Wondering what the best things are about being vegetarian or vegan? I’m sharing some of my top insider tips on some of the cool, awesome benefits about going plant-based.
10 Awesome Things You ONLY Know if You Eat Vegetarian (or Vegan)
1. Farmers Markets are Like Disneyland
There is nothing that brings a smile to a vegetarian’s face like a trip to the local farmers market. They will be riding high, thanks to piles of gnarled carrot roots in rainbow colors, Easter egg radishes in tones of pink, royal purple eggplants, and crisp apples with names like Arkansas Black and Crimson Gold. Just watch their glee as they bring back canvas bags filled to the brim with seasonal produce. You’d swear they just exited their favorite Disney Ride.
2. Panic Sets in When the Freezer is Void of Veggie-Burgers
Veggie-burgers are like frozen pepperoni pizzas for carnivores. We must have at least one veggie-burger rattling around in the freezer, just in case. You never know if you’ll get invited to a BBQ or if you’ll be starving at midnight and need a quick fix. These little frozen hockey pucks are so versatile—they can be plopped on a salad, eaten for breakfast with hash browns, or slathered with marinara and served with pasta. Vegetarians have their favorite frozen veggie burgers, too. Some like high-protein, performance burgers like Beyond Burger, while others like the hippy, natural formula of Hillary’s. And gourmet vegetarians make their own to store in the freezer.
3. Some Restaurants Have Certified Vegetarian Menus
Yes, vegetarians know just where to go when they have a fast food craving, thanks to clear cut vegetarian and vegan menus—some even certified by the American Vegetarian Association. Thanks to specific, easy vegetarian menus and offerings, some restaurants have become cult favorites that spread like wildfire among the veggie set. Case in point: Taco Bell is a vegetarian nirvana, with 5.7 million vegetarian combinations on the menu. Other favorites include P.F. Chang’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Olive Garden. Check out my interview with Taco Bell dietitians here.
4. You Don’t Have to Eat Fish to Get Your Omega-3s
Veg-heads can get their heart- and brain-healthy omega-3s through other ways besides fish, such as plant omega-3s, like walnuts, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. What’s more, vegetarians can get the important long-chain omega-3s DHA and ALA through marine algae, a much more sustainable source of these healthy fats. In fact, fish get their omega-3s through marine algae to begin with, as small fish eat algae, and the larger fish (like salmon) eat the smaller fish. Considering more than 85% of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits, this may not be such a bad way to go.
5. The Power Bowl Reigns Supreme
Sure, power bowls—bowls filled with whole grains or sweet potatoes, veggies or fruit, lean protein, and a flavorful sauce—are having their day in the sun. But really vegetarians live or die by their power bowls. We’ve been eating them since before people called them power bowls. What’s not to love about this healthful, delicious combination that can take on a variety of formulas and combinations. It’s easy because your meal planning is done in the bowl by combining ingredients you have on hand with the simple formula: complex carb (whole grain, corn, potatoes) + veggies and fruits (greens, berries, cruciferous veggies) + lean protein (nuts, seeds, beans, tofu) + flavorful sauce (Thai sauce, hummus, vinaigrette). Here’s one of my favorites: Tofu Kale Power Bowl with Tahini Dressing.
6. Iron Can Be Had from Plants
Most people think of red meat as the source of iron in the diet, but plants have their own type of iron, too. Plant iron may not be quite as absorbable as animal-sourced iron, but it adds up. Sources include lentils, beans, peas, soybeans, tofu, quinoa, oats, tomatoes, greens, nuts, and seeds. Because it’s less absorbable, vegetarians have to aim for about one and half more iron in their diets than carnivores. But you can significantly boost the absorption of iron in your diet by eating it with a vitamin C-rich source, like fruits and veggies. Something vegetarians have a knack of doing anyways.
7. It’s All About Beans
If you’re a vegetarian, the bean (aka, legume or pulse) is your best friend. This humble little gem is at the very core of your diet. Beans, including lentils, and peas, are nature’s best source of plant protein, all wrapped up in a high-fiber, nutrient-rich package. That means that beans should be the basis of at least one meal a day. Think black bean veggie burritos for breakfast, hummus (made with garbanzo beans) with snow peas for snack time, spicy vegetarian chili with cornbread for lunch, and curried lentils with brown rice for dinner. You can use beans in everything for a punch of plant protein; you can even blend them into a smoothie or a peanut butter chocolate chip bar.
8. Peanut Butter is Just as Cool as When You Were a Kid
Vegetarians love them some peanut butter. That magic little jar is the foundation of so many easy and healthy meals, from the classic P B & J to a Thai Stir-Fry. Packed with high-quality protein, the humble peanut (actually in the legume family) is an important part of a plant-based diet, offering an economic, healthful, nutritious component to your day. Not to mention, peanut butter is just downright tasty and comforting. That’s why you should never make fun of a vegetarian with a peanut butter jar and a spoon.
9. Global Cuisine is REALLY Important
Sure, pretty much everyone loves a little Chinese, Thai, or Italian food. But vegetarians are enthralled by global fare. I mean REALLY in love with it. That’s because most cultures around the world evolved on a more plant-based diet, and it’s on full display in traditional cuisines from around the globe. The flavors, textures, and aromas of such plant-based dishes just sing. Just think of Caribbean red rice and beans, Indian chickpea masala, Italian pasta puttanesca, and Moroccan vegetable tagine and you’ll know what we’re talking about.
10. Protein is Over-Rated
Americans are obsessed with protein, always fearing we are lacking in this macronutrient department. However, most Americans exceed their daily protein needs. Of course, protein is an important nutrient, required for healthy bone, muscle, and organ function. But you don’t have to eat a steak the size of your head to meet your protein needs. If you’re a vegan, getting a good protein source at each meal through pulses, soyfoods, nuts, and seeds will do the trick.
For other plant-based inspiration, check out:
Check out my Go Vegan Toolkit here.
Image: Chipotle Black Bean Quinoa Veggie Burgers, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN