Vegetarian for good

Lise Cloutier-Steele

Before his retirement, my husband travelled extensively for work, and during his times away, I used to treat myself to vegetables I didn’t eat often enough. For an added change, I did without meat altogether, mostly because I was cooking for one, and it meant less time in the kitchen.

After a week or more of eating as vegetarians do, I was always surprised at how satisfying and exciting my meals had been, and I hadn’t even chowed down on any kind of meat at all. Nor did I miss it. One of these days, I thought, it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to make the official switch to vegetarianism, but each time my husband returned home from a business trip, I reverted back to the meals we had grown accustomed to eating, all of which included meat. Funny how many cooks, including me, can become creatures of habit over time.

It wasn’t until I reached my mid-fifties that I started paying more attention to where the food I’d been eating all my life had come from. To this day, it boggles my mind that as an individual who has always been into health and fitness, I didn’t know much about the nutritional value of any of the foods I enjoyed.

On the rare occasions I met individuals who were either vegan or vegetarian, I would ask: “How do you get your protein if all you’re eating are vegetables?” Nowadays when someone asks me that question, I can’t help but think that it wasn’t so long ago that I was as uninformed about the many nutrients in other foods aside from meat. People don’t need to eat as much protein as they think, and it’s very easy to get what you need from beans, nuts, seeds, grains, soy and most dark green vegetables. In fact, experts recommend a daily allowance of protein for the general population of only 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, which can be easily found in plant sources. As a bonus, many plant foods are also high in iron and calcium.

It’s true that it may take a bit more time and creativity in the kitchen to substitute with vegan or vegetarian options, but only in the beginning.

When you are transitioning to another lifestyle, a friend with a wealth of knowledge on good food can be your greatest resource. Luckily for me, I knew I could rely on my wonderful vegan friend, Nancy, to help me discover healthy substitutes and explore new fun ideas to veganize our lives.

Once I stocked my pantry with walnuts, slivered almonds, pecans, soy nuts, cashews, raisins and dates, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, chia and hemp seeds, quinoa, organic pasta, beans of all kinds, lentils, chick peas, nutritional yeast, panko flakes, soy and almond milk, and so many other healthy food items, I had everything at my disposal to cook meals that would significantly improve our odds of becoming healthy agers.

According to Leslie Beck, a Toronto based registered dietitian, who is a regular contributor to the CTV News Channel and The Globe and Mail, the foods that might hurt our chances of aging well are sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat, processed meats such as sausage, bacon, pepperoni and cold cuts, and excesses in alcohol. I had eliminated all of these from our diet a very long time ago, so no hardship there, but as most vegans will tell you, giving up the cheese is the hardest thing to do, and usually the last animal product to go from their daily diet.

Although I found, and still enjoy, Earth Balance, a non-dairy spread to replace butter and margarine (it tastes even better than butter and is available in your grocer’s nature aisle), I could not find a vegan cheese we liked. The non dairy yogurts and various non dairy ice cream substitutes we tried were all delightful, but too expensive to enjoy on a more regular basis.

I missed eating eggs, too, I must admit. Substituting eggs for ground flax seeds and a little water in all my baking was easy, and that’s what I do still, however this vegan substitution is not so good in vegetable soufflés or on those mornings when nothing else but a mushroom and egg omelette will do.

With the help of local registered dietitian Jane Graham, we decided on the vegetarian lacto ovo lifestyle. This plan was very close to the way we had been eating for over two years already, and by including some dairy products like yogurt and enjoying a couple of eggs every now and then, it gave us more options for meals and snacks.

Clean eating at this time in our lives is probably the best gift my husband and I could have given each other, and since my annual blood work results are better than they have been in years, and I can manage my weight without much effort, I’m obviously on the right track.

It has now been over three years since we changed the way we eat and think about food, and it may be safe to say that there will be no turning back for me.


Resources: All you really need to start eating smart

Expert advice:

Jane Graham, RD

Jane is a Registered Dietitian in private practice at the Riverside South Medical Centre. She specializes in chronic disease management, diabetes, gastro-intestinal disorders, plant-based diets, food allergies and/or intolerances. Tel: (613) 316-7780; e-mail: [email protected]

Yoni Freedhoff, MD

Dr. Freedhoff is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute – dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and you can follow him@YoniFreedhoff. His latest book, The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work, is a national bestseller


Lately I rely on the Clean Eating 16-Week Meal Planner anyone can pick up from the magazine display of most grocery stores. This monthly publication met with the approval of our dietitian, and following the meal plans not only helps us eat smart, it guarantees variety.

Alive – Canada’s Natural Health and Wellness Magazine
Monthly publication available free at most health food stores
Each issue offers wonderful new and healthy recipes.


You can google any recipe these days, but for those like me who still enjoy turning the pages of a book, here are my two best recommendations. Each publication features all the information you need to know about the healthiest foods, a listing of the major nutrients for each, and amazingly quick and easy recipes you will want to repeat over and over again. I found both books in the bargain cookbooks section at Chapters.

100 Best Health Foods
ISBN 978-1-4075-6445-6

101 Best Vegan Foods
ISBN 978-1-4508-5125-1

For those who may wish to explore the vegan lifestyle, the following must-have book can be purchased at

The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions
Foolproof Methods for Transforming Any Dish into a Delicious New Vegan Favourite
Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman, Authors of 500 Vegan Recipes
ISBN: 13-978-1-59233-441-4

For those who want to go deeper into veganism, Jane Graham, RD, recommends Becoming Vegan – The Complete Guide. The authors are both Registered Dietitians and the information presented is science-based yet practical: