Celebrate World Vegetarian Day

nuts_beans_grainsIt’s come to my attention that there is a World Vegetarian Day, and that it’s Oct 1st.  It was established by North American Vegetarian Society in 1977.  I came across a post in Food and Nutrition Magazine that included a recipe for your celebration: Roasted Poblano Pepper Ratatouille.  So I thought, hmm…  not what I would have emphasized.

When you become a vegetarian you give up meat.  You may also give up eggs or dairy products (if you give up all of those you’re actually vegan).  Giving up meat has several key nutritional consequences:

  • less protein
  • lower quality protein
  • less of several vitamins including B12 and vitamin D
  • less intake of several minerals like iron and calcium
  • more fiber
  • possibly more of other vitamins and minerals, depending on what your previous diet looked like
  • You may also end up eating less saturated fat and more vegetable fats, which is a good change.  You may end up eating less added sugar.  But then again you may not.  You may end up eating a junky high fat, high sugar, highly processed diet that happens to not include meat.

When I advise people about vegetarian diets, I focus on meal composition that maximizes the quality and quantity of plant proteins.  Meat is easy: you cook a piece and put it on a plate.  No recipes needed really.  When you remove meat from the diet, you need to start including other protein sources.  You also need to rethink what meals look like.  No more slabs of meat on the plate.

Which brings me to the Roasted Poblano Pepper Ratatouille.  It’s nice, as long as you know how to roast peppers yourself, which can be tricky and messy for the inexperienced.  You can also make it with regular peppers, roasted or not. But the bigger point is that ratatouille isn’t a high protein food.  It’s more of a vegetable side dish, or the topping for pasta.  It’s not something you’d substitute for meat.

Here’s how I’d think about it.  Ratatouille is great and there are plenty of variations.  The basics are eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onions/garlic.  To boost the overall meal protein:

  1. Serve it with pasta or rice (both have some protein)
  2. Top with grated cheese
  3. Add cooked garbanzo or white kidney beans directly to the ratatouille
  4. OR serve a tossed green salad and add garbanzo beans to the salad
  5. AND/OR top the ratatouille with chopped toasted pecans or walnuts in addition to the cheese
  6. OR add those toasted pecans/walnuts to a tossed salad

The blog post also suggests serving ratatouille in a wrap.  A fine idea, but again, add one of more of those protein-boosting ingredients to the wrap.

Take Away Message

Being vegetarian isn’t just about giving up meat and eating vegetables.  You need to focus on other foods that boost your intake of protein and the vitamins and minerals normally found in meat.

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