Myth or fact: All vegetarians like to eat the vegetables the rest of us aren't eating.
As it turns out, myth — a big one. Yes, eating soybean-based products to replace fatty meats is a healthier option, but being a vegetarian isn't always about opting out of animal products just to consume every piece of produce in sight.
"Vegetarian simply means someone who does not consume animal protein, but does not indicate that this person is otherwise consuming a healthy, balanced diet," nutritionist Shannon Kadlovski told The Huffington Post Canada.
Kadlovski notes many people think vegetarians are unhealthy because they aren't getting enough protein. Average protein intakes often depend on your age and activity level, but for the most part you can figure out how much meat or lentils you should eat in a day by your calorie intake. At least 20 to 30 per cent of your total calorie intake should come from proteins and dairy products, according to Canadian Living.
And at some point soon, we may not have a choice. A leading group of water researchers believe that the world may have no option but to become vegetarian by 2050 due to the lack of water and food shortages.
In the meantime, if you are a vegetarian (or aspire to be) there are healthier alternatives besides eating junk: actual vegetables.
"Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and live enzymes that our bodies need in order to function optimally. Many are high in protein as well, which is important for someone on a plant-based diet," Kadlovski says.
So what are these foods vegetarians may be opting for? Here are 7 unhealthy "vegetarian" foods and their healthier alternatives:
7 Unhealthy Foods Vegetarians Eat
Even though tofu is made from soybeans (which for the most part are healthy), tofu itself can be heavily processed, says nutritionist Shannon Kadlovski.
"Processed soy such as tofu is high in estrogens, which can cause hormonal imbalances if consumed in excess." she says. Kadlovski recommends replacing your tofu with organic sprouted tofu or tempeh, which is easier on the digestive system.
For the most part, vegetarians turn to cheese as a source of protein. But too much cheese (especially processed slices) is not good for our bodies.
"Cheese is very high in saturated fat and is also a common allergen. It can be difficult on the digestive system and can lead to inflammation if consumed in excess," Kadlovski says. If you are going to eat cheese, make sure you opt for unprocessed versions with no artificial ingredients.
Veggie Hot Dogs:
Yes, vegetarian hot dogs exist (even burgers and bacon), but most of them aren't made from vegetables. "These hot dogs are made with artificial ingredients, including processed soy, sugar, and artificial flavours," Kadlovski says. She also notes they are not healthier than regular hot dogs, even if they don't contain any animal protein.
Some protein powders include unhealthy ingredients like sugar, artificial flavours and sweeteners. "Some contain forms of whey protein that are not easily digested and absorbed, leading to gas and bloating," Kadlovski says.
If you are choosing protein powders, look for some made with 100 per cent New Zealand whey protein isolate, she says. The New Zealand government mandates that all dairy products must be free of antibiotics, chemical residues and hormones.
Pastas often become a staple food for vegetarians, but sticking to only white pasta can be harmful for your health. "These items are heavily processed, fibre deficient, and lead to spikes in blood sugar levels," she says.
When it comes to pasta, opt for whole wheat choices, soba noodles or a similarly healthy alternative.
Just like white pasta, white rice is also heavily processed, fibre deficient and can cause bloating. Some alternatives include brown rice, wild rice and kasha, but don't forget, too much grain is not great for you in general.
Yes, we know bread keeps you happy and full, but white bread is usually processed and often has no vitamins. "A healthier option is to choose whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats and whole grain breads," Kadlovski says.