Live healthfully. Live fully. Know your facts.
What is vegetarianism?
Basically, vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry, nor do they eat anything that contain these ingredients such as beef/chicken broth, caesar salad dressing, and curries containing fish sauce. Animal by-products such as rennet (sometimes found in cheese) and gelatin (found in jello) should also be avoided since they are sourced from dead animals.
- Ovo-lacto vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs, but do not eat dairy products.
- Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products, but do no eat eggs.
What is veganism?
Vegans do not eat any animal products or by-products regardless of whether the animal is living or dead. This includes all eggs, dairy products, and honey.
Many vegetarians and vegans also avoid products made from or tested on animals such as leather goods, some beauty products, and certain cleaning supplies.
OTHER THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Beer – I was sad to learn that not all beer is vegetarian, including Guiness and many other British varieties, because they use animal products such as isinglass or gelatin in their filtering process. Isinglass is produced from fish and gelatin comes from the collagen of an animal’s skin and bones. Others contain non-vegan ingredients such as casein or honey. The good news is most beer is vegetarian and vegan. Check out Barnivore or Vegan Vanguard for a complete list of breweries or just google your favorite to find out.
Calcium – Although calcium is present in some vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, vegetarians (and especially vegans) are at risk of not getting enough calcium in their diet. Thank goodness for supplements. Most adults need 1,000 mg per day but you shouldn’t have more than 500 mg at a time. Vitamin D increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium so take the two together. For more information, the NIH has a great fact sheet on calcium.
Casein – Casein is a binding agent often found in cheese (including soy cheese!). As a protein derived from milk, it isn’t vegan so read ingredient lists closely if you follow a vegan diet.
Daily Reference Intakes (DRI) – The USDA maintains nutrition recommendations to support the health of all Americans (presumably, all humans too). You might have seen the revised food pyramid, My Plate. According to the DRI, we should get 45-65% of our calories from carbohydrates, 20-35% of our calories from fat, and 10-35% of our calories from protein.
Fish Sauce – My love of thai food was dampered recently when I learned how many “vegetarian” items contain fish sauce – literally fermented fish. In some cases, they can easily leave it out, but too often the curries, sauces, and soups are pre-made. The same is true in many other Asian restaurants so make sure to ask before you order.
Gelatin – While you’ve probably heard that gelatin is made from crushed animal bones, that’s just the half of it. Technically it’s a protein derived from collagen extracted from the tendons, ligaments, and tissues of mammals and is found in products such as jello, gummy candies, marshmallow, taffy, fondant, and medicine capsules.
Liquor – This page makes me feel like the bearer of bad tidings, but don’t assume that liquor is vegetarian or vegan because (surprise!) the filtering process may contain animal by-products. Obviously some liquors contain milk or cream (ie: Baileys); less obviously some contain honey – and therefore are not vegan. Barnivore has a handy dandy list though and luckily, most are safe.
Omega-3s – Omega-3 fatty acids are a critical building block that regulate bodily processes such as brain development and cardiovascular health. Most often thought of as a fish oil (DHA/EPA; marine sources), the good news for vegetarians is that it’s also found in flaxseed, walnuts, spinach, brussels sprouts, soybeans, and canola oil (ALA; plant sources). Many vegetarian products also add omega-3s as a supplement. Here’s a quick Q & A on omega-3s from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Partially Hydrogenated Oil – Also known as trans fats, partially hydrogenated oil is now known to be extremely unhealthy (to put it mildly). Unlike the fat found in olive oil, partially hydrogenated oils actually raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good (HDL) and increase risk for heart disease. The best thing you can do is to read the label on everything you buy. If it has trans fats listed on the nutritional column or partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients section, find an alternative product. Want to learn more? Check out this article on trans fats from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Rennet – You might be surprised to learn how many cheeses are made with rennet, which are enzymes extracted from an animal’s stomach. Since the animal is killed to extract the rennet, any product that contains this ingredient is not suitable for vegetarians. Read your labels! When in doubt, reference this helpful cheese list.
Smoke Point – I love to cook with olive oil, but have often been told that it’s not good for you when heated. True, perhaps. Here are a few facts: smoke point refers to the temperature at which a cooking fat or oil begins to break down to glycerol and free fatty acids; it also marks the beginning of both flavor and nutritional degradation. Wikipedia has a handy reference chart. EVOO has a smoke point of 375 degrees. So, in my amateur opinion, either cook with olive oil at an appropriate heat or choose a high smoke point alternative – or take your chances.
Trans Fat – See partially hydrogenated oil (above).
Wine – Like beer and liquor, not all wine is vegetarian or vegan. Sad, sad day. Thank goodness for Barnivore for breaking it down for us.
Clean Cuisine – Filled with recipes, healthy living tips, and home workouts, clean cuisine is about eating unrefined foods packaged in their most natural and nutrient-rich state. I’ve been inspired by Ivy Larson since I first met her many years ago. Her story is an amazing example of how food can transform your life.
Community, National & Global Learning (CNG) – CNG’s vision is of a world where the health disparities and generational cycles of chronic illnesses suffered in communities of color are eradicated so that individuals and their families can enjoy optimal well-being.