By MELISSA NANN BURKE
Daily Record/Sunday News
Updated:10/12/2009 05:11:32 PM EDT
The new buzzword in healthy eating is plant-based diets.
For many, that means a form of vegetarianism or generally eating more fruits and vegetables -- something that can help reduce heart disease, even girth.
"It definitely reduces the risk of high cholesterol and can reduce the risk of diabetes," said Siri Khalsa, a dietitian at York Hospital who is vegetarian.
Some people choose a vegetarian lifestyle for religious or moral reasons. For others, it's a matter of taste, health or the environment. No matter the motivation, Khalsa says, the health benefits remain.
While switching to a plant-based diet can seem intimidating, starting out can be as simple as eating one or two meatless meals a week, nutritionists say.
"Try a new vegetarian recipe or modify a recipe you already use to make it vegetarian," said Reed Mangels, nutrition adviser for Vegetarian Journal. "Make chili with beans instead of hamburger."
Thirteen years ago, Nicole Montanarelli, 28, of Fawn Township, went from a meat-and-potatoes teenager to vegetarian after a particularly graphic dream about a slaughtered chicken.
"At the beginning, it was hard for me to get used to not having so many options around for me to eat," she said.
"It was hard to not just indulge in sweets, snack foods and carbs since they were so abundant and meat-free."
Kimberley Heidler, who manages the organic and natural food section at Saubel's Market in Shrewsbury, said it's common for new vegetarians to overdoseAdvertisement on carbohydrate-laden foods.
"Folks have to remember they are veg-etarian, not carbo-tarian," said Heidler, who was a vegetarian for many years.
"The focus really ought to be on consuming more vegetables."
Montanarelli initially bought a lot of processed, "fake meat" foods, such as veggie burgers. She gradually learned to cook with fresh, non-processed ingredients -- including beans and lentils for protein and whole grains such as quinoa, millet and couscous.
She cut her grocery spending three years ago by joining a food-share co-op and growing veggies in a garden.
Some would-be vegetarians worry about not consuming enough protein. That's generally not a problem if one eats a variety of foods and consumes enough calories to maintain body weight, Mangels said.
"People who are eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables, beans and dairy products are probably going to be fine," she said. "Whether you take a multivitamin is up to you."
The only outlier for vegans -- those who don't consume meat, eggs or dairy foods -- is vitamin B12, which is only found naturally in animal products. Today, many breakfast cereals and soy milks are fortified with B12, as well as some fake-meat products, Mangels said.
Tina Adams, 26, of York Township, attributes her largely vegan diet with curing her migraine headaches, for which she used to take four different medications since childhood. Since changing her diet in January, she has more energy and is no longer lethargic with drug-induced side effects.
"Grocery shopping takes a little longer now because you have to be more careful," Adams said. "You pick up a can of vegetable soup and if you don't read closely, it might be made with beef broth."
Shoppers said Wegman's in Hunt Valley, Md., Saubel's in Shrewsbury and Sonnewald's near Stewartstown carry the widest selections of vegetarian and vegan foods. Adams recommends buying items in bulk such as pastas and beans to cut down on cost. For fresh produce, hit your local farmers market, she said.
Monica Johnson of Stewartstown, a vegan studying holistic nutrition with the online Clayton College of Natural Health, only shops in the produce and natural food sections of grocery stores.
"The other aisles I rarely go down. I may get some spaghetti sauce or whole grain tortillas," she said.
"When I read the label, it's the ingredients I take note of. The less ingredients the better, and certainly if I can't pronounce it, I don't buy it."
Not everyone has time to cook at home every night. The most popular vegetarian items at Saubel's are prepared frozen dinners such as those made by Tandoor Chef (Indian food) or Amy's (mostly American-style foods), Heidler said.
Frozen vegetables (those packaged without added butter, salt or cheese sauces) are quick and healthy options that require minimal preparation, Mangels said.
Grocers and many restaurants have made it easier to eat more vegetables or totally meat-free at every meal, she said.
"Make these changes for a good three weeks," she said. "Stick with it, and see if you're feeling better or not. I think a lot of people will find that they are."
The veggie table
Flexitarian: Follows the vegetarian lifestyle but occasionally includes meat or meat byproducts in their diet
Fruitarian: Eats only fruit, fruit-like vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.), seeds and nuts
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: The most common type of vegetarian, who does not eat animals but consumes eggs and dairy products
Lacto-vegetarian: Includes dairy products in their diet but no meat
Pescitarian: Includes fish and other seafood in their diet but not other meats. Often a stepping stone to full vegetarianism.
Raw or living foodist: Eats only unprocessed, uncooked foods because of the believed health benefits
Vegan: Consumes no animal-derived foods and uses no animal products, such as leather, wool or silk
Vegetarian: Eats no animal products, including fish, eggs or dairy foods
Lisa Simpson (of "The Simpsons")
Mary Tyler Moore
Prince Fielder (first baseman, Milwaukee Brewers)
Meat alternatives are vegetable- and grain-based foods with a meat-like texture that can replace meat in many recipes.
Also called wheat meat, seitan (pronounced say-TAN) is derived from the protein portion of wheat and can be made from scratch using whole wheat flour.
If you've tasted mock chicken, beef or pork in an Asian vegetarian restaurant, you've eaten seitan.
Seitan can be sliced for saut�s or stir-fry, diced into stews, soups or casseroles or formed into roasts.
Tempeh is made from de-hulled, cooked soybeans that have been fermented and pressed into cakes.
It must be consumed cooked because it's a perishable product containing a live, active culture.
Tempeh can be steamed and then marinated in barbecue sauce or lemon marinade and grilled until brown; cut into chunks, saut�ed and added to chili or spaghetti sauce; and stir-fried with vegetables and a stir-fry sauce.
Tempeh is a good source of iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6.
Textured Vegetable Protein
Known as TVP, textured vegetable protein is usually sold as a dehydrated product that must be rehydrated before using.
TVP granules can be used as a substitute for ground beef in recipes such as chili, spaghetti sauce, and tacos. TVP is also available in chunks that can be used to replace meat in stews and soups.
TVP is a good source of iron.
Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds into blocks.
Tofu is sold in four textures, and it's best to use it as you buy it.
"Silken" style is best for soups, sauces or to fry; "soft" is as soft as silken but can be pressed, frozen or marinated and cooked on its own; "firm" is good for stir-fry and can also be pressed, frozen or marinated; "extra-firm" is best for stir-fry.
Tofu is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and folate.
Source: PCC Natural Markets, "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman
The following aren't essential to a vegetarian pantry but helpful to digestion and generally handy when cooking from vegetarian or vegan recipes:
� fresh herbs
� miso (fermented soy product)
� dried sea vegetables
� mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
� soy sauce
� extra-virgin olive oil
� coarse, unrefined sea salt
� spices (have better flavor if bought whole, not ground)
� vinegars, such as red and white wine, unpasteurized cider vinegar and high-quality balsamic vinegar
Source: "The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen" by Peter Berley
That's not vegetarian
Some ingredients you find on a product's nutrition panel aren't vegetarian or vegan:
Albumen (derived from eggs)
Bone phosphate (made from the degreased steam-extract from animal bones)
Casein (a milk protein)
Cochineal/carminic acid (made from insect scales)
Collagen (connective tissue from meat)
Disodium inosinate (prepared from meat extract and dried sardines)
Gelatin (derived from animal ligaments, skins, tendons and bones)
Glycerine/glycerol (might be produced from animal fats)
Lactic acid (sometimes made from whey, a milk protein)
Lactitol (a sweetener derived from lactose)
Lactose (milk sugar)
Lecithin (can be produced from eggs)
Potassium nitrate (sometimes made from animal waste)
Sodium caseinate (derived from cows' milk)
Whey (byproducts of the cheese-making process)
� instead of butter (for baking) use margarine that contains at least 60 percent fat
� instead of buttermilk use curdled soy milk (1 cup soy milk plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar)
� instead of eggs use an egg substitute
� instead of beef or chicken stock use vegetable stock
� instead of yogurt use soy yogurt
� instead of lard use olive or vegetable oils
� instead of gelatin use agar agar, arrowroot, corn starch, guar gum or xanthan gum
� instead of mayonnaise use tofu mayonnaise
� instead of milk use soy, rice or almond milks
� instead of honey use maple syrup or another natural sweetener
Meatless Mondays, www.meatlessmonday.com
Vegetarianism in a Nutshell, www.vrg.org/nutshell/nutshell.htm
Feeding Vegan Kids, www.vrg.org/nutshell/kids.htm
Meat Alternatives, www.meatalternatives.org