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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegan Basics 101

Revised and Expanded January 2014

In response to the many e-mails we receive asking how to become a vegetarian, or how to begin a vegetarian regimen, we've prepared some basics to get you started. Far from complete, and not clinical in nature, this guide may help to answer the many questions that plague those new to the veggie world.

This article has been recognized as a resource by the USDA for inclusion in its USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center Vegetarian Resource List Also included in that resource list is our feature The Road to Vegetaria.

If you choose not to read through the entire feature of Vegetarian Basics 101, simply click on the subjects that interest you.














First, let's define the many categories that encompass the term vegetarian. Often we hear people say they no longer eat red meat, just chicken and fish, so they consider themselves vegetarians. These people are not vegetarians, but we hope that someday they will become vegetarians. True vegetarians follow a diet that avoids animal flesh and includes only plant-based foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

LACTO-OVO VEGETARIAN: Eats no meat, poultry, or fish, but includes dairy products and eggs in the diet along with plant-based foods.

LACTO VEGETARIAN: Excludes all animal products except dairy products. Includes all plant-based foods in the diet.

OVO VEGETARIAN: Excludes all animal products except eggs. Includes all plant-based foods in the diet.

VEGAN OR PURE VEGETARIAN: Vegan is pronounced "vee gun." Some people distinguish between vegan and pure vegetarian, considering the pure vegetarian one who eats no animal flesh, no dairy products, or no eggs, and follows a strict plant-based diet for dietary reasons only. While vegans follow a diet consisting of plant-based foods only, they are further committed to a philosophy that respects animal life and the ecology of the planet.

*As a result, vegans also do not eat honey because many bees are killed in the process of forced procreation to maintain the beehive and the continued production of honey. Frequently, large factory beekeepers kill off their hives late in fall or at the onset of winter. The practice is partly for convenience and partly for economic reasons. Rather than maintaining the hives throughout the winter, bee farmers find it more economical to start with a new beehive in spring.

Vegans do not eat refined cane sugar, because it is clarified over animal bone char in the final steps of the process that makes the sugar white. Instead, vegans choose unrefined sweeteners such as evaporated cane juice, maple sugar, maple syrup, date sugar, Sucanat, and agave nectar.

Vegans also avoid gelatin which is made from the bones, skin, and connective tissue of animals.

Because vegans consider the ecology of the planet a priority along with concern for animal rights, they shun the use of leather, wool, silk, goosedown, and any foods or goods that have been processed using animal products. Their concern is that the planet's future resources have been harmed and animals have suffered in order for these products to come to market.

FRUITARIAN: The frutarian has a simpler diet consisting mainly of fresh fruits and some vining foods that are technically considered fruits, but have been used as vegetables. These vegetable/fruits may include cucumbers, tomatoes, avocados, bell peppers, nuts, and seeds, as well as leafy green vegetables. Yet, there are differing opinions about which foods are or are not acceptable to those following a fruitarian diet.

RAW FOODIST: Those who follow the raw food diet, sometimes called a living foods diet, include all fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and soaked and sprouted grains and legumes. Further, the raw foodist does not cook or heat the foods above 118 degrees, but eats them close to their natural, raw state in order to preserve their valuable enzymes. In addition, they will warm some of their foods in a dehydrator with a temperature regulator. In order to preserve the valuable enzymes that raw foods contain, some warm food to temperatures no higher than 105 degrees, while others will tolerate a little higher heat at 115 to 118 degrees.

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The vegetarian diet centers on traditional, staple foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds-foods that have always sustained world cultures throughout history. The plant-based diet, at first thought, may seem rather limiting. Surprisingly though, this regimen offers much diversity. There are many new products on the market that make the transition from a meat-based diet an enjoyable change. Change, however, can be challenging. The question is whether to make the transition to a plant-based diet gradually or to plunge in dramatically. Our own experience with a gradual transition leads us to believe the slower pace would be more likely to help people stay on the vegetarian path.

Instead of planning your meal around meat, chicken, or fish as the centerpiece of your plate, think of whole grains or legumes as the main ingredient. Enhance the grains or legumes with your favorite seasonings, vegetables, nuts, or seeds. The extra effort you put in to make something special pays off not only in great flavor rewards, but also in amazing health-promoting benefits. Surround your special dish with steamed vegetables. Include a salad with dark leafy greens and a variety of chopped, diced, or shredded vegetables. Those who regard salads as "rabbit food" don't realize how many nutrients and valuable enzymes they're missing.

Many people are unaware of the numerous varieties of grains. You can enjoy a different grain every day of the week and still look forward to those yet untried. Following is a list of whole grains to incorporate into your new diet:

  • brown rice
  • wild rice
  • corn and cornmeal
  • whole wheat, cracked wheat, bulghur wheat
  • pearl barley, barley flakes
  • whole rye berries, rye flakes
  • oat groats, oatmeal
  • millet
  • quinoa
  • spelt
  • triticale
  • amaranth
  • teff
  • kamut.

There are also a number of varieties within each type of grain.

Legumes consist of all kinds of beans and include lentils and split yellow and green peas. Each variety of bean sparks the taste buds with its own unique flavor and texture. Since the digestive system may require a little time to adjust to the added fiber contained in legumes, begin with small amounts and increase slowly. Your own body will be your guide on how much and how quickly to increase quantities.

Apple If you are one who has always thought of nuts as simply a snack, and one to be avoided because "they're too high in fat," reconsider them as an excellent source of protein. A handful or two of raw or dry roasted nuts is a good amount to include in your daily regimen. Though nuts are high in fats, they offer valuable essential fatty acids so necessary to the body's many processes. Nuts are also delicious and add delightful crunch to a dish. Each kind of nut possesses a different proportion of nutrients, so include a variety of nuts to gain the maximum nutritional benefits. You may have learned that one Brazil nut a day contains your daily requirement of selenium. Include seeds as well for their pleasing flavors and textures along with a wealth of health benefits.

Tofu, tempeh, and seitan are excellent ways to dress up a meal. Vegetarian cookbooks are a good source of information on how to prepare these foods and offer a myriad of creative soy food recipes. Tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans. Seitan, which may be less familiar to you, is made from wheat gluten. Check the cooking@homew/zel feature in this web site for some helpful, easy recipes that use tofu. There's no need to be concerned about getting enough protein on a vegetarian diet. High protein foods such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds are all easily obtainable and offer enough diversity to make vegetarian cooking fun and adventurous. Asparagus

Begin by serving one plant-based meal a week. Plant-based foods exclude animal products entirely. If this feels too drastic, begin by eliminating meat, chicken, and fish at that meal, but include eggs or dairy products. Refer to the list of Comfort Foods below for ways to incorporate vegetarian foods without feeling that you are depriving yourself. Serve your vegetarian meal with one or more cooked vegetables. Include a salad with a variety of fresh vegetables every day. Browse through our feature called Vegetarian Food Companies for many helpful resources.

Then, progress to one full day of eating vegetarian. Begin your day with a whole grain cereal, either cooked or dry, such as oatmeal using old-fashioned rolled oats or a dry cereal of oat flakes like muesli. Include fresh fruit that's in season, either a whole piece or two or in a fruit salad.

When shopping for your cereal, read ingredient labels faithfully. Know what you are buying. Look for cereals that list "whole wheat flour, whole rye flour, whole barley flour, etc." rather than the highly refined "wheat flour, or enriched wheat flour." Refined cereals are lacking vitamins and minerals that whole grains contain naturally. Whole grain products are also higher in dietary fiber that becomes lost in the refining process. Look at the nutritional labels. A truly healthy cereal should have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

Include several pieces of fresh fruit daily. Fruits are a combination of whole simple and complex carbohydrates and provide vitamins, minerals, and a vast array of phytonutrients. These are plant chemicals that are packed with powerful antioxidants that work to prevent diseases like cancer. Banana

Drink plenty of water, the beverage most available to us in nature. Doctors recommend drinking at least eight glasses of water per day. Eliminate non-nutritional beverages that provide only empty calories, and replace them with water. Other acceptable beverages include mineral water, herbal teas, and pure fruit and vegetable juices in small quantities.

When you've succeeded with one whole day of eating vegetarian foods, see if you can eliminate the animal-based foods at one meal every day. We, ourselves, began with a vegan dinner every day. As you gain more confidence in your food preparation and establish new shopping directions, you'll soon realize the physical and emotional benefits and will be encouraged to continue your new path.

For a truly healthy focus, one that will boost your energy and improve your mental skills, include a wide variety of foods every day. A plant-based diet consists of whole foods, foods that have their vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes intact, rather than extracted, refined, reformed, and rolled off the food factory lines in neat little packages that cheat you out of natural nutrition. If you follow a vegan plan, include some items from each of the following categories each day to be assured of complete nutrition: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds.

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It may surprise you to learn that fruits contain protein, carbohydrates, and fats, as do all plant-based foods. Though some of the larger fruits like melons, pineapples, and tropical fruits like jackfruit and papayas need to be cut into comfortable portions, many smaller fruits like apples, pears, bananas, peaches, grapes, and berries are ready to eat without any preparation. Peach

Enjoy several pieces of fruit each day. Fruits are an excellent source of whole food simple carbohydrates that digest easily, provide excellent fuel to energize the mind and body, and help to keep the blood sugar stable.

Fruits are packed with not only vitamins and minerals, but also a diversity of phytochemicals that work to prevent oxidation in the cells and help to protect us from diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Include many different fruits rather than concentrating on only one favorite. While all fruits are healthful, each variety contains differing proportions of vitamins and minerals, making them all valuable additions to the diet.

Think variety by including fruits of all colors. Each color contains different carotenes and phytonutrients.

Consider purchasing organic fruits for the increased vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they contain. Many fruits have skins that are completely edible and highly nutritious. Don't miss out on the opportunity to eat all the nutritious portions of a whole food.

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Eat your veggies with abandon. You simply can't over-consume vegetables. In fact, most people don't get enough of them. Like fruits, vegetables contain protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Visit farmers' markets to get the best and freshest of the local vegetables that are in season. Most farmers pick their vegetables the day before and bring them to market early the following morning.

Spinach Experiment with vegetables that are new to you. Include some raw veggies each day. These contain enzymes that help the body's digestion, absorption, and elimination processes.

Your plate should include a mosaic of vegetable colors. Each color contains different carotenes and nutrients in differing quantities.

We all have favorite foods, but rather than eating just broccoli or asparagus all the time, try expanding your variety little by little to include some vegetables of different colors. Explore the red vegetables, such as beets, radishes, radicchio, and tomatoes. During the summer discover the wonderful world of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom vegetables have a special place in the vegetable kingdom. They have not been hybridized like most of the vegetables found in supermarkets. Because heirloom vegetables are grown from seeds the farmer saves year after year, they retain their original, unique qualities like juiciness and exceptional sweet flavor.

Include yellow vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and winter or summer squashes, and yellow bell peppers.

White vegetables include onions, turnips, cauliflower, parsnips, and potatoes. Orange vegetables include carrots and rutabagas. Artichoke

Green veggies are the largest group and include green beans, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, broccoli, asparagus, avocados, Swiss chard, kale, collards, mustard greens, beet and turnip greens, cabbage, lettuces, and green bell peppers.

Prepare a fresh salad every day with dark green lettuces along with lots of crunchy veggies. If you're only used to iceberg lettuce, it's time to graduate to romaine, red leaf, green leaf, escarole, oak leaf, and batavia. These are higher in fiber and contain much more beta carotene than iceberg lettuce. Far richer in flavor, the darker varieties of lettuces contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals than iceberg lettuce.

Chop a leaf or two of the dark greens like kale, collards, and mustard greens into your daily salad. These leafy greens provide an excellent source of calcium. Boost your calcium intake by including these greens in soups and casseroles, or simply enjoy them lightly steamed.

Romaine Add a non-dairy salad dressing that doesn't overwhelm the subtle flavor of the fresh vegetables. Allow your taste buds to really savor the delicate or sometimes earthy flavor of fresh veggies with a light oil and vinegar dressing, Often, just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice is the ideal complement to a tossed salad.

Add some cooked veggies to your every day meals, and introduce yourself to those that may be unfamiliar. Cook them only briefly to preserve their vitamins and minerals. Most veggies can be steamed, stir fried, and even roasted. Don't drown them in seasonings that steal away their wonderful flavors. Enjoy them in their natural state or with just a light touch of seasoning.

Fresh herbs, chopped or minced, can often add zesty enough flavor to a salad or vegetable dish to replace the need for heavy seasonings.

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Introduce whole grains into your diet and make the refined grains a once-in-a-while choice. While whole grains differ in size, color, appearance, texture, and taste, they all have something in common-their anatomy. They all contain an outer layer of bran, the main source of fiber in the grains. Each variety of grain contains a reproductive germ, an excellent source of vitamin E known for its antioxidant qualities. The germ (is what) allows each grain to potentially produce a whole new plant. The endosperm, the light colored area encased by the bran, is the largest portion of the grain and offers considerable protein. Enjoy whole grains in the same way you might serve rice.

Wheat Make your breakfast with whole grain cereals, such as oatmeal, Cream of Rye, quinoa flakes, barley flakes, cornmeal mush, Zoom, Malt-O-Meal.

Turn your breakfast cereal into a delicious sundae with chopped fresh fruits in season or a sprinkle of raisins, date nuggets, currants, chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds. If you like to sweeten your cereal, turn to maple syrup, agave nectar, date sugar, or experiment with using a sweetened soy milk to top your "breakfast sundae." The variety is limitless. Whole grain dry cereals are abundant. Your local supermarket has some of these, but a natural food market offers the widest variety.

Read ingredient labels carefully so you can make informed decisions. Look for cereals that contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, preferably higher. Many whole-wheat cereals contain 5 or 6 grams of fiber per serving.

Buy whole grain breads rather than refined white breads. Whole grain breads are higher in fiber and contain most of the B vitamins that have been processed out of the breads made with white flour.

Millet Cook brown rice rather than white rice. Yes, it does take a bit longer, but your health is worth much more than the extra 20 or 30 minutes it takes to cook the whole grains.

Wild rice is a flavor delight with wonderful flavor, pleasantly chewy texture, and at least 3 grams of fiber per serving compared to 1 gram for white rice.

Pearled or pressed barley, an excellent source of soluble fiber that helps to lower cholesterol, can perk up a meal with its own unique texture and taste. Barley makes a delicious addition to soups and can be used any way you might serve rice.

Polenta, made from whole grain cornmeal, offers great diversity in meal planning. Think of polenta as a base for topping with a wide variety of steamed, stir-fried, or roasted vegetables and topped with a tomato-based sauce, pesto, creamed sauces made with soymilk or nutmilk, or vegetable sauces.

Look to natural food markets for good prices in bulk grains such as quinoa, millet, spelt berries, rye berries, oat groats, whole-wheat berries, and buckwheat. If these are not available in bulk, they are certain to be sold in packages.

PeasEnjoy some whole-grain pastas in place of the usual highly refined pastas made of enriched durum wheat. Natural food markets sell pastas in a variety of traditional shapes that are made from quinoa, spelt, rice, barley, buckwheat, and whole wheat. The textures will be noticeably different, but these offer a higher fiber content than enriched durum wheat pasta.

Consider sprouting grains in your own kitchen and reap the benefits of higher levels of vitamins and minerals. The sprouting process activates the germ to reproduce and increase its storehouse of nutrients. To sprout grains, purchase whole, organic grains and place them in a large bowl. When judging how much grain to sprout, note that the grains will absorb water and double in size. Cover generously with water and soak them overnight. The next day, drain off the water and transfer the grains to a 1-quart jar. Cover the jar with a double or triple layer of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band. Rinse and drain the grains about three times during the day without removing the cheesecloth and lay the jar on its side after each rinse. Tiny white sprouts should be visible the next day. The sprouted grains should be ready to eat within a day or two and can be added to salads, soups, or sprinkled over almost any of your favorite foods. Sprouted grains can be eaten raw, dehydrated, or cooked.

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The world of legumes, sometimes called pulses, encompasses all varieties of beans, including lentils and green and yellow split peas. Each type of bean has its own unique texture and flavor, creating welcome variety to the vegetarian diet. Legumes contain soluble fiber that helps to lower cholesterol naturally.

Beans can easily be incorporated into soups and salads, but don't stop there. Put cooked beans into the food processor with seasonings and make an appetizer dip or a thick spread to use on whole grain breads or crackers. Put beans into the food processor or mash them by hand with your favorite flavor enhancers to make a hearty sandwich spread or even a sandwich filling. Try some new recipes that use beans as the centerpiece of your meal; a vegetarian chili is one example, burritos another. Include beans in sloppy Joes or prepare a lentil loaf. Beans are a very high protein food that's also packed with vitamins, phytonutrients, fiber, and plenty of calcium.

Peas Beans can be soaked overnight and put into a sprouting jar or bag the next day. Within a day or two, nutritious bean sprouts should be ready to enjoy. Sprinkle them over a salad or add them to soups or casseroles. Sprouted beans vastly increase their vitamin and mineral content during the sprouting process.

The soybean contains the highest level of protein of the entire bean family and a hearty level of fiber as well. The Asian culture has brought numerous soy products into prominence with a wealth of creative foods like tofu, tempeh, miso, and okara. The soybean has also been employed in unique ways to create meat-like foods that taste like hamburgers, steak, chicken, ham, turkey, and even fish. Cooked fresh soybeans, called edamame, can be added to salads, whole-grain dishes, soups, and casseroles. Edamame can even be turned into a delicious spread in the food processor with the addition of seasonings.

Dragonbean Tofu provides almost unlimited creativity to the vegetarian diet and comes in water-packed cartons found in most supermarkets as well as natural food markets. For the widest selection of organic varieties, shop at a health food market. Tofu is available in a number of different consistencies from regular, which is quite soft, to firm, and extra-firm. The difference is the amount of water retained in the tofu, with the softer tofu containing the most water. The soft or regular tofu makes excellent sauces when prepared in the blender or food processor with seasonings. Firm and extra firm tofu works well in salads, stir-fries, baked dishes, or even marinated dishes. Firm or extra-firm tofu plus seasonings of your choice makes delicious spreads that take the place of dairy products like flavored cream cheese. Simply put the tofu into the food processor with a selection of seasonings and process to a creamy consistency.

Silken tofu, available in aseptic boxes that need no refrigeration, comes in soft, firm, or extra firm and makes an excellent base for savory sauces, fruity parfaits, or delicious fruit smoothies. Vegan and vegetarian cookbooks are an excellent source of recipes for using tofu.

Soy products abound these days and can be found in the form of veggie hot dogs, lunchmeats, patties, ground "meat" style, veggie ham, veggie fish, and veggie chicken. Many supermarkets sell these items in the deli section. Natural food markets offer a wider variety than most supermarkets. Asian markets will have some of the veggie meats in their freezer section. Be sure to read ingredient labels carefully. Some of these products may have ingredients vegans do not want to include in the diet, such as whey or casein from cows milk.

Tempeh is a soy product that was developed in Indonesia and is made by fermenting soybeans and molding them into flat cakes. These offer more diversity in the bean category and can be marinated, chopped, shredded, stir-fried, baked, or barbecued. Tempeh, an excellent source of protein, is available in natural food markets in the deli section or in Asian markets in the frozen food case.

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Pistachio Nuts are the "Nutrition Kings" of the food world because each little nut contains a powerhouse of health-promoting nutrients. Nuts are also irresistibly delicious and can be considered the ultimate convenience food. Like fruits and vegetables, nuts do not need cooking or preparation of any kind. Because they don't require refrigeration for short-term use, nuts are ideal travel foods.

Whole or coarsely ground nuts add pleasing texture to a salad, while finely ground nuts can turn a pasta sauce into a special treat when added at the end of cooking.

Nut butters from organic sources are delightful spread on apples and pears and enjoyed as a snack. Walnut

Nuts can be ground into a powder in a small electric coffee grinder. Add ground nuts to a sauce or a soup that needs a little thickening and boost up the nutrition as well.

Nuts are an outstanding source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, and a host of important trace minerals like iron, zinc, and copper not contained in many foods. Nuts are rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and selenium. Walnuts and butternuts provide us with omega 3 fatty acids, while omega 6 fatty acids are found in all nuts. The essential fatty acids are important to the functioning of all the body's processes:

  • Transporting oil-soluble vitamins
  • Maintaining hormones
  • Growing and maintaining hair, fingernails, and skin
  • Promoting energy
  • Maintaining good levels of cholesterol and triglycerides

Keep a variety of nuts on hand rather than just one kind. Each nut family contains a different proportion of nutrients. For instance, almonds are especially high in calcium while hazelnuts are packed with copper. Pistachios have the greatest amount of potassium, but peanuts are highest in folic acid, an important B vitamin. Store nuts in the refrigerator to avoid rancidity. Pecan

Peanuts are not actually part of the nut family but are actually a legume. However, they are often grouped with nuts because their nutritional profile is so similar.

Purchase nuts raw or dry roasted. If you have raw nuts and wish to roast them, simply preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) and place the nuts on a baking sheet. Roast them for 5 to 10 minutes. Then remove them to a dish to cool completely. Commercially roasted nuts are often salted and frequently roasted in oil, adding unneeded sodium and, sometimes, undesirable fats, namely trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils. Though nuts are quite heat stable, the thiamine content decreases when heated and valuable essential fatty acids may diminish when nuts are exposed to high heat.

And the Food and Drug Administration Says:
"Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."

Following is a list of nut varieties:

  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Butternuts
  • Cashew
  • Chestnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamias
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

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Seeds, which include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flaxseeds, are tiny storehouses of nutrients featuring protein, calcium, fiber, vitamin E, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Include them raw and unhulled because heating destroys much of their nutritional values.

Since seeds are very subject to rancidity, purchase them from a store that sells them in large quantities and turns them over quickly and store them in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage.

Sunflower Seeds Seeds of all varieties are easy to incorporate into the diet. Sesame seeds are especially delicious sprinkled on salads, over cereals, and desserts. Sesame seed paste, also called tahini, makes a delicious tahini sauce when mixed with lemon juice, garlic, water, salt, and a dash of cumin. This sauce enhances grain dishes, bean dishes, baked potatoes, and even pita sandwiches. Tahini can also be made into a delicious salad dressing.

Sunflower seeds, a dynamic source of vitamin E, selenium, and zinc, add crunch to salads, cereals, and cooked grain dishes. Combine them with cooked grains and turn them into delicious patties.

Pumpkin seeds, packed with zinc, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, are also delicious additions to salads. Pumpkin seeds can also be ground into a fine meal in the blender and used to thicken sauces and soups.

Flaxseeds are one of the best plant source of omega 3 fatty acids and have high levels of magnesium, selenium, zinc, and iron. Since flaxseeds do not break down in the digestive system when consumed in their whole form, they should be ground into a fine meal in a small electric coffee grinder or purchased as flaxseed meal in natural food markets. Use them daily by sprinkling a tablespoon of flaxseed meal over cereals and salads and gain added fiber.

Hempseeds, while still uncommon in chain grocery stores, can be found in natural food markets. Highly nutritious, hempseeds contain omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids and are an excellent source of calcium and iron. Sprinkle them over salads and cereals.

Consider sprouting seeds for enhanced nutrients. The sprouting process starts the cycle of creating a new plant from each seed--a process that increases the vitamin and mineral content many times over.

For sprouting, purchase organic seeds that are especially for sprouting use. These have not been sterilized and still contain a living germ. Try making your own alfalfa, red clover, radish, and onion seed sprouts. In their whole organic form sunflower seeds are fun to sprout. It's a delight to see tiny sprouts emerging from their dark, tough, outer hulls.

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It's easier than you might imagine to obtain plenty of protein from vegetarian foods. If you include dairy products and eggs into your regimen, look no further. These are a rich source of protein. Seek out low-fat or non-fat dairy products to avoid excessive saturated fats. Almond

In a diet consisting solely of plant based foods, protein abounds in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. In the legume family, the soybean ranks highest in its protein content, but all legumes are excellent sources of protein.

Products made from soy are usually very high in protein, with the exception of soy sauce. Read labels on packages of tofu and veggie meats for the surprising amount of protein these contain. Try some tempeh, made from fermented soybeans. You may find it surprising that even fruits and vegetables contain protein.

Be sure to include a wide variety of foods throughout the day with the assurance that these will provide you with more than adequate protein.

When you sprinkle a few nuts or some garbanzo beans over a salad, you are adding protein.

For more information on protein for vegetarians see Protein Basics

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The term "vegan diet" may sound like a food regimen one might try temporarily as a weight loss plan or a regimen to regain one's health after an illness or trauma. While it brings success when applied for these purposes, a vegan diet is a lifestyle change that, along with regular exercise, keeps one vigorously healthy and fit permanently and almost effortlessly.

To benefit fully from a vegan diet of plant-based foods, we suggest you familiarize yourself with a few concerns expressed by those unfamiliar with a well-planned program. We cannot stress enough the importance of including a wide variety of foods and consuming, on a daily basis, foods from each of the following groups: legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Those who consume a strictly whole-foods plant-based diet rarely require supplementation from vitamins and minerals with a few exceptions.

Orange It may be helpful to know the RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowance) more recently renamed Dietary Reference Intake or DRI, listed on supplement bottles reflect figures for vitamins and minerals set above that needed to prevent deficiencies, since the body does not absorb all the nutrients we consume, either from foods or supplements.

Vitamin B12
The U.S. RDA is 2 to 2.6 mcg per day. Vitamin B12 are actually bacteria found in the soil. Animals consume this vitamin when they graze and can pass it on to humans who eat animal-based foods. Since Vitamin B12 as cyanocobalamine is not readily available from plant-based foods, it is important that you include a supplement to fulfill the body's needs.

Though the requirement seems small, this vitamin is essential to maintaining a healthy nervous system, important in preventing anemia, helpful in cell and blood formation, beneficial to proper digestion, fertility, and growth, and necessary in the synthesis of genetic material (DNA).

This vitamin is also an aid to people with menstrual difficulties, nervousness, insomnia, memory loss, depression, fatigue, skin problems, asthma, schizophrenia, and heart palpitations.

If the label on the supplement says it contains Vitamin B12, make sure it includes the word cyanocobalamin or cobalamin. In this form the vitamin will be more readily absorbed.

Many foods are now fortified with Vitamin B12. Look for it on soymilk labels, cereal packages, and meat and chicken substitutes made from soy protein.

Natural food markets carry nutritional yeast flakes in 12-ounce round cartons. The vegetarian support formula of nutritional yeast contains Vitamin B12 as cyanocobalamin. Added to dishes in quantities of one teaspoon to two tablespoons, the yeast contributes a mildly cheesy flavor to many foods like tofu dishes and soymilk sauces. Two heaping tablespoons a day will supply the needed RDA. Many new mothers find it increases their milk production during lactation.

Collards The U.S. RDA is 1,000 mg for most adults. Teens may require 1,300 mg, while adults over 50 require 1,200 mg per day. Calcium is an important mineral for maintaining firm bone structure and strong healthy teeth. This mineral helps us in other ways as well. It is essential for blood clotting, necessary for muscle relaxation and contraction, important for regulation of cell metabolism, and vital for nerve cell message transmission.

Maintaining healthy levels of calcium is rarely a problem on a well-planned vegan diet. You can find calcium in a multitude of plant foods. Vegetables that contain the highest calcium content include collards, kale, mustard greens, watercress, broccoli, okra, and dandelion greens. Sea vegetables such as wakame, arame, hiziki, and dulse are also excellent sources of calcium.

Impressive calcium content can be found in all legumes. Enjoy them daily not only for their exceptional calcium benefits, but also for their great flavors and textures. Within the bean family soybeans rank highest in calcium, with navy beans and black beans following closely. Foods made from soybeans, such as soymilk, tofu processed with calcium, tempeh, and meat and chicken substitutes made from soy protein will provide plenty of calcium.

Nuts and seeds are also outstanding sources of this mineral with almonds, hazelnuts, and sesame seeds rating highest. Sesame tahini added to salad dressings and sauces is a good way to bring calcium into the diet.

Among the fruits, figs are tops for their calcium content. Oranges and fortified orange juice will deliver this mineral in ample quantities as well.

Vitamin D
The U.S. RDA is 400 IU. Vitamin D is technically a hormone that is manufactured in the skin when the skin is exposed to natural sunlight. Essential to our health, Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium in order to maintain strong bones and teeth. Just 10 or 15 minutes a day of natural sun exposure will provide the body with enough Vitamin D to function optimally. If you are unable to get direct sun exposure, look for foods that are fortified with this vitamin or take a supplement.

Sunchoke When reading labels on fortified foods or supplements, vegans will want to choose those items labeled Vitamin D2 rather than Vitamin D3. Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, is synthesized from plant sources, mostly from yeasts through the process of irradiation.

Animal sources, such as, fish, sheep wool, hides, or cattle brains, provide the base for the manufacture of Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
Called essential fatty acids, these important fats perform many functions including enhancing the immune system, manufacturing cholesterol and triglycerides, preventing heart attacks, reducing blood viscosity, and aiding blood clotting. Essential fatty acids play a major role in the cell function of the reproductive organs and the endocrine glands.

Though Omega 3s are available from animal sources such as fatty fish and fish oil capsules, vegans can find sufficient quantities from many plant sources. Following are foods that contain ample quantities of Omega 3s:

  • dark green leafy vegetables like kale and collards
  • broccoli
  • flax seed meal and flax seed oil
  • hemp seeds amd hemp seed oil
  • soy beans and soy bean oil
  • firm tofu
  • organic canola oil walnuts, and walnut oil

Following are recommended daily servings of Omega 3 fatty acids:

Flax seed oil 1 teaspoon
Flax seed meal 1 tablespoon
Canola oil 4 teaspoons
Walnuts 1/4 cup
Hemp seed oil 1 tablespoon
Soybeans 1 cup
Firm tofu 12 ounces


The U.S. RDA is 8 mg for all men and postmenopausal women. Premenopausal women require 18 mg per day. An important mineral, iron supplies oxygen to the cells throughout the body and carries away carbon dioxide as waste. It also helps immune system function and assists our mental processing.

Good sources of iron are found in all types of legumes but are especially high in soybeans and products made of soybeans, such as firm tofu. Grains are high in iron with quinoa ranking highest. Raw kale, raw spinach, mushrooms, and baked potatoes are also healthy sources of iron.

Cashew Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of this mineral with pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, sesame seeds, and pistachios leading in quantities. Meat substitutes made from soy are outstanding sources for iron.

The iron content of blackstrap molasses is exceptionally high, making it an important source for this mineral.

Iron is best absorbed when eaten along with foods containing Vitamin C. Most vegetables qualify, as do citrus fruits. A little squeeze of lemon juice will easily enhance iron absorption.

The U.S. RDA is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. A facilitator to many functions in the body, zinc wears many hats. A few of its many tasks include eliminating carbon dioxide, assisting wound healing, and helping the immune system.
Legumes are a good source of zinc, especially garbanzo beans and lentils. Products made from soy protein, such as the meat and chicken substitutes provide plenty of zinc. Wheat germ, millet, and quinoa are highest among the grains, with all grains supplying healthy quantities.
Nuts and seeds offer ample zinc stores, with sesame tahini at the top of the list, followed by pumpkin seeds, cashews, and almonds.
For more information on zinc see

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Though margarines and cooking oils derived from olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados have been touted as health foods, they may actually be posing health risks and adding extra calories to the diet when used too liberally. All oils are 100% fat that has been extracted from whole foods.
Consider that every tablespoon of oil contains 14 grams of fat and each tablespoon of oil delivers 120 calories. There is no nutritional requirement for vegetable oils separated from their original food source. Avocado
Cooking with liberal quantities of oils and margarines has become the established norm in most cuisines worldwide because these fats cook foods quickly and act as flavor carriers. But concentrated fats like oils extracted from whole foods may also be making you gain weight that, in turn, may lead to other health problems like diabetes. Extracted oils and margarines also contain saturated fat that may contribute to heart disease.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids from whole food sources, consumed in limited amounts like one to two ounces of nuts and seeds daily, are a more healthful option. Enjoy avocados and olives in small quantities. Natural foods not only give us the essential fats we require, but also supply us with a host of vitamins, minerals, and phytynutrients in quantities the body can recognize and readily use.
Rethink your regular cooking methods and aim for minimizing the quantites of extracted fats you use. In time, you'll find you can eliminate these fats from many dishes by replacing them with water or vegetable broth and seasoning the cooking liquid with lemon juice, flavored vinegars, a touch of soy sauce, herbs, and spices.
Herbs like garlic, dill, basil, mint, parsley, and cilantro each contribute unique flavors to cooked or raw dishes. Combine one or more herbs in a dish and discover an entirely new flavor creation.


If you were to prepare a health-oriented shopping list with specific goals you could aim for, your list might possibly look like this:
  • normal blood pressure
  • normal cholesterol
  • clear, unclogged arteries,
  • a trim figure,
  • plenty of energy,
  • sexual vitality,
  • pain-free days and nights,
  • a good night's sleep,
  • good digestion,
  • a sharp memory,
  • good concentration
  • a happy outlook.

Do these goals seem like a fantasy or just plain wishful thinking? Actually, many nutrition-oriented doctors have learned through studies that lifestyle changes such as eating a plant-based diet, exercising, and eliminating smoking can help you to attain these goals over time.
Because whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are so high in complex carbohydrates, the body is supplied with plenty of energizing fuel as well as good hydration. You won't have to drag yourself out for a walk-you'll be bursting out the door willingly. Exercise tones the muscles, helps to maintain bone mass, and increases your levels of endorphins, hormones that heighten your sense of pleasure. Turban Squash
Whole grains contain many of the B vitamins that directly help the functioning of the nervous system. You may find yourself thinking more clearly, concentrating with more ease, maintaining a sharper memory, managing stress better, sleeping more soundly, and enjoying an overall feeling of well being.
Certain foods have been beneficial in their ability to lower blood pressure. Some grains, such as oats and barley, and many varieties of beans are noted for their soluble fiber that has helped to bring high blood pressure down to normal levels. These same foods also help to lower high cholesterol levels.
All plant foods contain valuable phytochemicals that are known to protect the body from free-radical damage. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that damage our cells and are linked to a number of debilitating diseases, such as cancer, coronary artery disease, cataracts, and even aging.
Dean Ornish, M.D., Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., and John McDougall, M.D. have seen evidence in their medical practices that a strict vegan diet reverses heart disease, lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and brings weight down naturally. Tomato
The overall benefits you'll derive from a vegan diet come from the increased intake of vitamins and minerals from whole foods that help to strengthen the immune system, keep the bones strong, aid the digestion, provide abundant energy, and bring excess weight down to normal.
Though this may seem a bit trite, there is a bonus benefit to adopting a vegan diet--the ease of kitchen clean-up after preparing a hearty meal. Unless you are using an excess of cooking oils, nothing will be greasy, not your food, not your pots and pans, not your sink. Outside of literally burning foods, you'll discover pots and pans seldom require heavy-duty scrubbing.
Are these attainable goals? Absolutely, but don't take our word for it. Try it and see for yourself. You have everything to gain!
The idea is to enjoy delicious whole foods in their natural state without the need for processed, refined, and laboratory manufactured creations masquerading as food. You'll experience the health makeover you've been seeking.

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The frozen food cases of most health food markets are filled with delicious comfort foods and tasty entrees that are vegetarian, with many vegan offerings as well. Savvy supermarkets now offer a limited selection of frozen vegetarian and vegan foods, too. Check these markets often to find new items as they become available.
Bird Eating Burger Be sure to read ingredient labels carefully. Many of the fake meat products, or analogs, may not be vegan because they contain egg whites as binders or whey or casein derived from milk. Some imitation meat products may be higher in fat content than is desirable.
The manufacture of faux or fake meat, chicken, and fish products begins with the whole soybean, but the process involves isolating the protein from the soybean and combining it with ingredients whose names you may not recognize. Though these imitation foods may be vegetarian or vegan, most are derived from refined and processed items and are no longer whole foods.
Faux meat products make good transition foods while in the process of moving to a plant-based diet, but they are no longer whole foods and may create imbalances in the body. They are not everyday foods; however, once you've become comfortable eating plant-foods exclusively, you can certainly enjoy the faux meat products on special occasions.
Following are some of the transition foods available in natural food markets or even some chain groceries along with some suggestions for creating plant-based comfort foods:
If you enjoy eating hamburgers, you can still enjoy burgers, but with a little tweaking of the ingredients. Use a whole grain bun rather than one made of refined white flour. It's much more nutritious and offers more fiber as well as richer flavor.
Fill your whole grain bun with one of a variety of meatless burgers that are now available in many nationwide supermarkets in the frozen food case. Boca Burger makes a few different kinds including one that is vegan. Gardenburgers come in different flavors including a vegan type. MorningStar Farms produces Hard Rock Café All Natural Veggie Burgers that are vegan patties. Worthington makes a fat-free vegan burger. There are many more, but it's important to read the ingredient labels to orient yourself to their contents.
You can create your own burger from whole grains, beans, and seasonings. Check our
Recipe Index for some ideas.
Add some fresh tomatoes, onions, and lettuce to your burger, and seek out a veggie mayonnaise such as Nayonaise by Nasoya or Vegenaise by Follow Your Heart for the finishing touch on a delightful burger (that won't clog up the arteries).
Check the frozen food case of your local supermarkets as well as natural food markets for new products that appear with regularity. Recently some of the major food companies such as General Mills, Kellogg's, and Kraft have purchased smaller companies that manufacture health foods. Vegetarian and vegan foods are easier to find than ever.
Pot Pies, Burritos, and Enchiladas
Amy's products can be found in many supermarkets in the frozen food case. If the supermarket in your area does not carry this brand, check with your natural food market. El Burrito makes Soyrizo, a meatless soy chorizo, along with soy meatloaf and soy tacos. Ask your local supermarket manager to order some of these vegetarian items. The markets want your business and will often honor requests.
Lunchmeats, Canadian Bacon, Pepperoni
Yves Veggie Cuisine makes all of these and more. Veggie lunch meats by Yves are made from soy products and wheat gluten and make for tasty sandwich fillings as well as great flavor additions to pasta sauces and casseroles. Find them in your natural food market and some savvy supermarkets.
Hot Dogs, Italian Links, Sausages
Yves Veggie Cuisine and Litelife make their products from soy and wheat gluten with flavors that are difficult to distinguish from the real thing. These products are cooked and ready to heat and eat. Lightlife makes Gimme Lean sausage, hot dogs, fake bacon, and more. MorningStar makes Veggie Dogs as well as Burgers.
Fantastic Foods makes instant meals in a cup and is famous for Cha-Cha Chili. They also make Chili Ole'. For a tasty and easy chili recipe check our Recipe Index http://www.vegparadise.com/html
For a more complete list of vegetarian offerings, see our Vegetarian Food Companies page.
Refer to our VegParadise Bookshelf for a selection of vegetarian books on health, nutrition, and cooking.

    Anderson, Mike. The RAVE Diet and Lifestyle. RaveDiet.com, 2004.
    Barnard, Neal. Eat Right Live Longer. Harmony Books, 1995.
    Campbell, T. Colin. The China Study. Benbella Books, 2004.
    Food and Nutrition Board. Institute of Medicine. National Academies.
    Fuhrman, Joel. Eat to Live. Little, Brown and Company, 2003.
    Kaufman, Nancy Brockel, Pat Beck, and Karen Heller. North Dakota State University. U.S. Department of Agriculture.
    McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984.
    Melina, Vesanto, and Brenda Davis. The New Becoming Vegetarian. Healthy Living Publications, 2003.
    Mindel, Earl. Earl Mindell's Vitamin Bible. Warner Books, 1991.
    The NutriBase Nutrition Facts Desk Reference, Second Edition. Avery, 2001.
    Silverman, Harold M., Joseph A. Romano, and Gary Elmer. The Vitamin Book. Bantam Books, 1995.
    UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. "Vitamins and the RDA."
    Wood, Rebecca. The New Whole Foods Encycopedia. Penguin, 1999.


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