Vegetarian Options at Restaurants

There are more and more delicious, healthy, and satisfying vegetarian meals available at restaurants these days. This is in part due to the growing interest in health and nutrition among restaurant-goers, along with mounting evidence that vegetarian diets are associated with decreased risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. To make healthy choices on a vegetarian diet, follow these recommendations, applicable to everyone:

  • Focus on fruits and vegetables – Fruits and vegetables should be the backbone of all diets, vegetarian and carnivore alike. To make sure you’re getting a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals to meet your body’s needs, choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. And don’t feel like salads are the only way to get this produce in; try stir-fries, sandwiches, soups and stews, tacos, and curries, to name just a few.
  • Opt for whole grains – Even though white rice, white rolls, flour tortillas, and pasta are vegetarian, they are still not the optimal starch choices. Select meals that highlight whole grains, like brown rice, wheat rolls, corn tortillas, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, bulgur, and many others, to boost the nutritional value of your starches.
  • Include plant-based protein – It’s not hard to consume your needed amount of protein on a plant-based diet; you just need to be aware of what foods provide you with that naturally-lean protein. Look for menu items that include eggs, soy foods (i.e., tofu, edamame, and tempeh), nuts and nut butters, seeds, beans, peas, and lentils to include satisfying protein in your meal. 
  • Fit in some low-fat dairy – Dairy products, like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, and milk, are good options for protein, and these items also provide important nutrients like calcium and potassium. Ask your server for low-fat dairy products when available, and watch out for cheese-laden meals like some lasagnas and gratins, which are likely to be high in total and saturated fat.
  • Limit the fat, sodium, and added sugars – No matter the diet you follow, fats (particularly trans fats), sodium, and sugars should be limited. Ask for no added salt on your menu items; use fat- and sodium-laden sauces, like Alfredo and other cream-based sauces, salad dressings, soy sauce, and others, sparingly; and choose natural sources of sugar from fruits rather than added sugars found in flavored drinks and desserts.
  • Keep portion sizes in check – Just because a vegetarian diet may be healthier than a diet including meat, it does not mean extravagant portion sizes and endless refills are okay. Choose smaller-sized meals, share a dish, or take some of your meal home for leftovers to keep from overeating.

 For more information on following a vegetarian diet, visit the website of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. 

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