GMO grain. Other whole grains like oats, quinoa (actually a seed), brown rice, barley, amaranth, and spelt are fabulous choices. You might find products like Ezekiel bread in the store. That's a great brand!

However, avoid white flour, and in fact most flour should be minimized altogether. If you’re going to eat bread, try flourless sprouted grain breads.

7. Extras

Green tea, black tea, white tea, all tea ... It's all good! A glass or two of red wine is fine, as long as it doesn't become a daily necessity or an excessive, empty-calorie habit. I recommend that all my clients drink at least one gallon of water each day. Herbs and spices like cinnamon, tumeric, basil, cayenne, and others are both tasty and nutritious for any diet.

For my vegans, it's important that you make sure you're getting enough Vitamin B12, which normally comes from meats, but you can get it in fortified foods like nutritional yeast or even some sprouted grains. Of course, you can always take a supplement. You might check your intake of iron, calcium and Vitamin D too.

Hey Veggie-Lovers ... What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

For information about my services like meal planning, exercise programs or fitness modeling, shoot me an email at ambermichellefit@gmail.com 

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