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The vegetarian and vegan diets can provide you with all the strength you need to reach your fitness and overall general health goals.  There’s more stuff out there for vegetarians to eat besides pasta and salad. So from the desk of Delilah, here’s my two-cents about some nutrients to be mindful of if you’re vegetarian, considering it, or just want to be enlightened.

Protein
Usually the first thing that comes to mind about the vegetarian diet. Protein is great, we need not it not only for our muscles after a vigorous workout, but other things in our body like enzymes, hormones, immune system and much more. Protein has something called the 9 essential amino acids, and they’re essential because our body can’t make them, so we have to get it from our food.

Meat is a one-stop shop for these 9 essential amino acids.  Every meat/animal protein source (ex: chicken, beef, eggs) has all of them. With most vegetarian/plant sources (ex: beans, nuts) they have some but not all of them.  Solution? Mix –and-match! What’s called complimentary proteins, so they balance each other out. A very classic example is rice and beans; rice supplies the amino acids that beans are low in and beans supply the amino acids that rice is low in.

More complementary protein dynamic duos include (but not limited to):

  • hummus + pita bread
  • peanut butter + toast
  • beans + tortilla

There are some complete veggie protein sources, with all of the amino acids, to name a few: soy, quinoa, eggs, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.

Iron (+ Vitamin C)
This one’s just as important to exercise as protein, although protein gets most of the stardom.  Our body needs adequate amounts of iron so that our red blood cells can carry oxygen around our body; no other mineral will do.  Super comes into play during cardio, and also just in general life.  A symptom of low iron stores is fatigue throughout your day.

It comes in 2 forms, meats (heme), and veggies (non-heme). When we get iron from meats (ex: red meat, fish, poultry) our body absorbs it very well, like soaks it right up.  When we get it from veggie sources (ex: spinach, tofu, baked potato), our body can’t absorb as much of it as well, so it just needs a little bit of assistance, and that comes from vitamin C. Pairing vegetarian iron sources with vitamin C enhances absorption in our body.  Think of it this way: you wipe down a counter with a dry cloth; it gets most of the crumbs but not all. Now wipe down that same counter with a wet cloth, it picks up alllll the crumbs. Get it? Next time you’re having a spinach salad, throw some mandarins in there. Oh, you drink your greens? Splash some OJ in your green kale smoothie or pressed juice.

Some recipes that have iron, or protein, or both:

Cleansing green smoothie (Super Quick)
Got this one from Wake the Wolves in their really cool “Kale all Day ErrDay” iBook cook book. Highly recommend you download it! 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Kale roughly chopped
  • 1 Cup water
  • ½ cup cucumber peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 stick celery roughly chopped
  • 2 Cups ice
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • Juice from 1-2 lemons

Directions:

  • Combine kale and water in blender and blend until liquefied
  • Add the remaining ingredients and continue blending until smooth

Classic Beans and Rice + Kale and Quinoa (Quick) 

This is just something I make at home.  It’s easy to make and very filling.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can Kidney beans
  • Red quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Tofurky brand sausage-Kielbasa Polish Style **optional, because you still have adequate protein with just the beans, rice, and quinoa!**
  • Olive oil
  • Kale, chopped
  • Garlic seasoning
  • Soy sauce

Directions:

  • Separately prepare the brown rice and quinoa. Or depending on time and energy I’ll use the ready-made heat&serve from the grocery store. “Seeds of Change” is a great brand.
  • In a pan on medium heat with a small amount of oil, cook the kale with garlic seasoning and soy sauce (both small amounts to taste)
  • Then one by one stir in the: Tofurky sausage, kidney beans, and lastly the rice-quinoa mix

Homemade Veggie Burgers (Not at all Quick–but hella fun)
Jamie Oliver’s site has a great vegan burger recipe. Dress it up any way you like!       Tip: if you want to make this sandwich more powerful stack it with a couple spinach leaves (iron), tomato slices (vitamin C), and option to sprinkle some feta cheese (cheese!). Side note; black beans are also equally awesome for making veggie burgers.

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