Wendy’s Announces New Vegetarian- and Vegan-Friendly Black Bean Burger

Wendy's Black Bean Burger

Move over, McDonald’s and Burger King; there’s a new vegetarian-friendly burger in town and it’s drawing rave reviews among diners, especially among vegetarians and vegans.

Wendy’s, America’s third largest fast food chain, is test marketing a new Black Bean Burger that finally gives vegans and veggie lovers alike real, edible options – virtually unheard of at other quick service chains.

Unlike McDonald’s not-so-successful attempt 15 years ago at making a meatless patty called the McVeggie Burger, Wendy’s has crafted a completely different blend of black beans, peppers, wild rice and zesty spices.

Wendy’s is also giving Burger King’s Veggie Burger and some stiff competition. While BK’s burger has historically received reasonably high ratings, critics say it’s high in sodium and cholesterol – a whopping 1,090 grams and 10 mg, respectively. Calorie-wise, BK’s Veggie Burger is comparable to Wendy’s vegan version at 420 calories each. Wendy’s standard recipe packs 19 grams of protein, compared to BK’s whopping 23 grams—great if you like textured soy protein.

Black Beans vs. Textured Soy Protein

Rather than try to offer another soy-based meat substitute, Wendy’s instead focused on creating a mouthwatering burger packed with wholesome flavor, something that vegetarians will love, and meat eaters can appreciate too.

If you’re looking for that chargrilled flavor meat lovers crave, you’re more likely to find it at Wendy’s than the other quick-service chains. The Wendy’s Black Bean Burger is even courteously cooked on a separate grill so there’s no cross-contamination with meat products served at the restaurant. (Thank you for realizing that the grimy meat grill is a huge turn-off for vegetarians!)

This zesty burger is tender on the inside with a hearty outer crust you’d expect from a grilled hamburger. There’s simply no comparison with BK’s microwaved version, which uses a Morningstar Farms© Veggie Burger, running the risk of sacrificing taste and texture. BK’s Veggie Burger derives its meaty taste from mushrooms, water chestnuts, black olives, rolled oats, and sugar — sadly, an ingredient carb conscious consumers might want to nix. Both the McVeggie and BK Veggie Burger were made with textured soy protein, a far cry from the fresh legumes, grains, vegetables and spices Wendy’s includes in its Black Bean Burger.

Is the Wendy’s Black Bean Burger Healthy?

While we won’t say that a black bean burger from a fast food restaurant is a “healthy” food, we can say that studies suggest that black beans can help prevent colon cancer, Type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. They’re a low-sodium and cholesterol-free food, but we can’t say the same for the other parts of the burger. Even without the cheese and sauce, this burger is a hefty portion of sodium, so we don’t necessarily recommend making this a staple of your diet. At the end of the day, it’s still a special treat.

The Wendy’s Black Bean Burger is naturally vegetarian-friendly, and without the cheese or Asiago Ranch sauce, it can be vegan-friendly as well.  The standard preparation includes milk and cheese, but customers can opt for Wendy’s vegan version without dairy products. The vegan version is just as tasty with only 420 calories, zero cholesterol, a mere 12 grams of sugar, 14 grams of protein and just 68 carbs.

Wendy’s new vegetarian Black Bean Burger is a quarter pound patty – round, not square in the Wendy’s burger tradition – topped with a slice of Colby Pepper Jack cheese, tomato and leaf lettuce, crowned with a hearty dollop of Asiago ranch sauce on a toasted multi-grain bun. Wendy’s new burger patty combines tender black beans blended with red and green bell peppers, quinoa, farro (an ancient grain), brown rice, wild rice, sea salt, oregano, and a Southwestern trio of cilantro, garlic, and chili powder for a little kick. It’s hard to believe this is straight off of a fast food menu.

Wendy’s Black Bean Burger Test Markets

At present, the Black Bean Burger is being tested in just three U.S. cities: Columbus, Ohio, home of Wendy’s corporate headquarters; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Columbia, South Carolina. Tasters say Wendy’s new veggie burger is pleasant and savory enough to justify paying an average $4.59 per sandwich. Yes, the price is higher than your standard dollar menu Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, but it’s an absolute steal for vegetarians who historically don’t get to enjoy the occasional quick-service drive-through meal like the rest of America. It’s also a great price if you want robust flavor in a healthier and more environmentally sound alternative to meat in your fast food experience.

People are practically begging to have the Black Bean Burger brought to their cities. If you’re interested in getting Wendy’s to debut its new veggie Black Bean Burger in your hometown, try voicing your opinion in the online petitions at VegFest.org and Change.org to hopefully bring the Black Bean Veggie Burger to your neighborhood.

Learn more about the Wendy’s Black Bean Burger straight from the restaurant here, and view the commercial here:

W.H.O. Links Red Meat to Cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research division of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), recently announced that processed meats and red meats have clear correlative links to to cancers. Any meat that has been modified to change the taste or to add preservatives is considered “processed.” This includes a variety of foods common to your grocery store shelves, like bacon, ham, hot dogs, beef jerky, canned meats, and even meat-based sauces. Red meats, or muscle meat from mammals, including beef, pork, lamb, horse and goat.

A team of 22 experts from 10 different countries around the world worked together analyzing more than 800 studies of meat consumption worldwide, as well as past scientific research, and concluded that processed meats increase the risk of developing cancer, and that excess consumption of red meat may increase the risk as well. According to their findings, a mere 50 grams of processed meat per day in a person’s diet can increase their risk of developing colorectal cancer by 17 percent. Processed meats have thus been classified as Class 1 carcinogens, placing them in the same category as substances like tobacco and diesel fumes. Unprocessed red meat, given a classification of 2A, was found to be “probable” carcinogens that may cause colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

The U.S. Ranks #2 Worldwide in Meat Consumption

Considering the fact that the United States ranks third worldwide in meat consumption at 90.0 kg of meat per capita (almost 200 pounds of meat per year per person), just slightly behind Australia in the #1 spot, these findings may be quite alarming because of the number of meat products included. The World Health Organization has essentially revealed that many of the meats that make up a huge portion of American diets are dangerous.

Everything in Moderation

So is the W.H.O. suggesting that we all become vegetarian or vegan? Or should we limit our meat consumption to only fresh poultry and fish and become pescatarian? Not necessarily. Officials at the W.H.O.’s International Agency for Research on Cancer are saying that while the risk of developing cancer from these meats remains small, but increases with the amount consumed. While we at Vegetarian Nation always support anyone who wants to reduce or eliminate meat and meat byproducts from their diet, eating red meat is not automatically a carcinogenic death sentence. Many health and nutrition experts agree that it is all about moderation.

Although processed meats and red meats have been found to be associated with cancer, you do not necessarily have to eliminate them completely from your diet. Although processed and red meats have been linked to cancer, they are still far less dangerous than smoking. For years, processed foods and red meat have been said to have unhealthy effects if consumed in great quantities, so the W.H.O. announcement does not come entirely by surprise. This new evidence just further proves that balance is a very important part of a healthy diet.Although processed meats and red meats have been found to be associated with cancer, you do not necessarily have to eliminate them completely from your diet. Meats have protein and other beneficial nutrients – aim for organic, grass-fed, hormone-free, and humanely farm-raised meats in small portions for optimal nutrition and safety – and many of their harmful affects can be counteracted with greater intake of healthy, fibrous fruits and vegetables.

(Warning: Terrible pun forthcoming.)

The “Steaks” Were Never Higher

What does this announcement mean for the meat industry? Not surprisingly, the meat industry is reeling against the W.H.O. announcement in defense of their industry.

Many people have already started eliminated meats and processed foods from their diets in recent years, and for a number of reasons. Beef consumption peaked in the mid-1970s and has been on the decline since, while turkey has held relatively steady, and chicken consumption has risen dramatically to an all-time high.

Could this news about red meat being linked to colorectal and other cancers encourage even more people to stop eating processed and red meats? Anything is possible, and for that reason the meat industry has had a lot to say about the World Health Organization’s findings, going so far as to call the organization’s findings “biased,” “dramatic,” and “misleading.” The executive director of human nutrition for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Shalene McNeill, told CNN that she feels the evidence does not support “any casual link between any red meat and cancer.”  The North American Meat Institute made light of the World Health Organization’s report, citing that they have also classified yoga pants as a cancer hazard. The Meat Advisory Panel in the U.K. said that “avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer.”

What Happens Next

Despite the news that processed meats and red meats have been linked to colorectal and other cancers, the meat industry isn’t in full panic mode just yet. It has been a well-known fact for many years that consuming too much of these foods can lead to a number of health issues. But to say that a few slices of bacon or a hot dog will give you cancer would be a huge reach, nor is the W.H.O. report claiming as much. It is very likely that people who consume processed and red meat will continue to do so. The World Health Organization’s findings instead support the need for a balanced diet, which can include these meats in small portions and lots of healthy fruits and veggies.

It is highly unlikely that people will eliminate these foods, purely out of habit and desire. Hot dogs will continue being served at barbecues and bacon will still be present at breakfast. At first glance the World Health Organization’s findings may be shocking to some, but there are many carcinogens associated with cancer. People are aware that things like tobacco and over-exposure to the sun can increases the risk of developing cancer, but cigarettes are still sold and families still go to the beach.

Planning to Cut Back Your Meat Consumption?

If you are one of the many people who will consider reducing or eliminating meat consumption, though, we welcome you to the Vegetarian Nation with open arms. No judgment here. If you need any help cutting back on meat and adding more healthy, balanced, vegetarian-friendly dishes to your menu, we’re here to help. Whether it’s help with vegetarian and vegan recipes, recommendations for meat substitutes, or simply moral support – call on the vegetarian community and we’ll be there for you every step of the way.

Top 9 Travel Tips for Vegetarians & Vegans

Food is a fundamental part of culture, especially in foreign countries. Think of the bratwurst in Germany, the tapas in Spain, or the famous roadhouse barbecue across the United States. Meat plays a very large role in the majority of food dishes throughout the world, so traveling can be a bit of a downer when you visit a restaurant and find that your options as a vegetarian are limited. You may even feel a bit left out watching your travel mates dine on some delicious looking, traditional fare while you’re stuck with a plate of steamed veggies or snacks you packed from home.

Being a vegetarian doesn’t have to mean missing out on the good stuff while you’re traveling, though. Food should be the best part of your vacation. While you may not wish to eat any of the typical plates common to some destinations, you have the opportunity to explore other aspects of the local diet and unlock culinary tidbits that may go unnoticed to the traditional carnivorous tourist.

Below are 10 tips you can follow in order to make your travels a little less stressful at mealtimes, and still have a fantastic time enjoying all the amazing food the world has to offer, while staying true to your vegetarian or vegan diet.

1. Learn the Local Food Lingo

If you’re traveling abroad, it’s important to pick up on a few essential phrases before arriving. Apart from being able to ask for basic directions or tell your name, vegetarians have a few other sentences they’ll want to have memorized. You’ll want to go beyond simply saying, “I’m a vegetarian,” because that alone may not mean the same thing in each country. In some countries, fish isn’t considered meat. In some cases, even chicken isn’t considered meat!

Instead, focus on learning the specifics. In addition to learning Je suis vegetarienne, you may also wish to learn phrases like, “No meat, please,” and, “I don’t eat beef, pork, chicken or poultry.” Even learn how to ask, “Is there a vegetarian option or menu?”

Woman Ordering at Restaurant

In popular tourist areas abroad, most restaurant staff speak some English these days. If you’re in the U.S. or an English-speaking country, then just remember to be polite and respectfully inquire rather than demand a menu or food options for vegetarians, since no one wants to serve a cranky customer from abroad. You chose to eat there, so be understanding when the restaurant menu was not created with your vegetarian diet in mind.

2. Do Your Restaurant Research

There are actually many vegetarian-friendly restaurants throughout the world, but particularly in major cities where the demand is likely to be higher. Looking up places ahead of time, whether its via the Internet, a guide book or simply asking like-minded vegetarian friends, can give you something to look forward to.

It may be tough to come by fully vegan or vegetarian restaurants in some areas of the world, but in other areas, vegetarian diets may be more popular or even the default! Look for restaurants, stores or even street food vendors that have one or more vegetarian or vegan options to suit your diet.

3. Check Travel Apps for Dining Tips

There are two great free mobile apps – VegOut (iOS) and HappyCow (Android, iOS) – that can help you locate vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants all around the world. And, going back to languages, since you may need a little help ordering once you arrive, the mobile app VeggiePassport (iOS) helps diners translate their vegetarian-specific requests into 33 different languages, and counting.

Tourists Consulting Vegetarian Mobile Apps

4. Pack Snacks (and Even Meals)

Road trip snacks are essential for anyone, but particularly a vegetarian who will find their options limited at many pit stops, on flights, or at foreign restaurants that offer little besides burgers, hot dogs, candy and chips. Having prepared snacks on-hand that travel well can be a life-saver when you find yourself in a pinch on the road. Find recipes for some delicious trail-mix and whip up a batch before packing.  Consider bringing along some of your favorite cheeses and healthy crackers in a cooler, along with yogurt, granola, dried and fresh fruit. If traveling by car, healthy sandwiches/wraps or pita and hummus can be a great fit. For air travelers, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, granola bars or protein bars will be your best bet.

5. Map Out the Local Natural Food Stores

According to the United States Organic Food Market Forecast & Opportunities 2018 study, the popularity of organic and natural food stores is on the rise. The market is expected to grow 14% from 2013 to 2018. These can be valuable tools when traveling to different parts of the country or world.

If there isn’t a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods around (mainly U.S. travelers), there still may be small natural food stores that have vegetarian-friendly snacks or even ready-to-go meals on-hand. If you’re going to be staying in a vacation rental, home, or other lodging that has access to a kitchen, you can make a game out of it by picking a recipe on theme with your trip, shopping at the local groceries, and putting it together that night for dinner.

6. Make a Vegetarian Bucket List

If you’re going out of the country, research a lot of the local cuisine beforehand and take note of all the vegetarian-friendly options. Compile a list of the ones that appeal to you the most, and make it a mission to check off each one at various restaurants throughout your vacation. It’s a fun and delicious way to explore your destination. These days, nearly everywhere in the world has vegetarian options. Make it a point to find creative ways to experience the quirks and qualities of the local cuisine within your vegetarian diet. When you find delicious vegetarian options that creatively demonstrate the local flavor, I guarantee you will go home inspired to add new tastes from around the world into your home cooking.

7. Go Crazy at Local Markets

Countries like Spain and most parts of Asia are known not just for their fish and meat markets, but also they’re incredible variety of fresh fruits, cheeses and breads. The market on the canals of Venice in Italy was one of the most beautiful spreads of fresh produce I’ve seen. For a vegetarian, this is paradise. You can make an entire meal out of the fresh fruits and veggies at the street market and not just stay healthy but also save yourself the extra cash that you’d spend in a restaurant.

Woman Running Farmers Market

For example, when I traveled to Paris, I was struggling to find great vegetarian options (surprisingly enough, in PARIS!) near where I was staying in Montmartre. I was burned out on what I had been eating, and was desperate for something a little different. Instead of spending a fortune at a nearby restaurant eating the same thing for the umpteenth time in a row, I meandered into a few of the local markets and shops to pick out crepes, fresh fruit and berries, yogurt, and juice.

Confession: That simple little meal in my rented 18th Arrondissement flat while it gently rained outside and I listened to the sounds of the neighborhood was one of the best and most memorable of my trip.

8. Hotel-Friendly Vegetarian Haven

Consider requesting a room with a mini-fridge if you’re staying in a hotel. This option will let you keep your pre-packed snacks, hummus, salads and any great leftovers from delectable vegetarian restaurants you find fresh for the duration of your trip and save you the hassle of having to repeatedly refill a cooler with ice.

Pro-Tip: Bringing a collapsible, portable food storage container or plastic baggies can be very handy when you have a big, delicious meal somewhere and want to extend the food joy one more day.

In the event you can’t find any restaurants nearby that suit your diet, make sure to pack along some hotel meals that can be made in a pinch with nothing more than some hot water.

9. Embrace the Challenge

Being a vegetarian may make some travel adventures a bit more challenging, but that’s exactly what you should view it as – a challenge, and a fun, adventurous one at that. Take the opportunity to hit the road on foot and seek out some yummy vegetarian treats you can pass on to your friends back home. Getting out and exploring the city with a different pair of eyes can help you not only experience a side of the area you may not have otherwise, but will also keep you feeling good and in shape throughout the course of your stay. Soak it up, enjoy every minute of it. Best case scenario, you discover something amazing you didn’t know existed. Worst case scenario, you have a great story to tell friends and family when you return.

Guide to Understanding the Child Who Chooses Vegetarianism, for Meat-Eating Parents

Not every parent is capable of keeping his or her cool when a child marches in, tosses a backpack on the couch, and makes the grand announcement that she is giving up meat forever. The moment can be particularly ironic if you’re the parent and you’re about to put a meatloaf into the oven. Perhaps your instinct is to start lecturing her about health crises that can result from giving up meat. Or you react so dramatically, your child escapes to her room.

This is a critical moment for your youngster and for you, which is why it’s best to do whatever it takes to put a smile on your face, shrug and then toss an extra potato into the oven with the meatloaf. Letting this announcement percolate for as much time as you require, to come to grips with the decision your newly-anointed vegetarian or vegan offspring just made, is everyone’s chance to diffuse a potentially volatile confrontation that can make or break your relationship.

What to do first? Understand why he or she is undertaking this radical eating change by opening a meaningful dialog.

This too might pass.

All it takes is a new influence in your child’s life to turn her from independent soul to a follower of the herd. Somebody in her world decides to stop eating meat and your child wants to follow suit. This may or may not be a permanent lifestyle change and you sure don’t want to discourage her from trying something that won’t be harmful, and could even be a positive lifestyle change.

Understanding that nobody dies or suffers from malnutrition when a proper, nutrient-rich vegetarian diet is followed can help you cope — even at 3 a.m. when you’re sure her bones won’t survive adolescence if she doesn’t get plenty of chicken and burgers. Children often revert to their old meat-eating eating habits without much warning. Treat this as you would your child’s other attempts to spread her wings. Encourage her often and keep veggie burgers in the freezer, but be just as supportive if she decides to add meat to her diet again when you least expect it.

It’s an ideological statement.

Some people witness the slaughter of beef and decide never again to touch red meat. Others panic at the thought that the lobster blissfully waving a claw at them is about to be boiled alive. It happens. Your son may have encountered a philosophy that strikes a chord and as part of his maturation process, and makes a conscious decision to stop eating meat. Your support at this time is critical. No fair making fun or teasing; and let siblings and aunts who scold or lecture know that their comments aren’t appreciated. Ideological vegetarians sometimes stick to their eating plans for years and learn what combinations of foods substitute for meats, so if you’re housing a budding Sophocles, load up your house with beans, rice, nuts, veggie burgers and other protein substitutes and relax.

Teenager Experiments with Vegetarianism

S/he decides to experiment.

Body image is extremely important to young girls who hold up Rhianna, Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians as role models. Perhaps your daughter read an article about a rock star who has stopped eating meat and she decides to try a vegetarian diet, too. On the other hand, if you think your daughter is using this dietary switch because she is insecure about her body image or weight, it’s important to start a dialog immediately, just to make sure there are no deeper, hidden motives behind her dietary conversion. Like all experimental behavior, your child may get bored over time and revert back to her former eating habits, but in the interim, get some vegetarian recipe books from the library and make sure she gets all of the nutrients a growing girl needs.

S/he’s got ethical concerns.

Some science classes do more than teach a teen how to dissect a frog. These days, lectures and reading materials include studies on artificial hormones and livestock feed supplements formulated to speed up the growth process in livestock confined to small spaces, or enlightens people to the environmental impacts of meat. Respecting and supporting the ethical stand your youngster takes isn’t just the right thing to do, it gives you many opportunities to praise and commend him whenever for being an independent thinker with a mind of his or her own, and strong moral compass to guide them. You don’t have to stop grilling the steaks while uttering these compliments, because your understanding of why your child wants to stop eating meat ushers in an opportunity to talk about respecting the dietary wishes of everyone in the family. This mutual self-respect may even short-circuit any attempt to convert you if you’re not interested in trying it yourself.

S/he’s exercising her independence.

Kids flexing their independence muscles is terrific. Help her learn about this alternate lifestyle by passing along books and articles about vegan or vegetarian living, but peruse them yourself first; you don’t want to share articles that make negative judgments about this lifestyle. Sign up for a parent-and-child cooking class to show her that you’re on board with her decision and get her feedback on your meal plans. There are so many fabulous vegetarian recipes to prepare for your entire family that are meat-free and loaded with nutrients: veggie chili, soy milk shakes, tofu steaks, veggie burgers, peanut butter treats, nuts, and legumes. Satisfy your meatless insecurities by checking package labels and consulting nutrition guides so you choose foods with optimal amounts of the nutrients you’re most worried about, like omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, Vitamin B12, calcium and proteins.

Child Learning Vegetarian Recipes with Mom

You’re growing as a parent.

Is it easy to give up control of your child’s diet when you were raised to believe that the most important foods on the planet hang out in a barnyard? Hardly. But you might learn as you explore this topic, that lots of people have thrived without meat for 90 years and longer!

Like most lifestyle changes, your inherent biases, conditioning, and upbringing help shape your attitudes. If it helps, talk with people who have adopted vegetarian lifestyles early in life to assure yourself of their fitness and good health. Where to find them? Ask Yoga instructors, health food store merchants, certified nutritionists and naturopathic physicians—many of whom work with kids who stopped eating meat and wound up loving the vegetarian life. Like everything your child experiences, he or she will use you as their mirror every time a substantive issue like this arises. Make sure she sees a loving, encouraging parent willing to let her follow her heart.

Is a Paleo-Vegetarian Diet Setting Yourself Up for Failure?

The popularity of Vegetarian and Paleolithic diets is on the rise. But that might be the understatement of the century. Vegetarianism has a long history, stretching back thousands of years in some regions, and the last several decades seem to have been on a steady incline for adopting the vegetarian diet as information about ethical and healthy eating practices becomes more widely available. But when it comes to the Paleo diet, it might be more accurate to say that the interest in this diet has skyrocketed in the last several years.

Loren Cordain, an exercise scientist and nutritional expert, published his book, The Paleo Diet, in 2002. The book heralded a hunter-gatherer style of eating, positing it as the diet of the Paleolithic era when people did not have access to farmed and processed foods. Then, once Paleo hit the CrossFit community, its reputation exploded, and by 2013 it was the most commonly searched diet on Google. Both diets are in vogue — and due to their potential health benefits, many athletes are adopting them to support optimal performance. But typically, athletes choose one or the other – not both.

In the vegetarian community, there is a divide between those who abstain from meat due to health benefits, and those who do so for ethical reasons. Both groups have risen in numbers, with more information generated every day about the lamentable practices of the slaughterhouse industry and the high incidence of health complications engendered by high-cholesterol diets laden with unhealthy fats.

Before we go on, we’d better break down what exactly “vegetarianism” means. While vegetarianism is merely foregoing meat in one’s diet, there are some variations. Many vegetarians also exclude eggs, and some eschew the consumption of dairy. Others cut out both. Pescatarians, who are often classified as vegetarians, don’t eat meat but allow for fish and seafood. While abstinence from meat has shown numerous health benefits, it is still common for a vegetarian diet to be nutritionally weak in some areas for some people, as it bears no restrictions on processed foods, bad fats or refined carbohydrates.

The Paleo world is more uniform, in that most who choose the Paleo route do so strictly for health reasons. However, the strictures of Paleo are more complicated than vegetarianism. The idea is to eat only foods that would have been available to humans during the Paleolithic era. Meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts all get the green light. But on the no-eat list are grains, refined sugars, legumes, seed oils, processed foods and gluten. In the athletic arena, the reasons for the diet are obvious to the diet-conscious. Paleo provides heaps of quality protein and carbohydrate sources — crucial for supporting any intense physical regimen — while eliminating foods that encourage fat gains and wreak havoc on the body’s digestive and cardiovascular systems.

Venn Diagram of What Paleo & Vegetarians Won't Eat
Can you live in the overlap of what Vegetarian and Paleo eaters won’t eat?

Both the Vegetarian and Paleo diets have been used by athletes successfully. But quite rare among athletes — or the population in general — is the Paleo-Vegetarian diet, which follows Paleo rules while also refraining from meat. Given that a central pillar of Paleo tends to be meat such as bacon and lean grass-fed beef, these two diets can be very challenging to combine. With the communities taking interest in each other — Paleo enthusiasts who wish to nix the meat from their diets, and vegetarians looking to optimize their health — the question has to be asked: can a diet geared for top athletic performance be both Paleo and Vegetarian?

In a word, yes. It is certainly possible to take a Paleo diet and cut out the meat. However, whether it is an optimal plan for an active lifestyle is less certain. It also means following a number of complex rules, so it requires someone who is both knowledgeable and committed.

Paleo takes a huge chunk of the typical Western diet and shoes it away. Without grains, refined sugars, legumes and seed oils, one is already going against the societal norm. Meals have to be planned and prepared ahead of time, because the fast food menu and the pizza night at the neighbors’ cannot accommodate a Paleo eater.

Since Paleo relies heavily on meat for protein, it is easy to see that making it vegetarian-friendly presents difficulties. Vegetarians typically obtain high quantities of protein from dairy and legumes — both of which are prohibited by Paleo. So what’s left? Those who wish to marry the two diets will be compelled to rely primarily on nuts and eggs for protein. While this is feasible, it certainly limits one’s options. And limited meal options means getting bored or being left unsatisfied, which in turn often means giving up on the diet. Athletes looking to encourage muscle gains with a high protein intake may find the restrictions of a Paleo-Vegetarian life quite imposing.

Paleo Vegetarian Athlete Eating

It is not all bad from here, though. Adding more eggs and nuts into one’s diet is simple enough, and after a few weeks of adjustment it can begin to feel natural. Many Paleo-Vegetarians also rely heavily on protein powders and supplements to round out their protein needs. One who is truly committed to a Paleo-Vegetarian diet can make it work with a lot of planning and a strict grocery list.

But for those who are willing to make just one compromise from the Paleo diet, things become much easier. Since legumes are proven to have excellent nutritional benefits and provide a great source of protein and complex carbohydrates, it is sensible for most vegetarians to stick with legumes while giving a nod to Paleo by dropping refined sugars, grains, dairy and gluten. This slightly modified Paleo-Vegetarian diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs and legumes, provides plenty of quality carbohydrates, fats and protein. We know it isn’t a perfect Paleo-Vegetarian solution, but this ensures that those with full exercise schedules you can get all the nutrients you require without relying on nearly all of the foods that Paleo purists are so keen on avoiding.

In the end, everyone has to decide which diet — or hybrid diet —will work for them. A meat-free Paleo diet including legumes — think “Paleo-Vegetarian with breathing room” — provides plenty of cuisine options and still jettisons problem foods like refined sugars, seed oils and gluten. As for those who wish to forego legumes and embrace a strictly Paleo-Vegetarian life, it is certainly doable. It will just require a little extra effort — and plenty of patience for eggs and nuts.

OldWays Releases a New Vegetarian Food Pyramid

People are expressing a growing interest in plant-based diets recently. Because this strays from the norm, many people are left to try and figure out how to approach the vegetarian lifestyle on their own.

Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, recently released an updated food pyramid for vegans and vegetarians, modernizing the standards and guidelines to assist both newcomers and seasoned vegetarians alike in achieving a healthy, balanced diet.

What Makes Oldway’s Vegetarian/Vegan Pyramid Relevant?

oldways-vegetarian-food-pyramidThere’s a ton of of competing – and sometimes contradicting – information available, so it’s not always clear which approach is best take to achieve the healthiest vegetarian diet possible. Transitioning from a meat-based to a plant-based diet means a lot more than simply eliminating meat. Often, knowledge, training and planning can help you achieve more balanced, well-rounded, healthy and satisfying vegetarian or vegan diet so this can be a positive, lasting lifestyle change.

Oldway’s vegetarian food pyramid shows combinations of meals over a period of time, highlighting “the big picture,” a longer term plan to achieving better health on a plant-based diet. A well-balanced variety of foods is essential for a healthy life. Nutrient deficiency, oftentimes the basis for criticism of plant-based diets, is an avoidable problem foe vegans and vegetarians if they are properly educated. Armed with this knowledge and experience, a healthy and balanced vegetarian balanced diet will become second nature.

Updates to the Oldways Vegetarian Pyramid

The latest version of the Oldways pyramid combines vegetarian and vegan pyramids together, which makes sense due to many areas of overlap. The new pyramid also includes a wider variety of plant-based foods and fruits than before. Fruits and vegetables makeup a huge proportion of the food pyramid, establishing the base.

Depictions now include some of the more unusual but nutrient-rich choices to help inspire people to try new things, including kale, avocado, collard greens, and turnips. Herbs, spices and plant oils also got added to the food pyramid, bringing attention to the numerous phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals they can provide.

Also noteworthy in the new pyramid are great ideas to get vegetarians and vegans outside of the bread box. It suggests the whole grain choices can be diverse and include things like amaranth, millet, barley, and millet, whereas vegetarians may have relied more heavily on just pasta and bread before.

Daily Guidelines in the Updated Oldways Vegetarian Pyramid

oldways-vegetarian-food-serving-sizes

Aside from the food pyramid itself, Oldways includes elements they name “plates” and “real food” as part of their nutritional guidance program. They emphasize that consuming real vegetarian/vegan food does not need to be tedious or tasteless. The new Oldways Vegetarian Food Pyramid recommends the following daily intake for an optimal diet:

  • 3-4 servings of fruit
  • 4-5 servings of vegetables
  • 5-6 servings of whole grains
  • 3-6 servings of beans, peas, lentils, or soy
  • 1-3 servings of nuts and seeds
  • Use herbs and spices liberally
  • 5 servings of plant oils
  • 4-6 servings of dairy/eggs (not for Vegans, obviously)

The modernized Oldways vegetarian/vegan food pyramid also includes reminders to drink plenty of water, exercise, and to share meals with family and friends.

History of Oldways and the Vegetarian Food Pyramid

The Oldways mission seeks to help people lead healthier lives by highlighting the fact that traditional foods not only delicious, but also nutritious. Among their most noteworthy  projects has been to create Heritage Food Pyramids that specifically address the dietary needs of various cultures such as Mediterranean, Asian, Latino, and African.

Their website, OldPT.org, includes a lot of great information and resources, including great recipes, time saving tips on meal prep, and reports of interesting studies that link diet with health.

Review of Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips

Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips Nutrition Facts
Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips

I first read about Beyond Meat in WIRED Magazine in an article by celebrity chef Alton Brown, who toured the facility and tasted the product to give an honest omnivore’s assessment of whether Beyond Meat has a real shot at cutting back meat consumption in the U.S. Of course the article piqued my interest because I’m a loyal WIRED reader and a vegetarian constantly in search of inspiration for my next meal. But when I saw that Beyond Meat is located in Columbia, Missouri – the town of my alma mater and just two hours from my home in Kansas City – I got irrationally excited to try it. It’s local after all! Then, much to my surprise, the brand also popped up in a recent issue of Popular Science magazine not long after!

The WIRED article featured delectable-looking recipes featuring this new meat substitute product, including one for Chicken-Free Stir Fry that we made (photo below). A quick visit to the Beyond Meat website pointed me to my local Whole Foods, where I found its three varieties in the refrigerated section right next to the tofu and Soyrizo. I expected it to be exorbitantly expensive, but was pleasantly surprised that it was around the $4 price point for about 4 servings worth of Lightly Seasoned Chicken-Free Strips.

WIRED Chicken-Free Stir Fry  Recipe
WIRED Chicken-Free Stir Fry Recipe

Immediately upon opening the package I gave the cold product a taste. Not overpowering on the chicken flavor right away – which to me is a good thing. Most meat-like fake meat freaks me out, to tell the truth, but it was just chicken-y enough to be persuasive. I needed to “shred” the chicken strips for this recipe, and the strips almost seemed to peel apart in layers. It’s just as easy to chop it up roughly with a hefty knife. I will say that when we used chunks of it in a Mexican soup later, they were too hefty and dense. The only notable down-side I found to this product is that you almost need to shred this product to get optimal texture and flavor. Otherwise it’s a gray, dense hunk of faux meat that doesn’t quite “mesh” with your dishes. But if you shred it or chop it, you’re good to go.

Cooking with the product was an absolute breeze. It really is as simple as substituting the product for chicken in this recipe and the several others we tried with it. No special treatment. We have made it in this stir fry recipe, a soup recipe and soft tacos so far, and will continue to try various treatments and recipes we may have enjoyed prior to going vegetarian.

The most important thing about the Beyond Meat Lightly Seasoned Chicken-Free Strips is that it meshed well with the recipe and it was fully satisfying. My husband is a more recent (2 years ago) convert to vegetarianism than I (10 years ago), so his standards are even higher than mine when it comes to meat substitute products. The Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips managed to satisfy him and his voracious appetite, so all was good in the ‘hood. He even requested that I put it on the grocery list again not long after.

I would definitely recommend trying this product to my fellow vegetarians and vegans. Pick up a box of their Lightly Seasoned, Grilled or Southwest seasoned Chicken-Free Strips at your local Whole Foods or Nature’s Pantry. Work it in with some of your favorite vegetarian-friendly recipes, or chicken-based recipes from your pre-vegetarian days. Share in the comments what you think of it!

Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomato & Caramelized Onion Pizza

Recipe Summary: Recipe for pesto, sun-dried tomato and caramelized onion pizza – a delicious vegetarian weeknight pizza that is simple to make and packed with flavor.

Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomato & Caramelized Onion Pizza

Recipe Ingredients

  • 1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 raw wheat pizza dough crust, thawed to room temperature
  • 2-3 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 8-12 sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Italian herbs, to taste

Recipe Directions

  1. Peel your yellow onion and slice it in half. Use a mandolin to slice the onion extra thin for caramelization.
  2. Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil into a wide, shallow skillet or saute pan and heat to medium heat until the oil is shimmering.
  3. Add the sliced onions to the pan and stir to coat with oil. Spread them evenly into a thin layer. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the onions. Let the onions start to brown and stir occasionally.
  4. Cook for 30 minutes to an hour – low and slow – for the best results. This is a great time to slice up your sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces and mince your garlic.
  5. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Put some flour (and some cornmeal if you want!) on a table and roll out your pizza dough to your desired crust thickness. With a fork, poke some small holes at random places throughout the crust – this minimizes bubbles.
  7. Spread your desired amount of basil pesto sauce on the crust.
  8. Add your caramelized onions, minced garlic and sundried tomatoes. Top with mozzarrella cheese.
  9. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 to 20 minutes. This variance is so wide because baking time will depend on the thickness of your crust, shape of your pizza and amount of toppings. We always start at 12 minutes, and add time in 2-minute increments until the crust is golden brown and the cheese starts to brown.

Additional Notes

We are often Whole Foods shoppers, so we use their frozen whole wheat pizza dough ball. It’s a great pizza crust!

Variations

What’s great about this pizza recipe is that you can add or change almost anything to suit your tastes or whatever you have on-hand in the pantry. Making a great pizza is an imperfect art.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s)

Diet type: Vegetarian

Number of servings (yield): 4

Recipe Rating 4 Stars:  ★★★★☆ 1 review(s)

 

13 Vegetarian/Vegan Olympic Athletes Who Inspire Us

Vegetarians and their diets are frequently stigmatized by others: “Not eating meat is unnatural! It’s weird! Vegetarians must be so weak and unhealthy!”

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Vegetarian diets are not just a frequent staple of healthy living, but are enjoyed by some of the fittest people on our planet. With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi just on the horizon, we are reminded that it is not only possible, but quite common to compete at the highest level of athletic excellence while remaining completely vegetarian.

us-olympic-training-center-colorado-springs
U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO

Here are just some of the greatest Olympic athletes from around the world, past and present, who all reached their athletic success while living the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle:

    • Alexey Voyevoda – Russian bobsledder Alexey Voyevoda is a mountain of a man and a two-time Olympic medalist. He credits raw vegetarianism and healthy living to his high fitness level, and all eyes will be on this Sochi native this February.
    • Hannah Teter – Hannah Teter is a talented American halfpipe snowboarder who is Sochi-bound this year. This, after already medaling in each of the last two Olympic games. Teter has attributed her plant-based diet to giving her the renewed strength and energy to reach and stay at the highest possible competitive level in her sport.
Edwin Moses - Photo by Sports-For-Peace.org
Edwin Moses – Photo by Sports-For-Peace.org
  • Edwin Moses – Edwin Moses completely dominated the sport of running for eight solid years, from 1977 to 1987. Winning an unprecedented 122 consecutive races and more than his share of medals, Moses did it all on a plant-based diet.
  • Charlene Wong – Charlene Wong is a very accomplished figure skater, winning four silver medals at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships – all while meat-free. “It all started with my desire to be as lean and healthy as possible as a teenager around seventeen years old,” she confided in a 2012 interview.
  • Carl Lewis – Many are familiar with track and field legend Carl Lewis. Lewis’s storied career spanned multiple decades and multiple Olympic games. By the end of his career, Carl Lewis had won an astonishing 10 Olympic medals, nine of which were gold, and cemented his legacy as one of the fastest men to ever live. Carl Lewis is a devout vegetarian.
  • Ronda Rousey – Ronda Rousey is one of the toughest women in sports today, a heavy hitter in the UFC and judo Olympian. Rousey is the current number one pound-for-pound female mixed martial arts fighter in the world. Yet few are aware that she was also a strict vegan at when she made it big in athletics. However, Rousey has since begun eating meat as part of the Dolce Diet. That said, Rousey’s ongoing commitment to healthy eating has given her the edge to be one of MMA’s most dominant competitors, if not one of its most intriguing personalities.
  • Surya Bonaly – French-American figure skater Surya Bonaly is another athlete who adheres to a vegetarian diet. Bonaly was an unbeatable force on the ice throughout most of the 1990s, winning medal after medal, including five gold medals in the European Championships.
  • Chris Campbell – From his 700-pound leg presses to his crushing holds, Chris Campbell was the epitome of athletic excellence in 1992, when he became one of the oldest men to win an Olympic medal in wrestling. Campbell was just a few months away from his 38th birthday at the time, and credits ample helpings of his favorite dish – tofu stroganoff – for his great longevity in the sport.
  • Bode Miller – Skier Bode Miller won our hearts in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and again in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. But he also won five Olympic medals as well, all while being a strict vegetarian. In fact, Bode Miller has been vegetarian since birth, and is a leading advocate for sustainable organic farming.
  • Debbi Lawrence – Debbi Lawrence was a compelling figure in an often overlooked sport called racewalking. A three-time Olympian, Lawrence is proof that vegetarianism can benefit athletes from all “walks” of life, spanning all manner of sports.
  • Dylan Wykes – Canadian runner Dylan Wykes is one of the best distance athletes his country has ever produced. Preferring a diet rich in quinoa and lentils, Wykes does not eat meat due to ethical concerns.
  • Lizzie Arimtstead - Olympic Cyclist
    Lizzie Armisted – Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Murray Rose – Murray Rose’s swimming feats in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics established Australia as one of the world’s most dominating swimming powers. A winner of six medals, Rose was a vegan throughout his career and throughout his life, while openly crediting all of his success to his diet.

  • Lizzie Armitstead – Like Bode Miller, British cyclist Lizzie Armistead has been vegetarian since birth. Armistead was the pride of her nation during the 2008 Olympics in London, when she won a coveted cycling medal. All without, as she puts it, “eating corpses.”

As these athletes have demonstrated, athletic excellence is in no way contingent on the consumption of meat. As vegetarianism and veganism become increasingly commonplace, many athletes are finding that plant-based diets are not only possible, but can even give them that extra edge they need to succeed in high-intensity and demanding events like the Olympics. All of us at Vegetarian Nation wish the athletes – vegetarian and otherwise – the best of luck in Sochi next month!

Vegetarian Diet Makes #11 on 2014 U.S. News “Best Diets” List

The beginning of each new year brings about the promise of a fresh start, a chance to make good on our good intentions. For many of us, this means changing our diets to lose weight or to control certain health issues. Each year, U.S. News and World Report magazine researches major diet trends, compiling a list of the best and worst diets and rating them according to seven specific criteria: both short- and long-term weight loss, ease of implementation and use, nutrition, safety, and diabetic and heart health. A panel of health experts, including physicians, nutritionists, and food psychiatrists, carefully examines each dietary plan and ranks it on a scale of 1 to 5; all seven factors determine the diet’s overall score.

balsamic-caramelized-onion-mushroom-baked-potatoesU.S. News evaluated more than 32 diets for Best Diets 2014. The list is “designed to help consumers identify a diet that suits their specific needs,” according to Angela Haupt, Health and Wellness editor for the magazine. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension plan (DASH), developed primarily to combat high blood pressure through portion control and protein/carbohydrate balance, came in at number one. But both the flexitarian and vegetarian diets placed in the top third of this year’s list. Last place was awarded to the popular “Paleo Diet,” which was deemed too restrictive and difficult to follow to regularly achieve the desired results.

The flexitarian diet placed at #6 for 2014. Flexitarians follow a vegetarian diet most of the time, but with some flexibility factored in to allow for the occasional consumption of meat products. It is balanced, nutritious, usually results in weight loss, and is entirely customizable according to taste and health needs.

Vegetarianism placed 11th on the list. A vegetarian diet is nutritionally sound, aids in the control of diabetes, and is heart healthy if followed correctly – consisting mostly of plant-based proteins, fruits, and vegetables rather than high amounts of fats or sugars. It is restrictive in that no meat is consumed at all, and therefore requires a certain amount of planning. It can also be somewhat costlier to begin than a traditional mixed diet as you’re learning to modify your meals to not include meat and animal byproducts. However, the cost is quickly offset by its numerous health benefits, and by eliminating the cost of meat in the long-term from both your grocery bills and restaurant tabs.

Studies show that balanced, plant-based diets are instrumental in preventing heart disease, losing weight, and keeping blood pressure and bad cholesterol in check. Both flexitarian and vegetarian diets are deliciously varied, safe to follow, and highly beneficial to one’s overall well-being.