When you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, whether for political or spiritual beliefs or simply to improve health and beauty, you can enjoy nature’s bounty. Your diet will be filled with seasonal, locally grown produce that looks, tastes, and makes you feel great. If you need some help with this dietary change, you can “eat clean, eat wise and live long” with whole plant foods from the Academy of Healing Nutrition’s “Longevity Diet.”
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
Vegetarian diets come in many shapes and sizes, and you can choose the version that works best for you and your family. Here’s what it can look like:
- Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian includes eggs, dairy foods, and occasionally meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
- Pescatarian includes eggs, dairy foods, and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
- Vegetarian (sometimes referred to as lacto-ovo vegetarian) includes eggs and dairy foods, but no meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.
- Vegan includes no animal foods and is based solely on plant foods
The Pros of Plant Based Diets
Plant based diets may not be for everyone or for all times. Some people may need to build red blood cells quickly by eating animal protein for health reasons or may prefer fish as a source of nutrition. Others may be used to dairy foods and are able to digest them without any trouble.
If you’re trying to decide whether a plant-based diet is good for you, here are some pros to think about:
Good for Health and Beauty
Harvard University studies have shown that a vegetarian diet can support health. It can lower your risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and increased longevity. “Plant-based diets offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients. However, most vegans may need to add a supplement (specifically vitamin B12) to ensure they receive all the nutrients required.”
These benefits are probably why some people temporarily swap to a plant based vegetarian diet to:
- Clean up your act after rich holiday eating
- Lose weight
- Recover from illness or surgery
- Drug detox treatments
- Rebuild digestive vitality
Plant-based diets are effective for these aims as they’re:
- Lighter and easy on digestion
- High in fiber, which helps with weight loss
- Protective against chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancers
- Good for your complexion, mood and energy improve
- Less inflammatory
- Often less expensive than animal products or processed foods
The Drawbacks of a Plant Based Diet
It isn’t all good. There are some drawbacks to a plant-based diet including:
- Adapting to your new diet may take some time
- You’ll have to prepare much of your food for yourself
- The foods that may not meet vitamin needs require supplements
- Organic plant foods may be harder to find and expensive
- Natural health experts have reported that vegans are as likely to develop heart disease and stroke as meat eaters unless they supplement with B12
- Plant foods can cause indigestion, so you need to start with small amounts and be aware of food combining rules
photo by Dylan de Jonge
How to Gradually Switch to a Plant Based Diet
Making the change gradually to a plant-based diet can minimize side effects and make the changes easier to maintain. Here’s how to do it:
Eat lots of Vegetables
Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner and make sure you include plenty of colors. Each color and flavor have unique vibrational health qualities. Also, learn to enjoy vegetables as a snack with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
Change Your Thinking on Meat
Cut down on the amount of meat you eat and use animal protein foods as a garnish instead of a centerpiece.
Choose Good Fats
The fats in olive oil, avocado oil, pumpkin seed oil, coconut oil, walnut oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are particularly healthy choices. Avoid plant oils such as corn or canola which often quickly turn rancid.
Learn to Build Veggie Meals
When you go vegetarian, you will have to learn whole new ways to build meals. They should be based on protein foods such as soaked or sprouted beans, whole grains, and vegetables, nuts, seeds, seaweeds, mushrooms. Chia seeds and nori seaweed are especially good protein sources.
Include Whole Grains for Breakfast
Whole grains are grounding, satisfying and help to keep blood sugar in balance. Start with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Then add some nuts or seeds along with fresh fruit or vegetables. Digestion is stronger in the morning, which is why it’s the best time to eat more complex, dense grains.
Eat Fermented Foods
Add fermented foods such as a pickled vegetable side dish or miso daily, if possible with each meal to aid digestion.
Go for Greens
Try to eat a variety of green leafy vegetables each day such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens. Steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry to preserve their flavor and nutrients.
Build Salad Meals
Fill a bowl with salad greens such as romaine, spinach, Bibb, or red leafy greens. If you’re looking for something delicious, try dandelion greens sautéed with garlic. Add an assortment of other vegetables along with fresh herbs, beans, peas, or tofu.
Eat Fruit or Nut Desserts
You need to eat fruit and nuts separately from heavy foods. Try a ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple or some dried fruit will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.
Get to Know your Local Farmers’ Market
Farmers markets are often great places to pick up high-quality fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the usual price. Visiting them regularly may also teach you more about the dangers of common pesticides and how to avoid them.
photo by Maddi Bazzocco
Experiment with Nutritious High Protein Plant Foods
When you eat vegetarian, you need to do more than just eat lots of vegetables. You also need to replace your protein sources. Protein is essential for strong muscles and healthy skin and hair as well as for general functioning. It will also help you to recover from stress, illness and exhaustion.
Seniors, who tend to lose muscle with age, should have some protein with each meal, and that isn’t bad advice for vegetarians either. Here are some plant foods that contain a high source of protein per serving:
- Seitan (wheat gluten) a favorite for vegetarians and vegans.
- Tofu, Tempeh, Edamame (green soybean) and Natto (fermented soybean).
- Lentils have more protein than red meat
- Chickpeas and most varieties of Beans.
- Nutritional Yeast* (baring allergies)
- Spelt and Teff ancient grains
- Hemp Seed and hemp protein powder
- Green Peas and pea protein powder
- Nori seaweed
- Amaranth and quinoa
- Ezekiel Bread and breads made from Sprouted Grains
- Non-GMO Soy milk, fortified nut milks
- Oats and oatmeal
- Wild rice
- Chia seed
- Nuts, nut butters, seeds
- All fruits and vegetables contain some protein, but amounts are usually small
Certain fruits and vegetables contain more protein than others and should be included in your meals to increase your daily protein intake. Look for organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
Eat High Protein Vegetables
Vegetables with the most protein include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
Each of these contain about 4–5 grams of protein per cooked cup. Although technically a grain, sweet corn* is a common food that contains about as much protein as these high-protein vegetables. *Corn (maize) in America is a GMO or genetically modified food.
Eat High Protein Fruits
Fresh fruits generally have a lower protein content than vegetables. Those containing the most include:
These fruits have about 2–4 grams of protein per cup. But fruits possess other advantages that make them healthy, such as high water and mineral content. For example, watermelon and citrus fruits have a lot of essential vitamin C.
GMO Foods and Your Gut
Look for the “NON-GMO” label on foods whenever possible. Genetically Modified Foods were invented to grow more food faster, and to improve the flavor and appearance of foods.
More than 90% of all soybean, cotton and corn acreage in the U.S. is used to grow genetically engineered crops. Other popular and approved food crops include sugar beets, alfalfa, canola, papaya and summer squash. Apples that don’t brown and bruise-free potatoes were also approved by the FDA.
According to a 2015 Harvard University study: “One specific concern is the possibility for GMOs to negatively affect human health. This could result from differences in nutritional content, allergic response, or undesired side effects such as toxicity, organ damage, or gene transfer.” [That means the plant genes may interfere with our gut bacteria and genetic material.]
photo by Max Delsid
The Calcium Dilemma
In a culture concerned about calcium, we have been led to believe that dairy is the only source of this bone building mineral. This is far from the truth. Plant food sources of calcium include:
- Leafy greens
- Sesame seeds
These foods are high in calcium and other minerals that are equally important in the formation of strong bones. Your calcium needs can be easily met by eating several servings of vegetables per day and adding a handful of soaked almonds to your diet daily. Dairy products actually aren’t as good for the body as advertised. They’re congesting, which means that they produce phlegm which may impact breathing, joint swelling and chronic indigestion.
Gu Sui Bu: A Chinese Herb to Prevent Osteoporosis
If you’re still concerned about calcium, then try strengthening your bones with herbs. Drynaria is a fern, and it has been used in medicine for over a thousand years. It was named gusuibu for its purported ability to mend broken bones (gu = bones; sui = broken; bu = mend).
Drynaria rhizome and its uses can be found in the traditional medical system designed by Ou Ming (Chinese-English Manual of Commonly Used Herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1989, Joint Publishing Co., Hong Kong.).
This herb is said to:
- Tonify the liver and kidney
- Activate blood circulation
- Expel wind-dampness
- Improve liver and kidney deficiency
- Improve blood circulation sluggishness
- Restore bones and tendons: for fracture and trauma
This herb can be cooked in vegetable soup, bone broth or slow-cooked in a crock pot for 10 hours to make a water extract.
How to Get Enough B12 and Iron
The strongest sources of B12 and iron are found in meats, fish, eggs, in other words, they’re not found in a Plant Based Diet. Therefore, vegans especially should supplement with pills according to their needs. Here are three foods, popular in different parts of the world. that provide B12:
Nutritional Yeast Powder
Nutritional yeast powder, available in health food shops and online, is NOT a live, active yeast like the yeast used to bake bread. It does not expand or cause intestinal gas. It comes from a species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. There is another form of this yeast species, which is called brewer’s yeast.
Nutritional yeast is produced by culturing yeast in a nutrient medium for several days. The primary ingredient in the growth medium is glucose, often from either sugar cane or beet molasses. When the yeast is ready, it is deactivated with heat and then harvested, washed, dried and packaged. Nutritional yeast has a pleasant taste and aroma and some say it tastes like cheese.
Nutritional yeast is dairy-free and usually gluten-free. As a result, it can be a useful supplement for people with food allergies or sensitivities, as well as those on restricted diets. It is also low in fat and contains no sugar or soy. Fortified nutritional yeast is a good source of B12.
The Benefits of Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast can be particularly helpful for vegetarians and vegans if it has added vitamin B-12, as this vitamin is often lacking in plant-based diets. Adults need about 2.4 mcg of vitamin B-12 per day. Just one-quarter of a cup of nutritional yeast provides more than seven times this amount.
Some other health benefits of yeast include:
Immune System Support
- cerevisiae, the strain of yeast in nutritional yeast, can support the immune system and reduce inflammation resulting from bacterial infection. It may also be helpful in treating diarrhea.
Promotion of Skin, Hair and Nail Health
Nutritional yeast can combat brittle nails and hair loss due to inadequate nutrition. It may also help reduce acne and other common skin problems, particularly in adolescence. Add a little nutritional yeast to pet food adds luster to their fur.
Nutritional yeast can also support a healthy pregnancy. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women who are planning a pregnancy should take 400-800 mcg of folic acid a day to prevent congenital abnormalities and support the growth of the fetus. Manufacturers frequently fortify nutritional yeast with folic acid, which can make it a useful supplement for pregnant women. Individuals should consult their doctor before using it as a supplement.
How to Eat Nutritional Yeast
You probably don’t want to eat yeast by the handful, instead try:
- Sprinkling it on popcorn or cooked grains instead of butter or salt
- Mixing it into risotto or pasta instead of Parmesan cheese
- Stirring it into creamy soups for added nutrients
- Adding it to a tofu scramble
- Mixing it into a nut roast or stuffing
- Add it to a vegetable smoothie or cooked vegetable
If you’re a vegan, look for fortified varieties of nutritional yeast to ensure that adequate amounts of B12 and folic acid are in the product.
Can Everyone Eat Yeast?
Despite all the benefits that nutritional yeast may offer, this supplement is not suitable for everyone. People with the following conditions should avoid eating yeast unless otherwise directed by a doctor:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Hypertension should avoid using nutritional yeast if it makes their symptoms worse.
- Yeast sensitivities or allergies
Marmite Yeast Spread
Marmite is a dark, thick, rich tasting yeast extract spread made from concentrated brewer’s yeast extract, carrots, salt and spices. The yeast extract in Marmite is a by-product of brewing beer.
Marmite was first made in 1902 when the Marmite Food Company opened a small factory in Burton-on-Trent, where it still resides today. Marmite tastes spicy and salty and is appetizing on toast. It’s available in supermarkets and online.
The Benefits of Marmite
In a 2018 study, scientists at the University of Bristol found that, eating Marmite three times a day can enhance heart function in healthy adults and help prevent cardiovascular disease. This is probably because it contains high levels of the artery-sparing antioxidant benfotiamine.
Marmite Home Recipe
Marmite’s taste is so appealing and its miniature bottle so small that you may want to make a home version for yourself. Here is an amusing recipe found online. You can adapt it to use nutritional yeast rather than brewer’s yeast.
Marmite Nutrition Information
|Typical Values||Per 100g Unprepared||Per Serving Unprepared||%* per portion**|
|Energy (kJ)||1100 kJ||88 kJ||1%|
|Energy (kcal)||260 kcal||21 kcal||1%|
|Fat (g)||<0.5 g||<0.5 g||1%|
|of which saturates (g)||<0.1 g||<0.1 g||1%|
|Carbohydrate (g)||30 g||2.4 g||1%|
|of which sugars (g)||1.2 g||<0.5 g||1%|
|Protein (g)||34 g||2.7 g||5%|
|Salt (g)||10.8 g||0.86 g||14%|
|Thiamin (B1) (mg)||7.7 mg||0.62 mg||56%|
|Riboflavin (B2) (mg)||6.8 mg||0.54 mg||39%|
|Niacin (mg)||69 mg||5.5 mg||34%|
|Folic Acid (µg)||1250 µg||100 µg||50%|
|Vitamin B12 (µg)||24 µg||1.9 µg||76%|
|*% of Reference intake of an average adult (8400 kJ / 2000 kcal)|
|1 portion = 8 g. ( Pack contains 31 portions )|
photo by Bluebird Provisions
MISO and the Longevity Diet
Roger Green’s “Longevity Diet” at Academy of Healing Nutrition is based upon his many years of research into long lived people around the world. However, there is an emphasis on a wholesome whole food Macrobiotic approach. What would a Japanese cook do without Tamari or Miso?
Why Miso Is Remarkably Healthy
Miso, a fermented soybean condiment popular in parts of Asia, especially Japan, has made its way into the health food sections of North American supermarkets. Most people who love miso first consumed it in Japanese miso soup. It’s incredibly nutritious and linked to a variety of health benefits, including better digestion and a stronger immune system.
The fermentation process used to produce miso, as well as natto and other fermented soy foods, promotes the growth of probiotics. These are beneficial bacteria that provide a wide array of health benefits. A. oryzae is the main probiotic strain found in miso.
Miso is very salty. So, if you’re watching your salt intake you may want to ask your health care practitioner before adding large quantities to your diet. However, if you’re on a low-salt diet, take blood thinners, or who have poorly functioning thyroid glands, you may want to talk to your doctor before eating more miso.
How Miso is Made
This traditional Japanese condiment is a thick paste made from soybeans that have been fermented with salt and a koji starter. The starter usually contains the Aspergillus oryzae fungus.
Miso paste can be used to make sauces, spreads and soup stock, or to pickle vegetables. People generally describe its flavor as a combination of salty and umami (savory), and its color can vary between white, yellow, red or brown, depending on variety.
Although miso is traditionally made from soybeans, certain varieties use other types of beans or peas. Miso can contain other ingredients like rice, barley, rye, buckwheat and hemp seeds, all of which affect the color and flavor of the final product.
Miso contains a good number of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds. One ounce (28 grams) generally provides you with:
- Calories: 56
- Carbs: 7 grams
- Fat: 2 grams
- Protein: 3 grams
- Sodium: 43% of the RDI
- Manganese: 12% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 10% of the RDI
- Copper: 6% of the RDI
- Zinc: 5% of the RDI
It also contains smaller amounts of B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus, and is a source of choline. Interestingly, the varieties made from soybeans are considered to be sources of complete protein because they contain all the essential amino acids needed for human health.
The Health Benefits of Miso
Miso offers a variety of health benefits including:
- Better heart health
- Reduction in cholesterol levels
- Reduce blood pressure
- Protection against type 2 diabetes
Miso may also help improve your brain health. Probiotic-rich foods such as miso have been shown to improve memory and reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
There are more specific benefits of eating miso including:
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, some beneficial and some harmful. Adding miso and other naturally fermented foods (without added chemicals and preservatives) is one way to maintain a healthy gut flora. This will improve your body’s ability to digest and absorb food.
Miso also improves digestion and reduces gas, constipation and antibiotic-related diarrhea or bloating. The probiotics in miso, primarily A. oryzae may help reduce symptoms linked to digestive problems including inflammatory bowel disease.
Miso may also help protect you from certain types of cancer including stomach cancer, liver and breast cancers. Although miso is high in salt, it doesn’t appear to increase the risk of stomach cancer the way other high-salt foods do.
For instance, one study compared miso to salt-containing foods such as salted fish, processed meats and pickled foods. The fish, meat and pickled foods were linked to a 24–27% higher risk of stomach cancer, whereas miso wasn’t linked to any increased risk. Experts believe this may be due to beneficial compounds found in soy, which potentially counter the cancer-promoting effects of salt.
Studies report that regular miso consumption may reduce the risk of liver and breast cancer by 50–54%. The breast-cancer protection appears especially beneficial for postmenopausal women.
Strengthen the Immune System
The probiotics in miso may help strengthen your gut flora, in turn boosting immunity and reducing the growth of harmful bacteria. Another benefit of a probiotic-rich diet is that it may help reduce your risk of getting sick and help you recover faster from infections such as the common cold.
Regularly consuming probiotic-rich foods like miso may also reduce the need for infection-fighting antibiotics by up to 33%.
Your Plant-Based Eating Plan
Everyone is different, which is why you need to find the plant-based eating plan that works for you. However, when you’re starting out, here are some ideas to get you started:
Breakfast or Brunch
- Rolled oats with walnuts, almonds and/or dried fruit: fig, apple, apricot or dates, nuts or chia seeds and a sprinkle of cinnamon. (Soak grains and nuts overnight adding 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to remove irritating acids.)
- Breakfast wrap: Fill a whole-wheat tortilla with scrambled tofu, black beans, peppers, onions, and a splash of hot sauce or salsa.
- Whole-wheat English muffin topped with fresh tomato and avocado slices, or blueberries.
- Rice cooked with seaweed. Add a garnish of pickled burdock root, green tea
- Buckwheat noodles with all green pesto sauce or sesame Tahini
- Quinoa with Seitan (wheat gluten) stir fry with greens
- Chia seed pudding. Chia, a high protein food, expands when added to liquid. Add it to cooked grains or make chia pudding by soaking the seeds in almond milk and add vanilla.
- Greek salad: Chopped mixed greens with fresh or sun-dried tomato, Kalamata olives, diced red onion, fresh parsley, red pepper flakes, extra virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Whole-wheat pita on the side, fresh melon for dessert.
- Tomato basil soup, whole-grain crackers with tabbouleh, and an apple.
- Vegetarian pizza or sandwich topped with tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers, and mushroom. Fresh fruit for dessert.
- Bean burrito made with whole wheat tortilla, spread with diced sautéed onion or a spicy cilantro spread. Fresh corn and pepper salsa.
- Carrot ginger soup, a cooked whole grain or sprouted bread.
- Vegetable kabobs with grilled tofu, and a quinoa and spinach salad.
- Whole-wheat pasta with cannellini beans and peas, and a romaine salad with cherry tomatoes, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Vegetarian chili with a spinach orzo salad
- Vegetable or miso soup adding tofu, and seaweed.
Women often feel weak and blood deficient after menstruation or menopause. Unfortunately, supplements don’t always help as the Iron and B12 in pills are difficult to digest and absorb.
The Academy of Healing Nutrition addresses this and other health concerns resulting from blood and energy deficiency with potent medicinal herbs that have been used for generations to build health and beauty. Guided by the advice of their herbalist, women in China use traditional formulas that are modified to suit their current needs. These herbal formulas do more than provide a source of iron, they also contain a number of valuable plant medicines to support healthy blood production.
photo by Farhad Ibrahimzade
Making the change to a plant-based or vegetarian diet isn’t always easy. You’ll need help to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients that your body needs now and in the future.
At Academy of Healing Nutrition, we support the natural functions of digestion, adrenal vitality and blood building with tasty recipes, appropriate cooking methods and high-quality, rejuvenating herbal elixirs. Our online comprehensive program is always available to help you take charge of your health and beauty naturally.