The vegetarian diet is sometimes thought of as a dangerous, unhealthful way to eat. Though given a bad name by vegetarians who cut out meat without replacements for lost nutrition, there are many tasty ways to get nutrients. The main rule of thumb is to plan a diet with a variety of foods from different food groups.
When planning a vegetarian diet, it is especially important to watch for adequate intake of protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins, as these are the benefits obtained from meat. Rest assured, there are many other ways to find the same nutrients. Of the 20 amino acids in existence, only eight are not produced by the body. It was once thought that these eight needed to be combined in intricate ways to get adequate protein, but by eating a range of foods, this should not be a problem.
There are a number of foods that vegetarians can use as substitutes for meat, other than the obvious veggie burgers or garden burgers. For instance, seitan (pronounced say-tawn), a form of wheat gluten which is simmered in soy sauce, kombu (seaweed), and sometimes ginger, often takes the place of turkey in sandwiches. It also shows up in Asian restaurants as mock duck, beef, or pork.
There are also a few soy-derived foods that work well in place of meat. Tofu, derived from soybean curd, comes in a variety of textures from “silken” to “extra firm”. Firm tofu can be diced and inserted in a variety of recipes, including stir frys, soups, or grilled dishes. It also can be made into burgers or mock egg salad. Store tofu in an airtight container, immersed in water. Change the water every day. Or, freeze the tofu, using it as a ground beef substitute in chili. Silken tofu works well in smoothies, spreads, or even cheesecake! Tofu is a versatile food because it has little flavor, and will accept the flavor of the ingredients it is cooked in.
Tempeh (TEM-pay), another product of soybean fermentation, forms firm, chunky whitish cakes that have a mushroom flavor. It is usually sliced and fried, but is as versatile as tofu, tasty in any situation where mushrooms are used.
Foods high in carbohydrates sometimes get a bad name because of their starchy nature. However, the whole grains that they are derived from are extremely nutritious, containing B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. There are many to choose from: wheat, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, rye, cornmeal, and spelt.