desperately need some advice

by Kandice
(United States)

Hi, I desperately need some advice!

Im 19 years old & have been vegetarian for a little over a year. The problem with me is that I don't eat a healthy vegetarian diet. I've never eaten tofu or lentils or anything of that nature. My diet consists of mainly carbs, junk foods & sweets, yikes I know, but its true. I simply jus took meat out of everything I ate before & didn't replace anything. I live in a house where im the only vegetarian & I also am in college so im on a tight budget. I've been really paranoid lately about my health. It seems to me that ever since I've became a vegetarian that everything has gone downhill which I pictured it to be the opposite. I think my hair is thinning & also it breaks a lot easier than before I became vegetarian. My teeth have become sensitive to hot & cold stuff & my teeth have never been sensitive prior my vegetarian diet. I've also gained weight after becoming vegetarian, & everyone thinks this is bizarre because they believe I have "nothing" to eat so I should be skinny
. SMH. Also I've been experiencing a black spot in the vision of my right eye. My nails started having horizontal ridges after becoming vegetarian. I feel more forgetful & I feel fuzzy all day. It seems that since I turned vegetarian that after I exercise I can't catch my breath & I feel dizzy & just plain horrible. I also feel that im more prone to dehydration because after working out, most of the times I would have symptoms of dehydration & have gotten rushed to the hospital for it. I feel that dehydration is not the only problem & that the docs in the hospital are not finding the real problem, but I don't know for sure. Overall, I just feel really crappy & im also depressed a lot more & just feel like my self esteem has depleted. I have a feeling that the docs are just going to tell me to start eating meat again but I don't think I can. Psychologically, after everything I have learned, I am against meat & don't think I could let a piece of a dead animal pass my lips again. I've diagnosed my self with possibly anemia? Idk. But my dad cooked calf liver & tryed to make me eat it so I can get iron GROSS! I refused because I didn't even eat that when I was an omnivore lol. Anyways, I do not want to give up on my diet for I feel it is best for me, but I do not know how to be a proper vegetarian & I've also been reading about how we can't absorb iron from veggies & stuff. I know that the only "good" iron source isn't meat at least I hope it isn't. What should I do? Please help me! All I want is to learn how to eat a proper vegetarian diet with all the necessary vitamins & nutrients I need & be able to exercise without worrying about going to the hospital or feeling really horrible after & so I won't have to worry about being paranoid about all this ever again. I also want to feel confident about my diet because everyone is telling me that vegetarians have a poor diet etc., which I don't believe, but after hearing it so much, im starting to be really paranoid about my health. I know you can be a healthy vegetarian but I just don't know how. I also really need some help on actually creating meals that will fulfill my vitamin and nutrient needs. Maybe a 4 week meal plan would help me get started? Also is there a way to find vegetarian friendly nutritionists in my area that I can go to? I want to prove to my family & friends that there is such thing as healthy veg people because they are expecting me to give in & start eating meat again. & I say no siree! Lol So please help! Any advice will be appreciated :]
Thank You!

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Jan 24, 2011
Answer to Kandice
by: Mimi

Combining protein rich foods increases the protein absorption by about 30%, and so it is important to combine grains, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds and greens in a vegetarian diet.
Below are some classic vegetarian high protein combinations, but of course, you can come up with many more options just by using a little creativity:
· Corn and beans
· Brown rice and beans
· Oat bran and soy milk
· Buckwheat and millet
· Brown rice and green peas
· Tofu or Tempeh on whole wheat bread
· Whole grain bread and peanut butter
· Yogurt with walnuts
· Tofu with tahini (sesame seed paste)
· Brown rice with almonds, cashews or pecans
· Avocado, sprouts & almond butter on whole wheat bread
· Chickpea hummus (made with sesame seed paste) on pita
Below is a list of some foods that contain all the essential amino acids, meaning they are "Complete Protein Combinations". Use this as a guide for meal planning.
Legumes with Grains
Legumes with Nuts
Legumes with Seeds
Nuts/Seeds with Legumes
Grains with Dairy
Nuts/Seeds with Dairy
Legumes with Dairy
Dairy with Nuts/Seeds and Legumes
I know, right about now you're asking yourself all sorts of questions. Like…..Is this food-combining stuff going to make eating out difficult? Does being vegetarian mean I have to always be aware of what I'm eating? This all sounds so complicated and picky. How am I going to mange it all? Well, believe it or not, it's not all that hard and most of us combine proteins without actually being aware we're doing it.
Some examples of complete protein combinations -
Grains and Dairy – Pasta with grated cheese or macaroni and cheese (not the packaged stuff)
Legumes and Grains – Rice and Beans
Grains & Dairy - Pizza

But being vegetarian means you have to be aware of your body's nutritional needs.
But we all love junk food and from your email, it looks like you do too. Don't ever feel that if you are being nutritiously conscience then you have to give up all those good snack foods altogether.
Truth is, you'll probably start cutting back on them when you start discovering healthy alternatives. Personally, I like munching on bean sprouts rather than popcorn or chips. I also only buy whole grain bread or crackers so when I want a snack, cucumber dip or hummus dip with whole grain crackers or pita makes a complete protein and a healthy snack (instead of chips or popcorn).
Craving something sweet? - have you tried Halva? It's made from sesame seeds - it's fattening but has healthy ingredients and is really, really good! Get the idea? Just look for foods that fit your needs and cravings but that add some nutritional value as well.

Jan 24, 2011
Answer to Kandice
by: Mimi

So sorry for the very long time to get back to you – I have been absolutely swamped with personal stuff but it is so important that you get a complete answer and not just an “off the cuff” answer so this took a bit of time….
First off, every individual is responsible for his/her health and well-being. And meat eaters are not necessarily healthier than vegetarians. Good health is based on good nutrition whether you get your protein from an animal source or a vegetable source.
As a young woman, you have a responsibility to yourself and to your body I don’t I know that when I became vegetarian as a young teen, I was not aware of nutrition in any way and I quickly became anemic and had gum trouble so by sharing my experience with you, I hope you will learn from my experience. So….
Being vegetarian is a way of life. You wrote that you are against eating meat so I understand from that that you care about animal welfare. Well, first and foremost you have to ensure that you are taking care of your own well-being.
In the early stages of becoming vegetarian it is important to avoid empty, fatty calories. Equally important is to learn to combine and complete proteins.
I’m going to help you with this.
Sometimes it can be hard work to be vegetarian - every meal has to be balanced and well thought-out. That's where your creativity comes into the picture - experiment with flavours, seasonings and textures - it can be a fun and rewarding journey!
So… when your family shows concern about you getting protein, you should know that vegetables and grains contain the very same eight amino acids as animal foods do, only in differing amounts. As long as you are getting enough calories from a healthy diet, plant foods can give you all the amino acids you need, by themselves or in combination with one another.

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