By Raluca Tutulan, Registered Homeopath
Today we are going to talk about a few tips for success in eating a balanced vegetarian diet.
- Plan your meals
- Include umami flavours in your diet
- Substitute your favourite dishes
Tip 1: Plan your meals:
You won’t have to do this forever, but you are changing your lifestyle and chances are, your meals are going to be a little different than they were before. If you are used to eating meat with a side of veggies for your meals, you can’t just make the same things without the meat. You won’t be satisfied with just vegetables.
If your meals are not satisfying, then you will find yourself with cravings for sugars, breads, cheeses and junkfood, and that is not a healthy vegetarian diet.
Your vegetarian diet should include a balance of protein, fiber, healthy fats, some starchy vegetables and whole grains. It may be tempting to consume more bread, potatoes and other starches, but these cause spikes in our blood sugar, which makes us tired and can increase appetite and sugar cravings. Keeping our blood sugar regulated is important for our energy, mood and long-term health.
Make a plan for each one of your meals to include some sort of protein and fiber. Then add some healthy fats and carbohydrates throughout your day. This makes you feel full and provides you with a balanced energy (without the sugar crash).
If you are feeling stuck, here are some plant-based meal ideas, that include both protein and fiber and sometimes fat and starches:
- Overnight oats
- Smoothies with seeds or protein powder
- Chia seed pudding
- Tofu scramble with vegetables
- Avocado on whole grain and seed bread
- Chickpea salad
- Grilled vegetables and tempeh wrap
- Quinoa or lentil pasta with loaded tomato sauce
- Buddha bowls (grain, vegetables, and protein)
- Hummus and veggies
- Nuts and berries
- Apple and almond butter
- Guacamole and seed crackers
- Taco bowls with lentil quinoa taco “meat”
- Vegetable Stir-fry with tofu
- Red Lentil Soup
- Falafel and Kale Ceasar salad
Dinners and lunches are where you can really get creative with your vegetarian diet. Pick up a few cookbooks, or start looking online, there are so many great recipes available.
My first source of inspiration was Angela Liddon from Oh She Glows ( https://ohsheglows.com/)
Tip 2: Include umami in your diet
Umami is the fifth basic taste that is described as a savoury taste. The other basic tastes are: sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
Umami is the taste that is achieved as a result of combining the amino acid glutamate and inosinate or guanylate (nucleotides) with salts. It’s the savoury flavour that is generated by the presence of protein. It is found in meat and fish, but also in some foods with sauce. For example, the combination of tomato sauce and parmesan cheese gives us the umami flavour.
We crave umami.
Side note: Did you know that MSG mimics umami? It is a flavour enhancer that is found in chip seasoning, Chinese food and other fast food.
Flavours play an important role for our survival. The sour taste in unripe and rotting fruit and bitter taste of alkaloids (organic basic substances found in pharmacologically active plants) signal to us that the food is not safe to consume.
The sweetness of sugar indicates an energy source, and saltiness indicates minerals that help keep our body fluids balanced.
Umami signals to the body that we have consumed protein, another energy source, and triggers the secretion of digestive enzymes to break down and digest protein.
Now that you know that we naturally crave umami, because it is our body’s signal that we consumed protein, you can keep this in mind and try to include this flavour in your plant-based diet. Do this especially when you are consuming plant-based protein, so your body releases the enzymes needed to break it down.
Some examples of vegetarian sources of umami include:
- Miso paste
- Shiitake and matsutake mushrooms (and other mushrooms)
- Sea vegetables
- Soy sauce and Tamari
- Caramelized onions
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut
- Tomatoes and ketchup
- Nutritional yeast
- Beets, broccoli, carrots, corn, green peppers, sweet potatoes
Some food combinations have a very rich umami flavour such as miso soup with shiitake mushrooms or tomato sauce and parmesan cheese (for a plant-based combination, parmesan cheese can be substituted for nutritional yeast).
Vegetables such as onions, broccoli, carrots and green peppers have a more subtle umami flavour. The flavour can be enhanced by seasoning them, or by the cooking techniques. Caramelizing onions brings out their umami flavour. Grilling, roasting and sautéing vegetables also enhances their flavour.
Tip 3: Substitute your Favourite Meat Dishes
My number 1 tip for success is finding substitutes for your favourite meat dishes.
Chances are, you are probably going to have cravings for certain meat dishes. They won’t last forever, but it is good to find a substitute that you enjoy when those craving hit.
For example, I used to LOVE chicken wings. When I started missing them, I looked into recipes and discovered buffalo cauliflower “wings”:
These are battered cauliflower florets which are roasted and covered in spicy sauce, but this can be changed to another sauce if you prefer. They are delicious!
There are plenty of meat substitutes you can find at grocery stores, but when you read the package, they usually have A LOT of ingredients. There’s nothing wrong with having these products once in a while, but it’s always best for our bodies to eat whole foods and food that is as close as possible to it’s natural form. This makes it easier for our body to break down the food, and we are provided with more nutrients.
Suggestions for meat substitutions:
For the summer BBQ days:
vegetable skewers and king oyster mushrooms
I make my vegetable skewers with alternating pieces of bell peppers, red onion, zuchhini and cremini mushrooms and season them with a steak spice.
Oyster mushrooms have a very meaty texture. They can be marinated in the same way you would marinate your steak, or cover with miso paste and allow to marinate in the fridge overnight, then remove excess paste when ready to grill.
For the burger lover:
There are a number of places now offer beyond meat patties, which are rich in umami and protein!
You can make your veggie patties at home using beans and lentils for protein and spiced with your favourite herbs. I found that the secret to a good veggie burger is keeping the ingredients simple, and using lots of garlic.
“Pulled” carrots or Pulled Jackfruit stewed with your favourite pulled pork sauce.
Lox: Carrot marinated with liquid smoke.
Chickpea salad. I like this recipe by Oh She Glows https://ohsheglows.com/2015/07/21/chickpea-salad/
Lentil Walnut loaf. Check out this recipe https://ohsheglows.com/2012/10/05/glazed-lentil-walnut-apple-loaf-revisited/
Check back in next week for our last post in this series. We are going to talk about B12 and a vegetarian diet, as well as tips for social situations.
If you would like to book a vegetarian transition consult with me (and get 1-on-1 guidance on how to make the change work for you), contact me here!