Lifestyle Choices: Vegetarianism

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I have a lot of opinions when it comes to health. Go figure.  I try not to force my views down anyone’s throat or stand on the mountaintop shouting, “It’s my way or the highway!”  I share what I believe, why I believe it, and then allow you to make your own opinion based on what I have shared.  You know my mantra is what works for me might not work for you, which is why I don’t force my ideas on my readers.  One of my stronger opinions is not labeling the way I eat.  I feel that putting my eating habits into a category doesn’t work.  I eat foods that make me feel the best, that promote my health, and that work for my body.  I don’t follow any certain rules or guidelines other than no processed food and more real food.  This method works for me, but I understand that when you are just starting to change your eating habits, it can help to have rules and guidelines.  In order to help those of you just starting your journey to better health, these next few weeks I am going to be taking a look at some of the more popular eating styles.  I’ll  highlight the basics of each diet, then tell you what I personally like/dislike about each one.  Remember, I am not a dietitian/nutritionist/doctor/health professional.  I am just presenting you the facts and then offering my own views and opinions.  If you have any questions/doubts, you should talk with your doctor.  At the same time, I will be more than willing to answer any questions and offer my advice, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll point you in the direction of someone more qualified than myself.  Let’s get started!

I figured I would start with vegetarianism because this is the lifestyle that is closest to my own, so I know a little more about it.  The simple principle of vegetarianism is that you eat no meat.  This includes beef, poultry, pork, fish or shellfish.  However, things are a little more complicated than that, as there are different types of vegetarians.  You have pescetarians that eat no meat except for fish.  Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat no animal flesh but will eat eggs and dairy.  Lacto vegetarians will eat no animal flesh or eggs but will eat dairy.  Ovo vegetarians will eat no animal flesh or dairy but will eat eggs.  Flexitarians will mostly eat no animal flesh but will occasionally eat meat.  Vegans will eat no animal flesh or animal product (more on this last one in a later post).

Vegetarians focus their eating habits on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and, depending on what type of vegetarian you are, high quality dairy/eggs/meat/fish.  Many vegetarians also consume different forms of soy such as tofu, tempeh, textured soy protein, soy milk, or miso, along with many other soy products.  There are a wide variety of vegetarian options available both in stores and at restaurants.  There are about 7.3 million vegetarians in the US, so it is a fairly popular lifestyle, which makes it relatively simple to find food options.

There are a lot of things that I personally like about vegetarianism, but it does also have some drawbacks.  I’ll start with the good.  I really like that this eating lifestyle promotes fruits and vegetables.  In my humble opinion, Americans following the Standard American Diet do not consume enough of the nutrients that fruits and vegetables offer.  I have said it before and I will say it again, we really need to eat more real and whole foods.  Nothing is more real or whole as a stalk of broccoli or an apple.  Foods that are as close to as nature intended them really offer the most nutritional bang for your buck.  While it might not be true for some people (those that really like/crave/want meat), following a vegetarian lifestyle is fairly simple in terms of finding things you can eat.  Any grocery store will be full of options and so will many restaurants.  In that aspect, vegetarians will generally not have a difficult time following their lifestyle.

Now for the bad.  While it is very easy to follow a healthy and nutritious vegetarian lifestyle, it is just as easy to become a “junk food” vegetarian.  There are a lot of processed products out there that fit into the vegetarian lifestyle that will do nothing for your health.  Things like mac n’ cheese, cookies, chips, candy, frozen entrees, soda, and McDonald’s can all fit into the vegetarian way of eating but still be detrimental to your health.  I have run across many people who are vegetarians and think by simply cutting out meat and still consuming their regular junk food they will be healthier than the average Joe.  I used to think this way myself in my early years of college.  Sadly this is not true.  Vegetarians still need to be conscious consumers by reading labels and choosing foods that are minimally processed.  One other drawback to this lifestyle is that while it is completely possible to get all the nutrients you need, you need to make sure you are actually getting those nutrients.  When people cut out meat, they sometimes don’t consume foods that will provide those same essentials.  Most often that is iron, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamins B and B12.  With the exception of B12, you can get all those nutrients from other sources of food other than meat.  As much as I hate to even bring this point up, protein also needs to be monitored.  Let me make it very clear: it is entirely possible to get adequate amounts of protein following a vegetarian diet.  Here are a just a few of the plentiful sources of protein that vegetarians can eat.  Vegetarians just need to be aware of this and make sure that they are getting those vitamins and minerals from other food sources or dietary supplement.

Overall a vegetarian lifestyle can be a very healthy and easy one to follow.  If you feel that this is a way of eating that you would like to try start slow and build from there.  Have a few meatless dinners a week and see how you feel.  If your body adjusts well and you feel that this is a change that you can sustain for the long term, then keep it up!  Here are a few more helpful tips to making the transition.  The main thing to keep in mind is how do you feel with less/no meat, and do you believe you can sustain this lifestyle for the long term?  If you feel your body doesn’t do well on a vegetarian diet, then this isn’t the choice for you and that is fine!  You just have to find the right combination that works for you.  If you are only switching to a vegetarian diet just to lose weight, you might want to reconsider.  Being healthy is a long term goal.  While that does include losing weight, it also means making sure your health as a whole is better.  Switching from diet to diet just to lose a few quick pounds is not the way to achieve this.

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If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about becoming a vegetarian, don’t hesitate to ask!  I am more than happy to offer my advice and opinions and help you in any way possible.  Make sure to come back next week for an in depth look at the vegan lifestyle and have a great Monday!

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