I think we all know (or at least, assume) that eating more fruits and vegetables is a healthy choice. I have yet to find the person who thinks eating vegetables is BAD for you, although I do have many patients who are afraid that eating fruits will worsen their diabetes. With the recent media focus on the risks of eating red meat (and the link to increased risk of developing diabetes), many people are taking a critical look at their diet and wondering what to do.
My honest recommendation for the majority of us is to simply increase the color in our diet- focus on increasing all the fruit and vegetable servings you eat throughout the day. In addition to that, I encourage patients to try and eat at least one vegetarian meal per week- that’s one out of 21- not too much to ask! More is not a problem, mind you, but getting Texans to restrict their red meat can be a challenge, especially in BBQ season…
For those of you considering jumping in full force and becoming vegetarian, there are a few things to remember.
Number one: vegetarian does not equal healthy.
Please remember that eating poptarts and chocolate chip cookies may be vegetarian, but that does not mean you are getting all the nutrients your body needs!
Number two: pay attention to PROTEIN.
When you give up meat, you need to be sure you are getting adequate protein from other sources. Some vegetarians add in seafood (pesco-vegetarians), others add in dairy and egg (lacto-ovo-vegetarians), while vegans consume absolutely no animal products. Protein is found in fish, dairy (cheese/milk) and eggs, but also in nuts, seeds, legumes (dry beans and peas) and some grains. Your daily protein needs are weight and age dependent, but women over 19 need roughly 46g of protein daily, and men >19 need roughly 56g. To give you a frame of reference, a cup of milk has 8 grams of protein, and a cup of dry beans has 21g.
If you are radically changing your diet, I highly recommend you book an appointment with a local registered dietitian to be certain your new food choices will meet all your body’s needs.
BOTTOM LINE: Up those vegetables and fruits, and if you are going all-out vegetarian, pay extra attention to your protein!