Today, there is a huge paradox. We have never been so aware of what is good for our health and what is bad for our health, yet in many ways, we as a population are as unhealthy as we have ever been. Obesity is skyrocketing, diabetes and heart disease are on the increase, and cancer is still one of the most prevalent diseases. It’s easy to become downhearted at all the negative headlines. But there is something we can control; our own lifestyles. Armed with a little knowledge, we can be in control of our diet, our stress levels, and how much physical activity we do, to avoid poor health outcomes.
Cleaning up our act regarding our diet is necessary for a lot of people. But where do we start? Many people have embraced the idea of achieving wellness through eating a healthy diet. This, coupled with an increasing awareness of the need to avoid cruelty to animals and damage to the environment has led many people to switch to being vegetarian. But is the vegetarian lifestyle as healthy as it seems?
- 1 The health benefits of being vegetarian
- 2 The vegetarian diet
- 3 A vegetarian diet is nutritionally sound
- 4 Vegetarians are generally healthier overall
- 5 They have a lower risk of disease
- 6 Heart disease
- 7 Diabetes
- 8 Cancer
- 9 The downside of being vegetarian
- 10 A lack of protein
- 11 A lack of healthy fats
- 12 The diet doesn’t contain vitamin B12
- 13 It can impact on your overall lifestyle if you don’t plan
- 14 Tofu
- 15 Research into Tofu
- 16 How to store and use tofu
- 17 Healthy veg roll recipes with tofu and soy sauce
- 18 Fresh Vegetable Crunchy Rolls with Sriracha & Soy Sauce Tofu
- 19 Healthy Spring Rolls with Tofu and Soy Sauce
- 20 Steamed Vegetarian Tofu Roll with Soy-Sambal Chutney
- 21 Final thoughts
The health benefits of being vegetarian
In the 1980’s the vegetarian diet was under scrutiny as experts doubted whether it was nutritionally sound. Nowadays, however, studies have demonstrated that vegetarian diets can prevent diseases.
The vegetarian diet
There are many types of vegetarian, but the general definition is someone who does not eat meat or seafoods. Within the classification of vegetarianism, there are ovo-vegetarians, who eat eggs and egg products, lacto-vegetarians, who eat dairy or dairy products, and pesco-vegetarians, who eat fish but not meat. Vegans are vegetarians who do not eat meat, fish, dairy, or eggs, and their diet is typically more restrictive.
A vegetarian diet is nutritionally sound
Vegetarian diets tend to include more whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and therefore, the diets are higher in fibre, antioxidants, potassium, and magnesium. They are also usually lower in calories overall, lower in saturated fat, and cholesterol. Vegetarian diets ranked lower for only a few nutrients; vitamin B12, calcium, and zinc. This can be remedied with fortified foods, by taking supplements, or by combining foods to increase the absorption of particular nutrients. For example, eating an iron-rich food with a glass of orange juice to enhance iron absorption.
Vegetarians are generally healthier overall
Studies found that vegetarians tend to be more physically active, drink less alcohol, and smoke less than the general population. They also have much lower levels of obesity.
They have a lower risk of disease
5 studies found that deaths from heart disease was 24% lower among vegetarians. The vegetarian diet is high in nuts and whole grains, which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Vegetarians also had lower blood pressure and lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, which are also risk factors for heart disease.
Another study from California, found that vegetarians were 50% less to die from a heart attack than non-vegetarians.
What the studies do not prove conclusively, however, is whether it is not consuming meat which has the cardioprotective effect, or whether it’s the increased consumption of whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Many studies have found that vegetarians have lower levels of diabetes. One study found that non-vegetarians were twice as likely to get diabetes than vegetarians. The lower rate of diabetes can be linked to the fact that vegetarians tend to have lower body weight overall. A study which looked at the link between diabetes, body mass, and hypertension found that non-vegetarians had an average higher body mass than vegetarians (28.26, compared with 23.13).
There has been a lot of research carried out into whether a vegetarian diet prevents cancer. The only study that found a definite link is one that researched colon cancer. In a large 6-year study, it was found that people with no history of cancer were twice as likely to get colon cancer if they ate red meat regularly. The people who got colon cancer also tended to be overweight and had a lower intake of legumes. However, other studies have found no differences in the prevalence of different cancers in non-vegetarians and vegetarians, so further research is needed.
The downside of being vegetarian
A lack of protein
Protein is the building block of all our body’s tissues. We need it for energy, growth, and repair. You will most likely eat less protein if you’re vegetarian. While it’s true that you can get protein from other sources such as soya, beans, and other products, they don’t contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. The body can’t use protein from these sources as effectively as it can use the protein from meat. Plant-based proteins needed to be converted by the body into a more useful form, and inevitably, some nutrition gets lost along the way. A lack of protein in the diet can result in slower wound healing, loss of lean muscle tissue, and our hair, skin and nails won’t be as healthy (protein is the building blocks of these too).
A lack of healthy fats
Meat is a source of fats that our body can use, to keep our skin, hair, and joints healthy. Essential fatty acids like omega 3 help keep our heart and brain healthy, though if you’re a vegetarian who eats fish, you are likely to be getting enough.
The diet doesn’t contain vitamin B12
Meat is the only dietary source of vitamin B12. This is a crucial nutrient which supports the nerves, energy metabolism in the body, and it enables the absorption of calcium. It is also crucial for normal brain function. It is possible to get this nutrient from supplements or fortified foods, but again, this way of getting the nutrient isn’t the most useful way for the body.
It can impact on your overall lifestyle if you don’t plan
If you are a vegetarian, you might find that you are quite limited as to what you can eat if you eat out, for example. Either that, or every dish is loaded with cheese and pasta.
You might have difficulties in the supermarket too, as ingredients that aren’t derived from animal products can be surprisingly hard to find. Products might contain items like gelatin, which is from animals, so it makes that food off-limits.
So, it is possible to have a good diet when you’re a vegetarian. But what about variety of foods you can eat?
Tofu is a versatile addition to any vegetarian diet. It is made by curdling soya milk, pressing it into a block and letting it cool. Tofu is popular in Thai and Chinese cuisine, and there are many ways in which it can be cooked.
Tofu originated in China, and the story is that it was discovered 2000 years ago, by a cook who accidentally curdled soya milk. It became popular in Japan in the 8th century, and by the 1960’s, the western world had discovered it as a ‘health food’. This is where the research into its health benefits began.
Tofu is a good source of protein and it contains all eight essential amino acids. It is also contains iron and calcium, manganese, selenium and phosphorous. As well as this, tofu is a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.
Research into Tofu
Soya protein in Tofu is thought to lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. It contains phytoestrogens, which are chemicals which mimic the hormone oestrogen. They bind to oestrogen receptors in the cells, including the breasts, so they are thought to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Including soya rich foods like tofu in the diet helps reduce the symptoms of menopause in women.
How to store and use tofu
Tofu needs to be rinsed, covered with water, and refrigerated once it’s opened. If frozen in the original container, it will keep for up to 5 months.
Tofu does not have an overpowering taste or consistency, so it combines well with many other foods. Firm tofu is good for baking, grilled dishes, and stir fries. Softer tofu goes well in sauces, desserts, and salad dressings. It can be sliced, marinated, grilled or chopped, fried with garlic, then added to any dish.
Healthy veg roll recipes with tofu and soy sauce
Anyone who claims that tofu is bland clearly hasn’t tried one of these delicious recipes. They are easy to prepare, healthy, and don’t include an ounce of deprivation!
Fresh Vegetable Crunchy Rolls with Sriracha & Soy Sauce Tofu
These Vietnamese rice rolls are filled with vegetables, strips of sriracha & soy sauce plus some seasoned tofu. Dip the rolls into the peanut sauce for a delicious and healthy meal.
½ red pepper, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
⅓ -1/2 long English cucumber, chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
Small handful of baby spinach, sliced thinly
½-1 full Baked Sriracha & Soy Sauce Tofu, chilled and cut into thin strips
5-10 rice papers
2 tbsp. soy sauce (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos – GF)
3 tbsp. peanut butter
1 tbsp. sriracha
1 tbsp. chili garlic sauce
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
2-3 tbsp. water
How to make it:
While the tofu is baking, prepare all your other ingredients. Finely chop the red pepper, carrot, and cucumber. Thinly slice the spinach and green onion.
Once the tofu has finished baking, put it in the fridge to chill. You can start to make the peanut sauce (see below).
Cut your chilled tofu into thin strips.
Fill a large bowl with hot water.
Soak a rice paper in the hot water until it’s soft and flexible. This should take about 30 seconds. Shake the excess water from the paper, and lay it out flat. Let it sit for about 30 seconds so any excess water is absorbed. The papers don’t stick well if they are wet.
Sprinkle some sesame seeds in the middle of the paper. Lay the vegetables down in the middle of the paper. Add as much of the ingredients as you want, depending on how big you want the rolls to be. Leave enough room to be able to fold the wrap though.
Lift the side of the rice paper that’s closest to you, gently pull it away from you over the fillings. Hold the wrap while you fold it in at each end.
Spicy-Sweet Peanut Sauce
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and blend or whisk them. Store it in the fridge, in a glass bottle. If it thickens in the fridge, run the container under hot water until it softens.
Healthy Spring Rolls with Tofu and Soy Sauce
1/2 container firm or extra firm tofu
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
1/4 head green cabbage, sliced thin
2 carrots, grated
1 cup bean thread noodles or rice vermicelli noodles
One bunch fresh mint leaves
Spring roll wrappers
Water, for wrapping spring rolls
How to make it
Slice the tofu into thin strips. Heat the soy sauce, olive oil, sesame oil and ginger in a pan and sauté the tofu for 5-7 minutes, until it’s lightly crisp. Remove it from the pan and place it onto paper towels to allow any excess moisture to drain away fully</span
In a large bowl, mix the tofu with the cabbage, carrots and noodles.
Dip the rice papers in warm water, one at a time, just until they are soft and pliable
Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of the tofu and veggie mixture on an individual paper, so it lays down the centre of the paper.
Place two or three mint leaves on top of the filling and wrap your spring rolls. Serve with a dipping sauce, such as a spicy satay or chilli sauce.
Steamed Vegetarian Tofu Roll with Soy-Sambal Chutney
1 cup mung bean noodles, soaked in hot water until soft
8 black mushrooms, rehydrated, de-stemmed and sliced
1 small bamboo shoot, sliced, fresh or in water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeno, de-stemmed, minced
4 sheets tofu skin, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup lightly brewed jasmine tea
1 small red onion, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon sambal
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
How to make it
In a large bowl, mix together the noodles, black mushrooms, bamboo, sesame oil, cilantro, and jalapeno. Lay out the tofu skin lengthwise away from you. Start 2 inches up from the bottom of the tofu and spread a thin layer of filling over the bottom half. Fold the roll 2 inches at a time away from you. Place the rolls, folded side down on a plate and soak with the jasmine tea. Place them in a hot steamer for 20 to 30 minutes until soft. Remove the rolls from the steamer, transfer them onto plates, 2 rolls per plate. Top them with the chutney.
To make the Soy-Sambal Chutney
Coat a small pan lightly with oil, sauté the onions and ginger until they are soft. Add the sambal, soy sauce, and vinegar, then set the sauce aside.
As many of us embrace the idea of eating better to feel better, but to also protect animals from cruelty, and look after the environment, a vegetarian diet seems like a naturally good choice. Many research studies have found that a vegetarian diet, when properly planned, and adequately balanced, can prevent certain diseases. Other studies have also found that in general, vegetarians take more exercise, drink less alcohol, and don’t smoke as much as non-vegetarians.
However, there are some nutrients that can only be obtained from meat. It is possible to take supplements or consume foods that are fortified but you won’t be getting the nutrients in a way that is the most useful for your body. Vegetarians often struggle to meet their protein needs and to get all the essential amino acids from plant-based foods.
Tofu is a vegetarian staple, and it is versatile and has a fair amount of health benefits of its own. It combines well with many other foods, and it is popular in Thai and Chinese cuisine.
Eating well when you are a vegetarian shouldn’t have to be difficult, though sometimes eating out can be a chore, as the only vegetarian options are often quite unhealthy, for example pasta bakes loaded with cheese. So it’s nice when a healthy versatile food comes along, and you find out that there’s a lot of ways that you can enjoy it, none of which remotely feel like you are being deprived. The delicious vegetable spring rolls in the recipes are all made from natural ingredients, which you can enjoy guilt free as part of your vegetarian lifestyle. You can say goodbye to the cheesy pasta bake!