How radical do you want to be? Vegetarians are commonly considered people who omit meat, fish, and poultry from their diet. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is balance. This may require some planning, particularly since the exclusion of certain food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies. For Vegans, the lack of vitamin B-12 (only available in animal food products) can be of concern.
The good news is that alternative combinations of certain food groups can complete vegetarian food patterns. There are several vegetarian meal plans. These are the most widely accepted variations:
• Semi-vegetarian: Includes fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products
• Lacto-vegetarian: Includes dairy products
• Ovo-vegetarian: Includes eggs
• Vegan: Includes only plant foods – omits all animal products
Another challenge for Vegans is access to high quality protein. Only animal and soy proteins are considered “complete,” since they contain all amino acids the human body requires. Amino acids are the building blocks which make up protein. There are over 20 kinds, nine of which are nutritionally essential. Plant foods (grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds) are “incomplete” proteins since they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Fortunately, Vegans can make up for the missing nutrients by a mix and match approach. Grains consumed with legumes (beans, peas) make “complete” proteins. So do combinations of vegetables/legumes, vegetables/nuts, and grains/nuts. Because amino acids stay in the blood stream for several hours, complementary proteins don’t have to be consumed together but can be stretched over the course of the day.