Vegetarianism: A modern trend

The vegetarian diet is a dietary approach that dates back to ancient Greece, when Pythagoras recommended his followers to abstain from meat both for moral reasons and to keep the 4 humors of the body in balance. A properly designed vegetarian diet improves our health and prevents certain diseases. However, the absence of some animal energy sources can sometimes cause a deficiency of essential nutrients and vitamins. So let’s look at some ways for vegetarians to eat what they want, without fear, while maintaining a balanced diet!

What is vegetarianism and what types of vegetarians are there?
A common definition of vegetarianism is the practice of not consuming red meat, chicken, fish and their by-products. There are various types of vegetarianism, the two main ones being the vegetarian and the vegan diet. The vegetarian diet is divided in the following subcategories: the lacto-vegetarian diet, which includes dairy products but excludes eggs, and the ovo-vegetarian diet, which excludes milk and dairy products but includes eggs. Vegans, i.e. strict vegetarians, do not consume any animal products and their diet consists mainly of fruit, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts.

Two subcategories of the vegan diet are the following: (a) the macrobiotic diet, a Japanese-type vegan diet which is mainly based on the consumption of cereals, vegetables and legumes, with an emphasis on rice and seaweed, and (b) frutarianism or raw veganism, which is based mainly on the consumption of dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

What are the benefits for our health?
According to the American Dietetic Association, the vegetarian diet offers significant nutritional benefits, as it involves lower saturated fat and cholesterol intake and, at the same time, increased intake of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, dried nuts, soy products, fiber and phytochemicals. Vegetarians tend to weigh less than non-vegetarians, and are less likely to die from ischemic heart disease. They also have lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, and they are not al likely to develop certain types of cancer.

What are the biggest risks?
Due to the exclusive intake of plant protein through legumes and soy, veganism excludes some essential amino acids such as methionine and lysine. Moreover, vegan diets are usually deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, because of the non-consumption of fish and eggs. Such diets are linked to the intake of non-heme iron, which is not absorbed by the body as much as heme iron, and low zinc bioavailability due to increased intake of phytic acid. Finally, the levels of vitamin B-12 in vegetarians are much lower than normal!

Correct food combinations so that we don’t harm our health

Foods rich in protein must be consumed sufficiently to meet the criterion of 0.8 g/kg of body weight / day! Therefore, it is recommended that lacto- and ovo-vegetarians increase their intake of dairy products and eggs respectively, and that vegans consume more legumes, mushrooms, nuts and soy products. Good plant sources of non-heme iron, as well as vitamin B, also include legumes, dark green vegetables, and dried fruits, such as broccoli, citrus fruit, tomatoes and peppers for greater absorption. Finally, vegans should include in their diet various alternative sources of omega 3 fatty acids, such as linseed, walnuts and soy, and in specific cases they should take nutritional supplements that contain zinc and vitamin B12.

How can we incorporate certain foods into our daily life easily and quickly?

In vegetarianism, variety is the key to a balanced and nutritious diet! So here are some delicious, easy-to-make, absolutely nutritious vegetarian snacks which will fit perfectly in your everyday routine!

1. Lentil…tacos

Use crispy filo bites as a base, Put lentils, tomatoes, arugula and yogurt (optional for lacto-vegetarians) on top and enjoy this ultimate source of protein and iron!

2. Mediterranean bruschetta

Use crispy filo bites as a base and add fresh tomatoes, green onions, olives, and hummus for extra flavor, for a vegan snack with a Mediterranean touch!

3. Hummus spaghetti salad

Mix spaghetti, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, olives and hummus in a bowl, for a super nutritious, filling spaghetti salad!

4. Vegan crunchy salad

Mix lettuce with spinach and arugula and add cherry tomatoes, sesame seeds and crispy filo bites! To complete the flavor of your salad, make a dressing with hummus, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon!

5. Sweet delight guilt free

Spread tahini on crispy filo bites and add fresh berries and almonds. Enjoy your super nutritious, almost-zero-calorie, dessert!

6. Banana boats

Fill the banana with dark chocolate, almonds and walnuts, cook in the oven for 10 minutes, and enjoy a super easy, scrumptious vegan dessert!

7. Energy-bomb smoothie

Mix in the blender a banana, strawberries, berries, oats, almond milk and chia seeds and enjoy your invigorating vegan smoothie!