How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian

Written by Kerry Jensen with input from Janis Mena, UF GatorWell Registered Dietician. 

Recently, vegetarian diets have become increasingly popular among athletes, proving that going “meatless” doesn’t mean you can’t engage in regular vigorous activity and muscle building.  Vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke, football legend Joe Namath, and tennis champ Martina Navratilova are just a few famous athletes who have adopted vegetarian eating habits. There is a unique set of challenges that go along with having a vegetarian diet, but it is possible to obtain all the nutrients necessary to get the most out of your workout.

The term “vegetarian” can mean different things for different people and includes a broad range of diets, some stricter than others. A vegan diet is one that avoids all animal products, including animal milk, cheese, butter and eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism allows consumption of eggs and milk products, but no meat. A pescatarian diet allows seafood consumption but meat from all other animals is avoided.

Many people assume that removing meat from the diet would make it very difficult to consistently get enough protein, but most Americans consume well above the recommended amount each day. Vegetarians should be able to readily reach their recommended daily protein intake from plants, nuts and legumes. For example, foods such as soymilk and soy yogurt can be a great dairy substitute for vegans. Canned beans make a versatile and easy snack that packs a lot of protein and fiber with little fat. Try putting them on your salad or pasta, or as a main ingredient in soup. Tempeh and tofu provide protein from plant sources and can be added to many different dishes because they take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with. Nuts are another great snack option that contain protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which research has shown support brain function and heart health. For a quick and filling snack, spread peanut butter on crackers or have a handful of almonds. Quinoa is a grain that can be prepared similarly to rice. Some benefits of this product are a short cooking time and protein. It can be a great addition to your pre-workout meal. Other snacks to have before hitting the gym could include hummus with crackers or vegetables, granola, Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit, roasted chickpeas, or a fruit smoothie.

Another common struggle for vegetarians is the overconsumption of carbohydrates from bread, cereal and pasta. So it is helpful to keep in mind the MyPlate guidelines, which recommend that the foods on your plate should be proportioned with half a plate of vegetables, a quarter of a plate of whole grains and a quarter of a plate of protein, for each meal.

If you would like to find more tips and recipes for vegetarian diet and regular diet, stop by GatorWell located in the new Counseling and Wellness Center, on Radio Road, down the street from RecSports. They have a free cookbook that you are welcome to pick up!

Links to buying local and sustainable foods on a budget are accessible here and on GatorWell's website


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