Opting for a diet free from meat and animal products is becoming increasingly popular. To ensure good health it is important that you understand the nutrients that are a little more difficult to get without eating animal-based foods. There are plenty of plant-sourced alternatives, but most people are accustomed to getting them through animal products.
If you are planning to become a vegetarian, you can still get many of these nutrients from eggs and dairy, but if you want to cut out all animal products, you will need to stick solely to plant-based foods. Smoothies are a great way for you to ensure that you include all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need in your daily vegetarian or vegan diet.
The Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
To be a vegetarian typically means not eating any meat. This includes poultry, fish, and shellfish. There are sub-types of vegetarians, for example a lacto ovo vegetarian does not eat meat, but does eat eggs and dairy products, like cheese, milk, or yogurt. A lacto vegetarian will not eat meat or eggs, but will eat dairy. The most restrictive vegetarian diet is that of a vegan, who will eat no meat, eggs, dairy, or anything else that comes from an animal, like gelatin or honey. Most vegans also stretch this restriction to other aspects of their lives and do not use any animal products in any way. This means they use no leather, silk, or similar materials that come from an animal source.
So what do vegetarians and vegans eat? Aside from the eggs and dairy that some eat, vegetarians, as well as vegans, eat vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, and superfoods. While eating these whole foods is most nutritious, vegetarians may also eat processed foods like meat and dairy substitutes. There are a whole range of such products including fake sausages and hamburgers, cheeses made from cashews, fermented soy, and many more that are now in most grocery store freezer sections.
Nutrients to Watch Out For
There are certain essential nutrients for good health that you may not get enough of if you switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet without considering how to balance your foods. Most people get their calcium and vitamin D from dairy products, for instance. Iron and zinc are two minerals that are prevalent in meats and are sometimes lacking in a vegetarian diet that is not well-planned. Most Americans, both vegetarians and meat eaters do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids, but many who do rely on fish sources.
Perhaps one of the trickiest nutrients to get, especially for vegans, is vitamin B12. Sources of this vitamin are almost exclusively from animal-based foods. Meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy are the natural sources of B12. For vegetarians eating dairy every day, this is not an issue, but for vegans B12 deficiency is not uncommon. Finally, vegetarians and vegans must take care to consume enough protein. This is much easier than many people think when they first consider switching to a plant-based diet. Many foods are high in protein and do not come from animals.
Smoothie Ingredients that Round out Your Nutrients
Having one or more smoothies each day is a great way to pack a lot of nutrients into one meal. When you think of a smoothie, you probably imagine something that is based on the use of yogurt or milk, but not only can you make a plant-based smoothie, you can make a delicious one that is packed with essential nutrients. With the right balance of ingredients, smoothies can be an important element of your vegetarian or vegan diet. Here are some ideas for ingredients you can include in your next recipe and how they will help you balance out your diet.
- Greens. Yes, greens work in smoothies. Many leafy, green vegetables can blend right into your smoothie recipe without making the finished product taste like a salad. Spinach and kale are especially good choices because of their mild flavor. Greens are high in calcium, so if you are forsaking all animal products, this is a good replacement for the calcium you used to get from dairy. In addition to spinach and kale, you can try lettuce, beet, dandelion, and collard greens as well, but experiment with a light hand. They have strong, bitter flavors. Greens are best in smoothies that have other strong flavors to mask them.
- Nuts and Nut Butters. Nuts are a great addition to smoothies for both nutrition and taste. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, and other nuts are high in vitamins and minerals, and are a good source of vegan protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Refrain from going overboard with them, however, as the calorie content in nuts adds up quickly.
- Hemp. Hemp products come from a version of the cannabis plant that is low in the mind-altering substance THC. The seeds of the hemp plant are very nutritious and have a mild nutty flavor that complements many smoothie recipes. They contain a high level of protein, and a greater variety of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, than many other plant products. Hemp is also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Look for the seeds, hemp oil, or hemp milk, but avoid hemp protein powder, which is highly processed. For more no hemp, see Hemp: Health Benefits and Superfood Smoothies.
- Chia Seeds. Chia seeds are small and virtually flavorless. They absorb water to create a gel-like substance. This characteristic is due to the high fiber content of the seeds. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and iron, and include trace amounts of vitamin B12. Chia seeds to do not have to be ground up before you eat them, just toss a couple of tablespoons in any smoothie recipe. For the full download on chia seeds, see Chia Seeds: Nutritional Powerhouse and Perfect Smoothie Ingredient.
- Dairy. If you are thinking of going vegetarian, at least for now, include dairy products in some of your smoothies. Raw or organic milk and yogurt have both calcium and protein, and some are also fortified with vitamin D. Dairy also includes vitamin B12. If you need extra protein, use Greek-style yogurt, which has much more protein than other types.
- Nutritional Yeast. This type of yeast, not to be confused with brewer’s yeast, is an excellent source of vitamin B12. It is one of the best sources, aside from direct supplementation, for vegans. Just a couple of tablespoons of this powder can give you all you need for the day. The flavor is savory, but since you need only a small amount to get the B12 you need, you can easily mask the flavor with other ingredients if you so wish.
- Blackstrap Molasses. This type of molasses, which is unsulfured, is a byproduct of the process of making refined, white sugar. It contains significant amounts of iron, zinc, and calcium, which makes it a good choice for a smoothie sweetener. Even better, it has a lower score on the glycemic index than white sugar, and causes a less sharp rise in blood sugar after eating it.
- Supplements. Before you use any supplements, you should consult your doctor. If you feel as if you are not getting enough of certain nutrients, supplements are always an option. Many vegans and vegetarians include supplements particularly for getting vitamins D and B12, the most elusive nutrients in plants.
Vegan and Vegetarian Smoothies
As you can see, getting the nutrients you need without meat or dairy requires thought, but is very doable. And smoothies are great vehicles for introducing those nutrients to your daily diet.
I’m closing in on 100 vegan smoothie recipes and depending on when you read this that number may have been eclipsed. For all of my vegan recipes, click on one of the links below.
All of my smoothie recipes by category (scroll down to see Vegan Smoothies)
Here is a basic starter recipe. Take it and run with it, experiment, and mix and match ingredients until you create something that is both delicious and nutritious.
Basic Vegan Smoothie
- 1 cup milk (almond, coconut, hemp)
- ½ banana, fresh or frozen
- 1 cup of baby kale or spinach
- 1 tablespoon of almond, cashew, or natural peanut butter
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
- A little stevia or maple syrup to sweeten (optional)
Place the ingredients into your high-speed blender and blend for around 30-45 seconds or until nice and smooth.
I’d love to know what you think of this article, especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Please leave a comment below. Happy Blending!
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