Local Health

3/19/2013

Viva la veggies

By BRITTANY TATE The Brunswick News

Georgie Mallett, a retail clerk for Island Natural Market on St. Simons Island, has been a vegetarian for 35 years.

Now, in her sixth week of transitioning from a devout vegetarian to an ardent vegan, Mallett has no trouble obtaining the necessary proteins from a plant-based, dairy-free and non-animal diet.

"You don't have to stop eating the way you're eating. You just have to change what you're eating," Mallett said. "You can get plenty of protein without eating meat."

If you're a hard-core vegan, have given up meat for Lent or have joined the "Meatless Monday" fad, there are some important vitamins and nutrients you need to supplement what you're missing.

Mallett suggests beans, grains and vegetables. Beans, such as small red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans, are high in fiber and antioxidants.

Grains, such as spelt, oats, quinoa and buckwheat, are great for whole-grain carbohydrates and muscle-building protein.

Protein-rich vegetables include avocado, broccoli, spinach, cooked kale, boiled peas and cooked sweet potato.

Though meat is a go-to choice for most meals, it can bring some unwanted guests.

The Centers for Disease Control found that 76 million people are affected by food-borne illnesses each year. It also found that the most frequent and severe illnesses come from meat and other animal products.

Considering a plant-based diet can do more than just satisfy your protein needs. It has great health benefits as well, Mallett said.

Research has shown that it can lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer of the colon, breast, prostate, stomach, lung and esophagus.

Research has also shown that a plant-based diet eases symptoms of menopause and provides relief from several digestive ailments.

Besides beans, grains and vegetables, legumes, peanuts, tempeh, seitan, cashews, sesame seeds, almonds, oatmeal, cauliflower, asparagus and pumpkin seeds are high-protein plant foods.

If you can't get on board with an entirely all-natural diet, Mallett says multivitamin supplements can make for an easy transition.

"B vitamin is good and we (have) so much of it in our diets already. B12, which is primarily found in animal foods, is a good source of protein and can be found in tofu and tempeh," Mallett said.

Other supplement choices are spirulina, chlorella and hemp. They are rich in nutrients and proteins and are staple supplements for most vegetarians and vegans.

Though switching from a meat-based to a protein-based diet may seem time-consuming and expensive, Mallett says it's actually cheaper to make things from scratch.

"When you change your diet, make sure to start small. Small changes make a big difference," she said.

Switching to an entirely plant-based diet may be easier than you think. Soy milk, for instance, comes in plain, unsweetened, vanilla or chocolate.

Even adding vegetables, fruits, nuts or seeds to a smoothie are a tasty way to make good of a new meatless situation.

* Reporter Brittany Tate writes about lifestyle topics. Contact her at btate@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 317.