Last year, over 139,000 people participated in “Veganuary,” a U.K.-based movement in which participants adopted a vegan or plant-based diet for the month of January. The movement reflects a growing interest in meat-free diets, as documentary films such as Cowspiracy, prominent celebrity activists, and social media engagement have raised awareness of the benefits of going vegan.
There are a wide variety of benefits to a meat-free diet, but a few highlights include weight loss, cost efficiency, a lower carbon footprint and a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, vegetarians are 40% less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters, and according to Medical News Today, their risk for heart disease is reduced by 40%. These huge health benefits, alongside environmental and financial perks, may have piqued your interest in a vegetarian or vegan diet.
- 3.2% of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian diet, according to the Vegetarian Times
- According to a Washington Post article, the percentage of vegetarians in the U.S. has remained relatively stable for the past 20 years, while the percentage of vegans is inching upward
- People who make less than $30,000 per year are twice as likely to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet, according to a Gallup poll
- In general, vegetarians tend to exercise more often and live longer than non-vegetarians, according to an article by EverydayHealth
Many people are looking for ways to reduce or remove meat from their diets, whether that’s due to ethical, environmental, or health concerns. That said, going vegetarian or vegan poses a few extra challenges for people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. While giving up meat when you’re already gluten-free can be intimidating at first, it’s also an opportunity to explore a wealth of delicious and healthy foods that may not have been on your radar. Here are a few tips…
Look for High Protein Grains
Because meat is a major source of protein, when you make the jump to a vegan or vegetarian diet, you’ll need to find new staples that fill you up and round out your dishes. Luckily, many gluten-free grains naturally contain higher levels of protein than wheat, and some of them are especially budget-friendly. Pairing a gluten-free grain with beans and veggies is a simple, cost-effective, and nutritious dinner. What’s more, grains like quinoa and amaranth are protein powerhouses that make a great addition to salads, while buckwheat and gluten-free oats are hearty breakfast cereals that provide a great jumpstart to your day.
A while back we wrote a blog post about the “Five Gluten-Free Grains You Should Know”, with information about some lesser-known grains like millet, fonio, teff, sorghum, and amaranth. The post includes a recipe for a gluten-free tabbouleh salad with amaranth, a nutrient-dense edible seed that contains 9 grams of protein per cup, along with generous amounts of iron, vitamin B-6, and magnesium. It can also be popped like popcorn or served with milk and fruit as a breakfast cereal.
The Healthline article “9 Gluten-Free Grains That Are Super Healthy” is another useful resource that highlights the health benefits of some other healthy gluten-free grains.
Embrace Soy (if you can)
This tip of course won’t apply to everyone, as some gluten-free folks are allergic to soy. But for those who aren’t specifically allergic to soy – it’s good to note that pure soybeans don’t have gluten in them, although people with a gluten intolerance need to be mindful of how the beans are processed when purchasing soy products. Soy sauces often contain gluten, as well as some soy milks on the market. It’s always a good idea to check the label first, but in general, most soy milk, tempeh, and tofu are gluten-free, and all three are amazing sources of protein, as well as essential amino acids, iron, calcium, manganese and selenium, among other important nutrients. Frying up some tofu or tempeh and serving it with a gluten-free grain, vegetables and a salad is a easy, nutritious and filling meal.
Areas of Difficulty if You’re Already Gluten-free
A gluten-free vegetarian diet should be carefully planned, especially in the beginning stages, to ensure that you’re getting enough iron, calcium, phosphate, and B12, among other nutrients. According to Today’s Dietician, about 50% of people newly diagnosed with celiac disease have iron-deficiency anemia. Going gluten-free and vegetarian at the same time can exacerbate these concerns, so if you’re currently a gluten-eating omnivore, it might be a good idea to make one switch at a time.
Luckily, there are so many nutrient-dense foods still available on this diet, including nuts, seeds, lentils, grains, vegetables, and wild rice, to name a few. The trick is to be strategic and incorporate foods that contain nutrients you might have relied on animal products for. Brazil nuts, for example, are an excellent source of selenium, so throwing a couple of them into your trail mix can ensure you aren’t missing out on the nutrient. It’s a good idea to keep a food journal for your first few weeks as a vegetarian or a vegan. That way, you can identify what nutrients you might be missing out on and develop a plan to incorporate them into your diet. You may also want to check out this Healthline article “7 Common Nutrient Deficiencies.”
With careful planning, the switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet can have huge health benefits, along with a positive influence on the environment and animal welfare. While a gluten-free, vegetarian diet isn’t for everyone, reducing your meat consumption even one day per week can have environmental and health benefits. By pivoting to a diet that relies more heavily on nuts, protein-rich grains, and soy products, you might even find that you have more energy than you did before you made the switch!