On Being Vegetarian

Yes, I know what your thinking.  How is someone who is planning to go to culinary school a vegetarian?  I do realize that this lifestyle is going to change in the coming months; however, I will always believe that a meatless diet can be beneficial for my health and equally nutritious and delicious.  As a child my mom never cooked red meat, so we grew up primarily eating turkey, chicken, and fish.  That eventually evolved into vegetarianism, which started for me at the end of middle school.IMG_2540IMG_2534

At first, my vegetarian diet was terrible.  I alternated between eating pasta and frozen veggie burgers for dinner, while the rest of my family savored my mom’s cooking.  Quickly, I began to realize that I needed to explore more food options if I was going to be a vegetarian.  My interest in cooking spiked after my decision to become a vegetarian.  Aside from just being a fun hobby, it became a necessary survival skill and it gave me a challenge.  I was determined for my family to enjoy a dinner without meat.  That said, it was going to have to taste pretty darn good because otherwise I would hear about it, at least, from my ravenous, hungry teenage brothers.

Eating and cooking satisfying, healthy vegetarian meals doesn’t have to be difficult.  It doesn’t have to be any more challenging than cooking a meal with meat.  You don’t have to heat up a pre-package veggie burger every night.  Vegetarian cuisine can be very fun to make because you can experiment with many different flavors and textures.  It often just requires more time and prep work (ex. chopping vegetables), which some people shy away from. Just like any diet, a vegetarian diet needs to be balanced and healthy.  Vegetarianism is often glorified as a healthy lifestyle that lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, various forms of cancer, obesity and hypertension, but today it is just as easy and accessible for it to be an unhealthy diet.

I should probably mention the different types of vegetarianism before mentioning the essential components in a vegetarian diet.  Vegetarian is a loose definition because there are so many interpretations.

The strictest vegetarian diet is vegan. Vegans do not eat any products that come from an animal.  Aside from meat, poultry and fish they do not consume eggs, dairy products, honey or gelatin.

A lacto-vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, fish, or eggs; however, they will eat dairy products.  A lacto-ovo-vegetarian, the most popular type, does not eat meat, poultry, or fish but they do eat eggs and dairy products.  I guess you could say I fall under this category – or at least for the past few years.  It is uncommon, however, for people to associate themselves with the terms lacto -vegetarian or lacto-ovo-vegetarian.  Most people just say they are a vegetarian.

This year I began including fish in my diet, so I guess you could say I’m now a pescetarian. A pescetarian diets includes fish, eggs, and dairy.

These diets are all low in fat and high in fiber compared to someone whose diet is richer in meat.  However, a vegetarian diet lacks certain essential vitamins, like B-12, that can only be found naturally in other animals.  Therefore, if you plan to pursue a vegetarian diet you should consider taking a vitamin supplement.

Every time I visit my extended family they ask me if I’m still a vegetarian.  Even though it is increasing in popularity with our generation – it is still unheard of for many of our grandparents.  They ask throughout the day are you getting enough protein? Do you have a hard time eating all the protein you need in one day?

No, I don’t, because it is not particularly difficult.  It doesn’t have to be. I think limiting eggs and dairy would make it a lot more difficult (because any product that derives from an animal is naturally a good source of protein), but there is still an abundance of food that is high in protein. Some of these foods include whole grains, lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, low-fat dairy products, eggs, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens (only a small amount of protein) and peas.

Along with protein, calcium is very important in a vegetarian diet.  The best source would be dairy products but dark leafy greens, beans, figs, seeds, fortified cereals, and some juices offer a comparable source of calcium.

Another common question people ask out of curiosity is whether a vegetarian diet is lacking. Can you be a vegetarian and still have proper and sufficient nutrition?

Yes, it is definitely possible. You just need to be aware that you are varying your diet by eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds, and nuts (also eggs and dairy!).  By doing this you will maintain a balanced and healthy vegetarian lifestyle.  It is too limiting and difficult to be picky as a vegetarian.  You have to be open to trying new fruits, vegetables, and products that offer you nutritional benefits.

It is recommended that vegetarians consume 6-11 servings of whole grains everyday.  One slice of bread, a 1/2 cup of oatmeal, a small potato would all count towards a daily serving.  It is also advised to have 5-6 servings of a fruit or vegetable (a medium apple, 8 oz. of fruit/veg juice, 1 c. cooked vegetables) and 2-3 servings of legumes, nuts, and/or seeds (ex. handful of almonds, 2 Tbs. of peanut butter, 1/2 c. of beans).

Sources:
“Vegetarian [Paperback].” Vegetarian: Nicola Graimes: 9780760749531: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. (6-9)
http://brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/nutrition_&_eating_concerns/being_a_vegetarian.php