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Published on May 17, 2017
By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.
Better health is one of the main reasons that people choose to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. But they still need to make healthy choices because it can be easy to fall into a different kind of junk food diet.
A nationwide poll in 2016 found about 3 percent of American adults are vegetarian or vegan, meaning they never eat meat, poultry or fish. About 46 percent of vegetarians are vegan, which means they don't eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy.
Vegetarian or vegan diets should consist of mostly whole plant-based foods, including vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds and fruits. But there are vegetarians who don't even like vegetables and live on processed foods. Many processed vegan foods are high in sodium and sugar and low in whole grains and fiber. If cheese is a main source of protein, the diet can be very high in saturated fat. A poorly planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be inadequate in protein, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B-12 and other minerals.
Vegan and vegetarian recipes often use refined flour instead of whole grains and many types of added sugar. Processed foods that claim to be vegan or vegetarian may have even more sodium and added sugar. Here are a couple examples:
The American Institute for Cancer Research encourages a plant-based diet, suggesting Americans consume two-thirds of their diet from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. The American Heart Association recommends a similar diet plus limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day and added sugar to no more than six teaspoons for children and women and no more than nine teaspoons for men.
Vegetarians and vegans who eat a well-balanced diet are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity and certain types of cancer. Even if you choose not to eat vegetarian or vegan, these good foods can help you avoid the health conditions that can debilitate us. Give one of these vegetarian or vegan recipes a try.
Black Bean Wild Rice PattiesThese patties are a great way to combine a variety of vegetables, beans and whole grains with very little sodium. They offer a lot of fiber and good amount of protein. This recipe can be made vegan by eliminating the eggs.
2 cups cooked black beans or 2 15-ounce cans, drained.1/4 cup raw wild rice, rinsed1/2 cup water1 tablespoon olive oil1-2 cloves garlic, minced1/2 cup onion, chopped1/4 cup green pepper, chopped1/4 cup mushrooms, chopped1/4 cup carrots, shredded1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (optional)1/4 cup frozen corn2 eggs1/2 cup panko plain bread crumbs1 teaspoon chili powder1/2 teaspoon cumin1/4 teaspoon black pepper1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried basil1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)1/4-1/2 teaspoon teaspoon turmeric
Partially mash black beans with a fork in a medium bowl. Cook rice in 1/2 cup water. Place water and rice in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes (or longer depending up type of wild rice).
SautÃ© onion, garlic, green pepper, carrots, mushrooms, carrots and other vegetables in the olive oil in a medium pan. Combine mashed beans, cooked wild rice, sautÃ©ed vegetables, eggs, bread crumbs and seasonings. Form into 6 patties. Heat pan over medium heat. Fry patties on each side until warm.
Nutrition FactsServing size: 1 pattyServings: 6Calories: 170Total fat: 2.5 gramsSaturated Fat: 0.5 gramsTrans fat: 0Cholesterol: 40 milligramsSodium: 130 milligramsPotassium: 275 milligramsCarbohydrates: 28 gramsFiber: 6 gramsProtein: 10 gramsCalcium: 26 milligrams
Peanut Sweet Potato SoupThis vegan recipe is compliments of the Duluth Grill. The original recipe called for Â¾ teaspoon salt, regular canned tomatoes and a vegetable soup base with an estimated 200 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon. Eliminating the salt, yields a cup of soup with only 230 milligrams of sodium. If you use a lower sodium soup base or no-salt-added tomatoes, the sodium would be even lower.
2 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes1 tablespoon olive oil1 quart water plus 4 teaspoons low-sodium vegetable soup paste or bouillon OR 1 quart vegetable stock that is less than 200 milligrams sodium per cup2 15-ounce cans of fire-roasted tomatoes12-ounce can of Thai Light coconut milk2 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger root1/2 cup unsalted or lightly salted peanuts 1/2 cup chopped onion1/4 cup chopped celery1/4 cup chopped cilantro1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic1 teaspoon ground coriander1 teaspoon turmeric1/8-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste (optional)1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Peel and dice sweet potatoes. In stockpot, saute onion, garlic and celery in oil. Add in tomatoes, sweet potatoes and coconut milk; cook on medium heat. Mix vegetable soup base/paste into 1 quart of hot water if using. Put 1 cup vegetable stock, peanuts, coriander, cayenne and turmeric in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Add to soup mixture. Process or blend chopped ginger and 1 cup vegetable stock; add to soup. Add remaining 2 cups of stock to soup. Add chopped cilantro and mix until fully incorporate. Cook soup until sweet potatoes are tender, about 60-90 minutes.
Nutrition factsServing size: 1 cupServings: 8Calories: 120Total fat: 6 gramsSaturated fat; 2.5 gramsTrans fat: 0 gramsCholesterol: 0 milligramsSodium: 230 milligramsPotassium: 405 milligramsCarbohydrates: 13 gramsSugar: 4.5 grams (O grams added sugar)Fiber: 2.5 gramsProtein: 4 gramsCalcium: 15 milligrams
Dark Chocolate Vegan Lava CakeNo sugar or sweetener it added to this vegan recipe adapted from www.cuisinicity.com. It provides great phytonutrients from the dark chocolate along with fiber from the lentils and sweet potatoes as well as omega 3 fatty acids from the walnuts and flaxseed. The added sugar comes in the chocolate bar.
Cake batter:1/2 cup walnuts6 medjool dates, pitted2/3 cup mashed cooked sweet potato1 cup cooked black French lentils3 tablespoons ground flaxseed diluted in 2/3 cup water10 ounces of 60 to 72 percent cocoa dark chocolate.
Chocolate sauce (optional)4 ounces of 60 to 72 percent cocoa dark chocolate1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk or soy cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a cupcake pan with canola oil. Cook lentils according to package directions. Boil for about 20 minutes and rinse. Dilute flaxseed in water and measure out sweet potatoes.
Melt 10 ounces of chocolate by breaking into pieces and melting in a double boiler or microwave. Stir and set aside. Place walnuts and pitted dates in the bowl of a food processor and process well for 30 seconds. Add the mashed sweet potato, rinsed cooked lentils and diluted flax meal. Pulse a few times until batter is smooth. Add melted chocolate and process for another 20-30 seconds until creamy and smooth.
Scoop the batter into cupcake pan, filling each Â¾ full. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cakes cool fully, then gently run a knife around the edges to remove them from pan.
To prepare chocolate sauce, mix 4 ounces of chocolate pieces with the almond milk. Microwave for 20-30 seconds and stir until smooth. Drizzle a little chocolate sauce over each cake. Nutrition facts (without sauce)Serving size: 1 cake Servings: 12Calories: 205Total fat: 13 gramsSaturated fat: 6 gramsTrans fat: 0 gramsCholesterol: 0 milligramsSodium: 5 milligramsCarbohydrate: 25 gramsTotal sugar: 14 grams (6 grams added sugar)Fiber: 6 gramsProtein: 5 grams