Eating a vegetarian diet can be a healthy choice. You can replace processed meats with a variety of soy, bean and nut proteins and easily reach your daily goals for fruits and vegetables.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics both endorse a balanced vegetarian diet as a healthy dietary lifestyle.
However, if you're not careful, you can also end up replacing healthy, satisfying lean meats with breads, pastas and other fillers, gaining weight and missing out on important nutrients. According to the AHA, vegetarians should take care to get enough of the following in their diet:
- A variety of plant proteins from dried beans, spinach, enriched products, brewer's yeast and dried fruits
- Vitamin B-12 through fortified foods and supplements, as it comes naturally only from animal sources
- Vitamin D from sunlight or supplements
- Calcium from greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli; legumes and soy products
- Zinc from grains, nuts, legumes or supplements
Eating healthy as a vegetarian is especially challenging when traveling, where roadside restaurants offer few meatless options, and even salads have sugary, high-calorie dressings (and bacon!). Sometimes it can seem as though French fries and packaged snacks are the only available option.
To avoid that pitfall, we consulted with C.J. Duhon, R.D., a clinical dietitian on Carilion Clinic’s Nutrition Services team. He shared the following recommendations for healthy eating on the road.
Websites such as HappyCow.net are crowdsourced databases of vegetarian-friendly restaurants you can find along your route.
“Even in the deep south, you can find a bean and veggie burrito,” said Duhon. “And you can almost always find a veggie burger these days, which are prepared several different ways and are hearty and filling.”
Stock up on Snacks
Pack a variety of protein-rich snacks to travel with you.
“The sky’s the limit on the number of snacks you can bring on your trip,” said Duhon.
He suggested a variety of fresh and dried produce, nuts and light meals:
- Ants on a log – celery topped with natural peanut, cashew or hazelnut butter and dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries or cherries
- Fresh and dried fruits
- Homemade or packaged granola bars
- Trail mix, either store-bought or homemade
- Protein bars such as the vegan Simply Protein bar, which contains 15 grams of protein
- Wraps and sandwiches, which will stay fresh in a small cooler
Duhon's favorite road trip snack is roasted chickpeas, which you can purchase or make in a variety of flavors. Try this AHA recipe for spicy oven-roasted chickpeas. For a sweet treat, Duhon recommends homemade vegan cookies or dried banana slices soaked in fruit juice.
"They are better than Fruit Roll-Ups – honest!" he said.
When you mix your own in a reusable bottle, infused water is an economical and healthy way to keep hydrated. For flavor, Duhon recommends adding lemon slices, strawberry and mint, lemon-mint and cucumber or other combinations.
“As with snacks, the sky’s the limit,” said Duhon.
If possible, book lodgings with a kitchen, or at least a small refrigerator and cooktop. Many of the healthy recipes on Carilion Living are vegetarian-friendly and easy to make. Cooking for yourself has the added bonus of saving you money by not eating out for every meal.
Whatever diet you choose to follow, be sure to consult your primary care provider about any specific nutrition or weight management concerns.