to a Vegetarian/Vegan Diet
By Jacinta Jazz Fenton
Becoming a true vegetarian/vegan means shifting your thoughts as well
as your old habits. Over the years your body has developed an addiction
to certain foods because of the way they were produced. When you realize
that, then you begin to understand your addictions and that you are
in control of your body by what you choose to feed it. By reminding
yourself that you have a choice each time you are at a critical impasse,
you can, over time, condition yourself to make healthy choices.
The transition to a vegetarian/vegan life can be a challenging one,
especially because there are many myths surrounding it. There may
questions concerning the values of foods and how to effectively replace
necessary nutrients. What do I eat? When do I eat? If I decide not
eat carbohydrates will I get enough calories? Without meat am I getting
the required amount of protein? Some of the mythology can easily
dispelled by asking questions of authorized sources and putting time
and effort into your own active research. With todays technology,
information is widely accessible. It is up to you to be proactive.
to your holistic health counselor, your doctor (if s/he is knowledgeable
about vegetarian nutrition), search the Internet, and by all means
your circle to include other practicing vegetarians/vegans.
The most frequently asked question by new vegetarians/vegans is how
to get protein if they are not partaking of flesh foods. The most
means by which they obtain protein is by eating enough greens, legumes,
grains, seeds and nuts. Examples of legumes are soybeans, lima beans,
navy beans, pinto beans, and peanuts. Vegetables that are a good
of protein include sea vegetables (like nori) and sprouted seeds/grains/legumes.
It is well documented that in cultures where they eat soy protein
place of animal protein, the people live healthier and longer lives.
One can ensure an intake of complete protein (i.e. all
the essential amino acids) by eating a balanced diet; it is not necessary
to combine specific foods at each meal, but one should vary their
throughout the day.
Beans, a highly nutritious food source, are often avoided because
of their reputation for causing intestinal gas. To help avoid this,
clients to soak their beans for a number of hours, drain and rinse
them, then cook in fresh water and discard the cooking water. Beans
easily digested when they are cooked twice, hence refried beans.
Carbohydrates are necessary for the production of energy, because after
digestion they are broken down into simple sugars which the cells use
as a kind of fuel. It is unfortunate, however, that so many vegetarians
consume an abundance of carbohydrates in the form of cakes, pasta and
other simple sugars which contribute to bone degeneration, tooth decay,
and could also lead to diabetes. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates
such whole grains, beans, vegetables and the tubular vegetables grown
in warm climates (like cassava, sweet potato, dasheen and green bananas
or plantains) are a more efficient form of energy.
The most abundant mineral in the body is calcium which is found in the
bones and blood. Americans are bombarded with commercials to drink milk
and eat cheese etc, in order to obtain maximum calcium; however, Americans
have one of the highest rates of bone degeneration in the world. Also
remember that dairy products are a leading cause of asthma and other
respiratory diseases. Some non-animal sources of calcium are broccoli,
green leafy vegetables, (like beet greens, collard greens, kale and
watercress), beans, peas, tempeh and some brands of tofu. It is also
found in some sea vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts.
Our bodies make digestive enzymes, but uncooked foods contain their
own live enzymes which aid in their digestion. Consuming foods like
sprouts, wheatgrass, spirulina, sea vegetables and raw greens is beneficial.
Fermented foods like kraut and pickles are an especially rich source
of natural enzymes.
Vitamins and minerals help to regulate the bodys metabolic
processes and are essential for growth, reproduction, and overall
of health. One pitfall when transforming to vegetarianism or veganism
is the over-reliance on mega doses of nutrients that people take
order to compensate for what they feel their new diet lacks. Most
processed vitamins and minerals are made with artificial fillers,
colors, flavors and coatings. Organic local wholefoods are complete
in their nutritional value. Vitamins are synthesized by plants and
into their structure, so when we eat fruits and vegetables we are
obtaining those vitamins. Especially rich sources include green leafy
peppers, carrots, papayas, melons, wheat germ, soybeans, beans, nuts
and seeds. It should be mentioned that iron, often of concern to
is found in many vegetables including whole grains. Furthermore,
the vitamin C found in fruit and vegetables aids the absorption of
It is important to begin and continue the vegetarian or vegan journey
by questioning and researching. Get to know the sources of your information.
Read every label of every product whether it is purchased in a healthfood
store or elsewhere. Your meals should be healthy, nutritious and fun.
Break the old habits of eating. Mix, blend and combine those foods you
love. Enjoy yourself as you discover new foods while nourishing your
body with joy.
Jacinta Jazz Fenton is a holistic health
counselor who trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. For
appointments, call (212) 722-8458.