To Eat Meat or Not to Eat Meat
According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, in 2011, 4% of the U.S. adult population was vegetarian; this equates to nearly 8 million people who choose to not include meat into their diet. While the majority of us do decide to have a bit of meat, it may be surprising to note that 43% of Americans eat at least one vegetarian meal per week. After all, moderation of meat consumption is really what we should all be aiming for! (1)
What makes one decide to become vegetarian or vegan? On an individual basis, reasons may vary from animal rights to environmental factors; however protecting one’s health may be the leading reason.
Researcher and author of The China Study, Collin T. Campbell, says an increased consumption of animal-protein foods is associated with a decrease in longevity. (2)
Supporting this fact, the position of the American Dietetic Association, ADA, states that those who follow a vegetarian diet have lowered risk of death from heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes when compared with non-vegetarians. (3)
Protein, Vitamin B12 and Iron: Are Vegetarians Getting Enough?
There may be some nutritional concerns when eliminating food groups if you don’t take special watch over the foods you do decide to eat. The USDA advocates that vegetarians need “special guidance in planning healthful diets” (4). If you chose to not eat meat or dairy products, be sure to pay special attention to your intake of protein, vitamin B12, and iron. (2)
To provide background, vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found naturally only in animal products like meat, poultry and dairy; an adult requires 2.4 micrograms daily from food or fortified products. (5) Therefore, vegetarians and especially vegans need to make an effort to include this vitamin in their diet. Protein, however, is not as big of a concern; the ADA says that a variety of protein foods from plants, including grains and vegetables, can easily meet protein needs. (2) If a vegetarian or vegan diet is followed correctly, there is no need for concern.
Nutritional yeast is a tasty, low-calorie, good-for-the-environment way to get essential B-complex vitamins, a complete protein, and a bit of iron, without eating meat. Similar to brewers yeast, it is a remarkably good source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals, all while being low in calories, sodium, carbohyrate and fat. A serving size of three tablespoons has 80 calories, 1g fat, 9g protein, 5g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, and 150% of the RDA for vitamin B12, not to mention a slew of other nourishing components. (6) A study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism proved that after eating nutritional yeast, vegan participants with initially low B12 levels significantly improved. (7)
Surprisingly, this odd food actually tastes like cheese! So what is it? Here is the scoop: nutritional yeast is grown on molasses, then deactivated and dehydrated. Left behind are powdered flakes that provide a cheesy, nutty taste that seems too good to be low-calorie. The flakes offer richness in flavor and creaminess in texture when used in recipes. Nutritional yeast can be used as a substitute for cheese in recipes and can be utilized as a low-calorie condiment to replace Parmesan cheese or sour cream.
Nutritional yeast can be used as an ingredient in recipes to create rich and cheesy pasta dishes or it can be utilized as a low-calorie condiment that is a suitable replacement for Parmesan cheese or sour cream.
Just ask the vegan chef Tal Ronnen who cooked for Oprah during her vegan phase, the possibilities are endless! The cheesy tang is wonderful atop baked potatoes and steamed or sautéed vegetables. Mix it in with mashed potatoes or sprinkle on air-popped popcorn with a spritz of PAM to create a low-calorie, highly nutritious snack.
Some common brands of nutritional yeast available are Kal Nutritional Yeast Flakes — 22 oz, Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning, Premium, 4.5 Ounce and Bob’s Red Mill Large Flake Yeast, 8 oz. It does come in the bulk bin section of specialty stores, but many of the enriched vitamins are partially destroyed in the presence of light, so I recommend sticking with the canned form from KAL. I encourage anyone, vegetarian, vegan or meat-eater looking to cut calories, fat, cholesterol or looking to try something new to give nutritional yeast a try. Start by using it as a topping and work up to using it in recipes to create healthy and nutritious sauces and dressings; I promise, you won’t miss your cheese!
Recipe Using Nutritional Yeast
- “How Many Vegetarians Are There?” 2011 Poll — The Vegetarian Resource Group. (2011). Retrieved December, 2014 from The Vegetarian Resource Group, How Many Vegetarians Are There?: http://www.vrg.org/press/2011poll.htm.
- Campbell, C. T., & Campbell, T. (2007). The China Study: the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term health . Walefield, Australia: Wakefield Press.
- Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. (2009). Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109, 1266-1277.
- Messina, V., Melina, V., & Mangels, A. (2003). A New Food Guide For North American Vegetarians. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 64, 82-86.
- National Institutes of Health. (2009). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet Vitamin B12. Bethesda, Maryland: Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health.
- Food Label of NOW Nutritional Yeast
- Donaldson, M. S. (2000). Metabolic Vitamin B12 Status on a Mostly Raw Vegan Diet with Follow-Up Using Tablets, Nutritional Yeast or Probiotic Supplements. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 44, 229-234.
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