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Volume III
November 11, 2011

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

Cook'n Basics 101: Vegetarian Pitfalls to Avoid

By Alice Osborne

There are so many benefits to a largely plant-based diet. Whether we choose the full-out vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, or just want to dabble in that direction, there's no question that eating more green matter will greatly increase our life quality. But let's look now at some common vegetarian pitfalls - so common, in fact, that they're at the heart of why vegetarianism has a bit of a bad rap.

Vegetarian expert, Dr. Carlos Santos, says going vegetarian is more than just eliminating meat from our diet, and that's often where people make their first mistake. Doing so without a well thought out plan often results in simply replacing the animal products with processed and starchy foods that tend to just fill us up.

Most of these foods (e.g. bread, pasta, cookies, and candy) provide empty calories and have high glycemic potential (raising blood sugar). They can make us feel better for only a short while. Then comes a blood sugar crash that sends us looking for the same sugar boost that got us into trouble in the first place. This yo-yo effect is the reason that many well-meaning vegetarians end up chubbier than their mixed-diet counterparts.

So to be on the super-safe side, here are some other nutrients that can go missing when we go meatless, that we want to be sure to include in our diet:

B12 - necessary for heart health, brain function, concentration, and memory.

Iron - results in fatigue, lethargy, and a pale appearance.

Essential fatty acids - when deficient can cause hyperactivity, joint and muscle pain, and thicken the blood. Flaxseed meal and flaxseed oil is the best for this.

Fat-soluble vitamins - these key nutrients (Vitamins A, D, E, and K) are crucial for immune, heart, digestive, and bone health.

L-Carnitine - required for fat metabolism. Low levels can cause muscle weakness, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and heart problems.

Protein - how much we need has been debated for decades. It's better to err on the side of caution. Be sure to take in lots of beans, nuts, seeds, and nut butters (e.g. almond, peanut, and cashew). Combine them in the same meal with whole grains such as rice, millet, quinoa, or sprouted wheat, rye, and amaranth.

But regardless of how we define our diet, it's always best to eat foods in the most pure, natural state as possible. That means buying fresh (not canned, boxed, or frozen) whenever available, and avoid over-cooking, deep frying, and excess salt. If we follow this advice, we're off to a great start.

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