Friday, October 18, 2013

Does vegetarian = low calorie?

   If you are considering a meat free diet specifically to reduce the number of calories you consume, this post is for you.
   There are several reasons why national dietary guidelines, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association recommend that 
  1. red meat be limited(this includes pork no matter what you tell yourself)
  2. processed meat be avoided or extremely restricted (this includes all lunch meats, bacon, sausage) and 
  3. a plant based diet be chosen (lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains).
    Two words in the start of that sentence explain the dietary advice, heart and cancer.  Evidence suggests that saturated fat in red meats may lead to high blood cholesterol and thickening or hardening of the arteries, and that processed meat increases the risk of colon cancer.  Fruits, vegetables and the fiber from whole grains has been shown to reduce the same problems or diseases.
  Meats also have more calories per gram than plant based items and limiting them can make it easier to consume fewer calories. However, this is only true when all things are equal- (and they never are - equal). Look at the table below, which I created using Jimmy John's gourmet sandwiches - this is a list of the seven 8" sub sandwiches on their menu.  I put them in order from least to most calories per sandwich.

JJs 8" sub sandwiches
 As you can see, the vegetarian sandwich has the most saturated fat and nearly the most calories.  All of the sandwiches, with the exception of the Vito, which is made with Italian lunch meats and an oil and vinegar, contain MAYONNAISE.  I can tell you how the vegetarian sandwich ended up to be so high in calories, but first note that all the sandwiches are a significant source of calories because of the bread - a salad would be a better choice (if not loaded with a mayonnaise based dressing).  The vegetarian option is described on the menu as having 'layers of provolone cheese and an avocado spread,' plus the mayonnaise and a few veggies for a grand total of 640 calories! The cheese, avocado and mayonnaise are the main source of calories, followed by the bread - I suspect.  A more reasonable lunch would have 400 calories, and mine usually have 100 or 200 because I eat small meals often.

All food has the potential to be high in calories and nutrients that are harmful in excess (i.e., saturated fat, sugar, sodium). In order to make sure that when you intend to eat a low calorie meal you actually do, read the menu labels, ask the restaurant staff to hold things like mayo, ask if butter is used on the 'steamed' vegetables and consider skipping butters, breading and sauces when preparing food for yourself.

BTW, this post was inspired by a meeting I am going to next week.  We were given these 7 options to choose from for our lunch.  I replied to the host that I would be bringing my own lunch.  
(That's right.  It doesn't matter that the lunch is free - it doesn't matter if everyone else is going to order from that menu - what matters it what I need for my body and my health.  Surely you feel as interested in your health as I do mine.  Be brave and remember not to eat to please others but to fuel your body - while enjoying the choices you make.)

1 comment:

Ashley Frazier said...

Love the last paragraph! It is a realization I have had recently, too. All the free food events seem to have unhealthy food. Not free in the long run.