Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Meatless Delights for Vegans and Vegetarians


The World Health Organization has classified obesity as a growing epidemic.  The incidence of obesity worldwide has nearly doubled since 1980, affecting nearly 5% of the population as of 2008.  Diabetes is also a growing problem.  In 2006, diabetes affected nearly 5.9% of the world’s population.  Although research regarding genetic predisposition to these problems is ongoing, it has become clear that making smarter food choices is a good first step to help control the problems.  As a result, many people have decided to follow either a vegetarian or vegan diet as a way to combat some of the health problems that arise.

First let’s discuss the differences between “vegetarian” and “vegan.”  Vegetarian diets contain, as a friend explained, “nothing that once had a face.”  Those who choose a vegetarian diet will not eat meat, poultry or seafood.  Their diets consist primarily of legumes, beans, vegetables, eggs and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.  Based on these eating habits, vegetarians are able to consume all the nutrients necessary to stay healthy.

vegan food

Vegan diets are far more restrictive.  Not only do they not include eggs and dairy products, they also will not use or consume anything that was made from animals, including leather, wool, and silk.  They do not use any products that come from animals, like certain glues, or may contain animal by-products, like cleaning supplies.  Due to the greater restrictions in their menu options, many vegans need to take dietary supplements to ensure they get adequate nutrients.  And of course these supplements are carefully selected to ensure they meet vegans’ strict “nothing animal” criteria. 

Most of us think of a vegetarian meal as opening a can of beans, grabbing a hunk of bread (egg-free bread if it’s a vegan meal) and that’s it.  But an animal-free diet doesn’t have to be dull.  Many vegetarian, and even vegan, meals can be flavorful and satisfying.  The key to vegetarian and vegan food, as with any other, is fresh, delicious ingredients.  Who can resist a hot bowl of chili, made with beautiful ripe tomatoes and red kidney beans?  Or humus made from chickpeas, spices and virgin olive oil?  Yummy and animal friendly!

vegitarian food

Of course, socializing can bring its own set of challenges, especially if friends and family have difficulty accommodating your dietary preferences.  Take a summer cookout, for example.  Everyone is enjoying juicy burgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken, while you’re confined to eating potato and macaroni salad.  And if you observe a vegan diet, even traditional salads served at barbecues may be off limits if the mayonnaise is made with egg.  With a little planning, though, these challenges can be handled.  Portobello mushrooms can be marinated, “stuffed” with a mixture of garlic, tomatoes, and herbs, then grilled and eaten just like a burger – an easy vegan recipe that’s also a delicious vegetarian meal. 

Need something suitable for a less casual occasion?  A good option may be to try a vegetarian recipe for paella?  This wonderful dish relies on an assortment of vegetables, herbs, seasonings and rice cooked together in the traditional style.  The result is a wonderful combination of flavors that will appeal to meat eaters as well. 

Although many vegetarian recipes can be also be used as part of a vegan diet, care needs to be taken to be sure nothing from animals is used.  This means checking ingredients on common items like mayonnaise, cookies and breads for egg and dairy products, and choosing soy or almond milk instead of cow, sheep or goat’s milk.

Research has shown that a healthier lifestyle is a major deterrent to many of the diseases and ailments that are plaguing today’s society.  From getting more serious about regular exercise to managing diets, more and more people these days are consciously committing to improving the quality of their lives by opting choices that are most beneficial regarding their wellbeing. 
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