5/11/10

Vegetarian diet and Gluten-free

My mind is working overtime and my fingers are staying busy I have received several emails from FB and blog friends regarding the following topics:
Vegetarian diet
Gluten-free diet
Whey protein supplementation
Creatine supplementation

As an endurance athlete, my perspective on these topics may be a bit different than other health and wellness professionals. As you know, I have been a vegetarian for a little over 16 years. I am not gluten-intolerant and I am not a big supplement user. I believe food is my "medicine" and my "fuel". The foods I eat are beneficial for my heart, health and performance (as a competitive athlete) and I strive for balance in my life. Too much of one thing is never a good thing and if I eat well most of the time, I don't have to worry about the rest of the time. I want to live a quality-filled life and make the most of my days here on Earth.
Just like any professional, I have my own opinion of diets and products, both based on personal beliefs and research. However, regardless if I use x-product or abide by a certain diet (for personal reasons and not "weight" reasons) I try to answer questions on a case-by-case basis. I don't believe any two people are alike and I think that is the beauty of working with someone on a one-on-one basis....I can help people find exactly what works for him/her based on personal life commitments, athletic/fitness ability, racing/training goals and dietary preferences/restrictions. Sure, writing articles and speaking to large groups provides individuals with a template and the right tools of living a healthy and active lifestyle but when determining what will work for you and your daily requirements, it is all about individual experimentation.
As you read my responses, please bear in mind my philosophy's of living a healthy and active life, that I practice what I preach and that I am not yet a Registered Dietitian. Because I am not at the point in my education to provide medical information to treat, diagnose and cure disease, my answers support the idea that living a healthy and active lifestyle is all about balance and supporting your daily routine with the best nutrients possible.


Question 1: Vegetarian Diet


I've decided to try to eat vegetarian for a month. I'll see how it goes and then decide whether to keep at it. I've partly been inspired by you - you seem to have great results as a vegetarian athlete! I've thought about doing this in the past but have been concerned about getting enough protein. So my question is, can you give me advice on getting more protein while eating vegetarian? Especially when traveling - it is hard to find healthy veg options sometimes (lots of cheese!).


Answer:
Congrats on embarking on a 1-month vegetarian trial!
It is always fun to try new ways of eating, especially when they are heart healthy. If you feel as if your diet is healthy and balanced, making the change to 100% vegetarian shouldn't be so hard. Perhaps you may get bored at times through the lack of variety in your protein choices but you can always vary up the other parts of your diet. Then again, the average meat eater tends to gravitate towards the same sources of protein on a daily/weekly basis.
Eating out when traveling can be hard so I try to eat well during all others days and enjoy something new when I eat out. It is almost impossible to get a "healthy" vegetarian meal because they are generally high in sodium, fat (cheese) or calories. I also don't trust the cooks to ensure that my meal is 100% vegetarian (ex. tofu may be cooked on the same grill/pan as meat or beans/soup may have chicken or bacon fat in them) so generally I get a filling salad or veggie wrap (where I can see my items being made). I rarely go to vegetarian-only restaurants but if I can find one, that is a good place to start. Also, if you can find places that have eggs (I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian) that is a great way to get some protein when you travel. Whether it is a hard boiled egg or an egg omelet (although a yoke a day is healthy, I would ask for egg white omelets so you don't end up with a fatty/cholesterol-filled omelet), diner's and breakfast-all-day places are great. You can check online nutrition guides and menu's when you travel to see where and what to eat when you travel.
As for not feeling hungry when you travel (due to not as much protein as you would eat on a daily basis), this is my #1 concern. It is really hard for me to "fill up" on salads so that is why I don't only eat salads when I eat out, unless it is a filling salad worth the money. However, salads (especially at a salad bar restaurant) can be a great healthy choice when you travel. I try to always bring along PB and nuts as healthy fats (although it contains protein I don't really see it as my primarily protein source) to snack on throughout the day. I always use my helpful nutrition tips of eating prior to a meal, not going long hours without eating (this is super helpful when traveling), knowing what I will eat before I will eat it (this helps when planning meals), starting my day with a filling (fiber/protein/fat/complex carbs) breakfast and eating balanced meals. Those are just a few of them but I take my daily habits with me on the road so that I can be conscious of what I am eating.
I try to buy/bring fruits and veggies because they can be really hard to find in restaurant meals (well, a healthy version of them). I don't have a big travel budget when I travel so I have to be a bit frugal when I eat out. I don't like to spend $1 on a banana at the airport or $14 on a salad, so I try to bring whatever I can when I travel.
Here's a few good sites of getting protein from food:
http://www.happycow.net/vegetarian_protein.html
http://www.savvyvegetarian.com/articles/protein-veg-diet.php
http://www.vegparadise.com/protein.html
http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm

The key is getting in quality protein in the diet to meet obtain essential amino acids so I would bring along whey protein powder so you can at least get in 18-23g a day of quality protein (you don't need to overdo it on whey protein since the key is balance in the diet, so 1-2 scoops a day on high-active days is fine but if you aren't working out like normal when you travel, 1 scoop a day is fine).
Here are my fav. protein foods:
(I don't have a big grocery budget but I try to do my best to vary my proteins. My best sources of protein are those that don't have a lot of ingredients)
*some of them have fat in them so they serve as a filling-food, not necessarily as a food that will help me recover after my workouts)
Skim milk
Whey protein
Wheat Germ
Beans
Chickpeas
Part-skim cheese
Eggs (mostly whites but up to 1 yoke a day)
Fat-free cottage cheese
Low-fat yogurt
Greek yogurt
Veggie burgers (usually 1-2 boxes a month)
Cereal (usually as a topping to smoothies or oatmeal)
Nuts
Natural PB
Tofu (Firm or extra firm for cooking, silken for smoothies)
Veggies and fruit (although small protein content, but fruits and veggies are a must in my diet to give me the nutrients I need to recover and perform)
Quinoa
Whole grains
Seeds


Question 2: Gluten-free diet

Hi Marni!
While I've been saving recipes from you that you post on your blog, I started wondering if you have any ideas for racing (and training) with gluten free products. I recently realized I have at the very least a gluten intolerance (waiting for official test results to come back). With this latest and greatest change I've had to rethink all my nutrition which isn't easy. More frustrating really.
Do you by chance have any suggestions or ideas?


I wrote a blog about Gluten-free from the perspective of a "craze" that many people are considering. However, in your case, with a true gluten intolerance, it is important that you learn what foods are beneficial in your diet and what foods should be eliminated (those with gluten). However, in my blog you can understand my p.o.v. of why many people notice great results by going gluten-free.


http://trimarni.blogspot.com/2009/08/gluten-free.html">Blog on Gluten-free

When you go gluten-free, you still need to read labels to check for sodium, carbs, fat, protein, sugar, etc. To start, look at the food label serving size, then look at the percentages on the side of your gluten-free labels to see how much you are actually getting of each nutrient (check the vitamins on the bottom as well). Then look at the ingredients. You will then be able to make the healthiest choice when comparing products such as gluten-free pasta or cereal. As far as bakery goods or other gluten-free sweets, these should still be minimized in the diet because gluten-free or not, they still have sugar and can affect your blood sugar. My suggestion is to always pair protein with carbs in an effort to balance blood sugar. Fruits and veggies should be consumed as snacks and with meals (as often as possible during the day) to give your body a wide range of vitamins and minerals. As an athlete, you will need to focus on quality sources of protein since gluten is a protein. Oats are allowed in some gluten-free diets so long as the oats have not been mixed with wheat during processing. Based on research, oats in a gluten-free/celiac diet is based on individual-cases where some people can tolerate them (3/4ths cup at one sitting) and others can't.
Hammer products are gluten-free so this is where I would go for your training fuels. I use Hammer and recommend them for my athletes. I would find a gluten-free protein powder so you can quickly recover from workouts and obtain quality protein in your diet.
Here are some resources to help you out in learning more about gluten-free products:
http://www.the-gluten-free-chef.com/gluten-free-food-list.html
http://www.glutensmart.com/
http://www.glutenfree.com/index.cfm

A healthy and balanced diet will support your active and healthy lifestyle so keep that in mind as you make a few substitutions in your diet to live a gluten-free life but never neglect the value of low fat protein, healthy fats and fruits and veggies.