Contributed by C. Claire Armagnac, B.S.
Choosing a vegetarian diet has long been viewed as a surefire way to lose weight and is often seen as a display of self-control and commitment to health. Some people choose to go vegetarian because of religious or cultural reasons, others because of a health condition such as high blood pressure, others because they feel strongly about animal rights, and others because of concerns for the environment. I have recently decided to avoid eating meat at least one day a week as a way to incorporate a wider variety of foods into my diet, but my vegetarian days aren’t easy and I couldn’t imagine being a vegetarian full-time. For many people (myself included), the idea of giving up turkey at Thanksgiving, burgers at summer cookouts, and steaks at special-occasion dinners is too much to bear. Additionally, meat is a large part of the American diet and has become so ingrained in our culture that many restaurants, especially fast-food and quick-service restaurants, fail to include exciting menu options for vegetarians.
Being a vegetarian isn’t always easy – is it really the best thing we can do for our health? A Time Magazine online article quotes the American Dietetic Association as saying that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” In a recent article about the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet, the Mayo Clinic’s website advises that vegetarians and vegans may be at risk for protein, iron, and vitamin B12 deficiencies but that tofu, lentils, cruciferous vegetables, and vitamin-fortified cereals can provide the necessary nutrient levels as adequately as meat can.
The key to safely transitioning to a meat-free diet is to be sure that you’re replacing meat with healthy substitutes, thereby becoming a true vegetarian (eater of vegetables) and not a carbivore (eater of carbs). I don’t think carbivore is a scientific term yet, but it’s one that I coined to refer to the way in which I’m tempted to eat on my one meatless day of the week. Justifying a baked potato and a side of bread is easy to do when I think of all the calories I’m avoiding by not eating meat, but by doing so I’m really missing the point. After talking to a few of my vegetarian friends, experimenting with new products, and doing research online, I’ve found that I really like veggie burgers by the Morningstar Farms company and that Progresso offers several yummy vegetarian-friendly soups. Frozen Amy’s-brand meals and burritos are another great option for vegetarian students who don’t have time to cook, and nuts and string cheese serve as a quick snack that can be eaten on the way to class.
Dieticians who recently contributed to an article for SELF Magazine’s online addition recommended meat substitutes such as Boca Burgers, Tofurkey, and Tofurkey Chipotle Franks but warned that some meat substitutes contain high levels of sodium and additives that make them less healthy than you would think, so always be sure to read nutrition labels.
There’s no denying that there can be health benefits associated with a well-planned vegetarian diet, but for me personally I’m not ready to completely “veg out” and say goodbye to meat. Going meat-free one day a week has allowed me to incorporate more grains, fruits, vegetables, and soy into my diet, and as of right now I feel healthier because of it 🙂
What do you think, readers? Does being a vegetarian get easier with time? Are there national chain restaurants that are particularly vegetarian friendly? Shoot me an email with comments or advice at firstname.lastname@example.org!
For more information on nutrition and healthy eating, visit the Nutrition section of MyStudentBody.