Eating nutritionally: Vegetarian diet

Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, and poultry.  Vegans are vegetarians who do not eat any animal products including dairy and eggs.  A healthy vegetarian diet consists of eating a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.  Eating sweets and fatty foods should be limited. veg food pyramind

Protein needed for a healthy vegetarian diet can be achieved by eating a varied diet.  A mixture of proteins consumed daily will provide the needed essential amino acids.  Sources of protein include: beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, tempeh, chickpeas, whole grain breads, greens, potatoes, and corn.

Iron intake requirement can be achieved by consuming dried beans, tofu, tempeh, chard, spinach, baked potatoes, cashews, dried fruits, bulgur, and iron-fortified foods, such as cereals, oatmeal, and veggie meats.  To increase iron absorption, eat a food containing vitamin C with the iron source.

Calcium needs can be reached by consuming foods such as broccoli, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, fortified soymilk, and fortified orange juice.

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient and the daily requirement can be achieved by eating fortified foods such as some cereals, nutritional yeast, soymilk, and veggie meats.

To add Omega-3 to your diet, consume foods such as flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, tofu, soybeans, and walnuts.

Vitamin D is not found in the vegan diet.  Exposure to sunlight enables humans to make their own vitamin D.  Food sources include vitamin D-fortified soymilk and rice milk.

Health benefits of a vegetarian diet include:

  • Cancer protection
  • Decreased risk for heart disease
  • Decreased LDL levels
  • Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Decreased risk of stroke

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Eating nutritionally: My Plate


MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the healthy diet building blocks  using a familiar image — a meal place setting.

The Fruit Group

The Fruit group consists of any fruit or 100% fruit juice. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried.  The amount of fruit you need to eat depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity.  Recommended daily amounts can be found: Daily Fruit Chart.

The Vegetable Group

The Vegetable Groups includes any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.  Based on their nutrient content, vegetables are organized into five subgroups: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.  The amount of vegetables you need to eat depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. Recommended total daily amounts and recommended weekly amounts from each vegetable subgroup can be found: Daily and Weekly Vegetable Chart.

The Grains Group

The Grains Group is made up of any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.  Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, Whole Grains and Refined Grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples include whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Examples include white flour, de-germed cornmeal, white bread, and white rice.  The amount of grains you need to eat depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. Recommended daily amounts can be found:  Daily Grain Chart.

The Protein Foods Group

The Protein Foods Group consists of all foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds. Beans and peas are also part of the Vegetable Group.  Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least eight ounces of cooked seafood per week. Young children need less, depending on their age and calorie needs. The advice to consume seafood does not apply to vegetarians. Vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat.  The amount of food from the Protein Foods Group you need to eat depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity.  Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods. Recommended daily amounts can be found: Daily Protein Foods Chart.

Selection Tips

  • Choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry. If higher fat choices are made, such as regular ground beef (75-80% lean) or chicken with skin, the fat counts against your maximum limit for empty calories (calories from solid fats or added sugars).
  • If solid fat is added in cooking, such as frying chicken in shortening or frying eggs in butter or stick margarine, this also counts against your maximum limit for empty calories (calories from solid fats and added sugars).
  • Select some seafood that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, herring, Pacific oysters, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.
  • Processed meats such as ham, sausage, frankfurters, and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Check the Nutrition Facts label to help limit sodium intake. Fresh chicken, turkey, and pork that have been enhanced with a salt-containing solution also have added sodium. Check the product label for statements such as “self-basting” or “contains up to __% of __”, which mean that a sodium-containing solution has been added to the product.
  • Choose unsalted nuts and seeds to keep sodium intake low.

The Dairy Group

The Dairy Group is made up of all fluid milk products and many foods made from milk. Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk is also part of the Dairy Group.  The amount of food from the Dairy Group you need to eat depends on age. Recommended daily amounts can be found:  Daily Dairy Chart.

Selection tips

  • Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. If you choose milk or yogurt that is not fat-free, or cheese that is not low-fat, the fat in the product counts against your maximum limit for “empty calories” (calories from solid fats and added sugars).
  • If sweetened milk products are chosen (flavored milk, yogurt, drinkable yogurt, desserts), the added sugars also count against your maximum limit for “empty calories” (calories from solid fats and added sugars).
  • For those who are lactose intolerant, smaller portions (such as 4 fluid ounces of milk) may be well tolerated. Lactose-free and lower-lactose products are available. These include lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk, yogurt, and cheese, and calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage). Also, enzyme preparations can be added to milk to lower the lactose content.
  • Calcium choices for those who do not consume dairy products include: kale leaves
    • Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk. Calcium-fortified foods and beverages may not provide the other nutrients found in dairy products. Check the labels.
    • Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones) soybeans and other soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh), some other beans, and some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy). The amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies.

Oils and Fats

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Oils are NOT a food group, but they provide essential nutrients. Therefore, oils are included in USDA food patterns.  Some commonly eaten oils include: canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. Some oils are used mainly as flavorings, such as walnut oil and sesame oil. A number of foods are naturally high in oils, like nuts, olives, some fish, and avocados.  Foods that are mainly oil include mayonnaise, certain salad dressings, and soft (tub or squeeze) margarine with no trans fats. Check the Nutrition Facts label to find margarines with 0 grams of trans fat. Amounts of trans fat are required to be listed on labels.

Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, no plant foods contain cholesterol. A few plant oils, however, including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered to be solid fats.

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation. Some common fats are: butter, milk fat, beef fat, chicken fat, pork fat (lard), stick margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated oil.

Some Americans consume enough oil in the foods they eat, such as nuts, fish, cooking oil, and salad dressings.  Others could easily consume the recommended allowance by substituting oils for some solid fats they eat. A person’s allowance for oils depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity. Daily allowances for oils can be found: Daily Oil Chart.

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Eating nutritionally: The DASH diet

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet,  was originally developed to lower blood pressure without medication.  Studies show that not only does the DASH diet lowers blood pressure, but also reduces the risk of diseases, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, kidney stones, and diabetes.  The DASH diet is also an effective weight loss approach.

The mainstays of the DASH diet are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy, nuts, legumes, seeds, lean meats, fish, poultry, and heart-healthy fats.  It is high in fiber and low to moderate in fat.  The DASH diet is an ‘Americanized’ approach to the Mediterranean diet.

The DASH diet helps lower blood pressure by providing nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.  It’s a flexible approach to nutrition, making it a lifelong plan.  The DASH diet can be used not only for lowering blood pressure and preventing various diseases but also as a weight loss program or as a vegetarian eating plan.

The main components are as follows:

  • Calorie intakes is ~2100 calories, but should be adjusted up or down for individual needs.
  • Sodium intake of no more than 2300 mg, and ultimately with a goal of 1500 mg.
  • Fiber intake of at least 30g.
  • 7-8 servings of grains, majority coming from whole grains.
  • 4-5 servings of vegetables.
  • 4-5 servings of fruits.
  • 2-3 servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
  • 0-2 servings of lean meats, fish, poultry.
  • 3-6 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week.
  • 2-3 servings of fats or oils.
  • 5 servings or less of sweets per week.
  • 30 minutes of physical activity each day or 60 minutes to prevent weight gain.

DASH diet pyramid

Example menu plans:

Oatmeal with Applesauce
Whole Wheat English Muffin with Jam
Light Yogurt
Pineapple Juice

Chicken Waldorf Salad
Dinner Roll
Baby Carrots
Nonfat Milk

Light String Cheese

Roasted Chicken Breast
Baked Potato
Tomato Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Apple Crisp Topped with Frozen Yogurt

Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
Wheaties® with Skim Milk Topped with Ripe Raspberries
Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin with Light Cream Cheese

Turkey and Light Swiss Cheese on Whole Wheat, Smothered with Cranberry Sauce,
Topped with Romaine Lettuce Leaves
Minestrone Soup

Handful of Almonds

Italian Bread Dipped in Olive Oil
Grilled Salmon with Barbecue Sauce
New Petite Red Potatoes
French-style Green Beans, Dusted with Crushed Hazelnuts
Hearts of Romaine Lettuce Spiked with Grape Tomatoes, Olive Oil Vinaigrette
Very Berry Sundae
(Strawberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries on Light Vanilla Frozen Yogurt)

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Eating nutritionally: The Mediterranean diet

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is more than a diet.  It’s a lifestyle.  It includes high activity, Mediterranean nutrition, and reduced stress attitudes.  The Mediterranean diet consists of:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.  Fresh, non-starchy produce is the key to this diet. Eat 5 to 10 servings a day (a half-cup cooked or 1 cup raw equals one serving).  Seeds, nuts, and legumes are a great source of fiber and protein; nuts and seeds also provide healthy fats and antioxidants. Eat a serving of legumes (1/2 cup, cooked) – found in hummus or lentil soup – at least twice a week and a small portion of nuts daily (about 1 Tbsp., or 10 to 12 almonds or walnut halves).  Whole grains are best.  Eat four small daily portions of whole-wheat bread, or try a pasta made from quinoa. Eat grains with healthy fats and protein.  Incorporate sprouted or fermented grains (sourdough) for easier digestion and better nutrient absorption.  Look for ways to swap out grains, such as using spaghetti squash in place of noodles.
  • Using healthy fats, such as olive oil.  Olives and their oil are key. Consume four to six servings per day (a serving could be 1 tsp. of olive oil, 5 olives or 1/8 of an avocado). Olive oil provides healthy monounsaturated fats and plant compounds called polyphenols.
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt.  They provide antioxidant and inflammation-fighting effects.
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish at least twice a week.  Aim to eat a 4-oz. serving of fish (about the size of a checkbook) two to three times a week. Eggs and poultry are okay, in moderation.
  • Including dairy from cultured milk (kefir, yogurt, fresh curd cheeses like ricotta); it’s easier to digest and supplies beneficial bacteria that contribute to digestive health. Consume one to three servings daily (a serving is 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1 oz. of cheese).
  • Making water a mainstay.  Many Mediterraneans sip espresso after meals to aid digestion. In North Africa, they choose antioxidant-rich green tea combined with mint for the same reason.
  • Staying physically active.
  • Enjoying meals with family and friends.  Relaxed meals with family and friends are a core part of life in the Mediterranean region. This positive attitude toward eating helps improve digestion and lower stress.

my med diet food pyramid

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Research proves over and over again that those who eat mainly produce, fish, whole grains, and healthy fats not only weigh less, but also have a decreased risk for heart disease, cancer, depression, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.  People with the Mediterranean lifestyle have a reduced chance of death at any age. The results were confirmed in United Kingdom and United States populations and represent around a 20% reduced risk of death at any age.

For more information refer to the following resources:

The Mediterranean Prescription: Meal Plans And Recipes to Help You Stay Slim And Healthy for the Rest of Your Life by Angelo Acquista

The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health by Nancy Harmon Jenkins

The Mediterranean Heart Diet: Why It Works, With Recipes to Get You Started by Helen V. Fisher,  Cynthia Thomson,  H. Fisher,  Kaja Lewinn

My New Mediterranean Cookbook: Eat Better, Live Longer by Following the Mediterranean Diet by Jeannette Seaver

The Mediterranean Diet by  Marissa Cloutier, Eve Adamson

Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine by Martha Rose Shulman

The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein

Healthy Mediterranean Cooking by Rena Salaman



Staying motivated

You’re exercising and eating nutritionally but you’re concerned about staying motivated.  You’re worried about your willpower.  What motivates you is unique motivate and willpowerto you.

Set realistic and achievable goals.  Start small, achieve those goals, then set new ones.  Setting a goal to lose 5 lbs. in four weeks is a lot less daunting than losing 50 lbs. in six months.  Success feeds motivation.

Find physical activity that you enjoy and a nutritional plan that you can live with.

Positive reinforcement, such as a reward for achieving a goal can help, as does a support system.  Supportive family and friends is a good predictor of program adherence.

Willpower is a biological function, a mind-body response.  It is not a personality trait.  Willpower is a limited daily resource.  If you use willpower for a long period of time or repeatedly throughout the day, you use up your daily reserve.  To b-cakeprevent willpower depletion, plan ahead.  For example, you know it’s a coworker’s birthday and there will be cake in the break room.  Try brushing your teeth prior to the party.  To prevent lapses and relapses, think of strategies to handle various situations prior to them occurring.  If you tend to skip exercise when you get caught up at work, switch to working out in the morning, before work.

Forgive yourself.  If you lapse, learn from it, and move on.  Don’t have the ‘all or nothing’ mindset.  If you eat a cookie or miss a workout, figure out why you did, think of a strategy to prevent it from happening again, and continue with your program.  It will become a habit.