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Veggie Tales

Since taking up yoga a few years ago, I've pondered whether I should become a vegetarian. Many yogis are vegetarians, partly because killing animals violates the yogic principle of ahimsa, or noninjury. Yogis also tend to be pretty health-conscious and tuned in to the benefits a vegetarian diet can offer, such as protection against cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancer.

Yet, as I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, while I generally eat very little meat, it's hard for me to contemplate giving up the occasional excellent cheeseburger.

I might not have to, at least not right away. As folks I interviewed for the column pointed out, there are at least two ways to go vegetarian: You can either jump in with both feet, cutting meat (and dairy, if you're so inclined) from your diet altogether. Or you can ease into vegetarianism via a "flexitarian" diet, one that's mostly meatless but allows for, well, some flexibility.

Whichever way I might choose, I'd want to do it right. The last thing I want is to be one of those people who claims to be a vegetarian but subsists largely on carbs and junk food.

Have you converted to a vegetarian diet? How did you do it? Was it trickier, or easier, than you'd imagined? Please share your veggie tales!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 14, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Comments

A "flexitarian" is an omnivore. If you plan on eating Boca Burgers as a substitute, you are eating junk food.

ingredients: WATER, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, REDUCED FAT CHEDDAR CHEESE (PASTEURIZED PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SLAT, ENZYMES, ANNATTO (COLOR), VITAMIN A PALMITATE), WHEAT GLUTEN, CORN OIL, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF METHYLCELLULOSE, HYDROLYZED CORN PROTEIN, WHEAT GLUTEN AND SOY PROTEIN, SALT, CARAMEL COLOR, CHEESE POWDER (CHEDDAR CHEESE, [MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES], CREAM, SALT, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, LACTIC ACID), DRIED ONIONS, YEAST EXTRACT, NATURAL FLAVOR (NON-MEAT), SESAME OIL, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, DISODIUM INOSINATE. BROWNED IN CORN OIL. CONTAINS: SOY, MILK, WHEAT, SESAME.

Local grass-fed beef is quite accessible, and in moderation can provide nutrients that vegetarians have to find in "enriched" processed foods or supplements.

Posted by: MzFitz | July 14, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Yes, truth is we're all omnivores considering that it's a scientific term describing what kind of diet our bodies are adapted for, but in the absence of a social term to describe someone who eats this kind of diet, it's far preferable to the the often misused "carnivore".

Anyhow, I'm a vegetarian myself since 1994. Despite the comment above, you don't need to eat processed/enriched food to "find" all of the nutrients for a healthy diet. You only need to eat a varied diet. Vegans do need supplements for a couple of vitamins/minerals, but not vegetarians. Except on occasions where I don't control the pantry/kitchen I usually don't eat processed/enriched foods (except for flour and products like pasta that are made from flour, which is hard to avoid unless you grind your own wheat).

I agree though, boca burgers are junk. On that note, I used to have omnivorous roomates who didn't cook much and loved boca burgers (they're quick and easy to prepare for dinner in either the toaster or microwave).

Posted by: ArlingtonSMP | July 14, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Thanks so much for the great column and blog post, Jennifer! DC has dozens of fantastic restaurants that offer great veg food and lots of all-veg restaurants. Groceries from Whole Foods to Giant and Safeway have shelves filled with delicious veg meat alternatives.

Eating more vegetarian foods is better for our health--and it reduces the suffering of farm animals and protects the environment. DC-based Humane Society of the United States has a free guide to vegetarian eating here:

http://www.humanesociety.org/veg

Thanks again, Jennifer!

Posted by: ewilliams1 | July 14, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Apparently I've been a flexitarian all my life. Growing up, we only had meat once or twice a week due to economics more than anything else. I've continued this practice into adulthood without realizing it was a movement or statment.

Posted by: Kittengirly | July 14, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer, wonderful column! You're so right - even the most ardent omnivores can incorporate more vegetarian meals into their diet in order to improve our health, help the environment, and protect farm animals.

I've been vegetarian for nearly ten years and I've never felt better. Many of my friends are reducing their meat consumption, which is good too. When finding a place to eat, I always go to the website www.VegDC.com which provides a great listing of the most veg-friendly restaurants in the DC-area.

Keep up your great work, Jennifer. I hope you do more columns about this issue!

Posted by: joshbalk | July 14, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I became a greatgrandfather April 16 of this year. And on that day I started to fight back against the high blood pressure that's plagued me most of my life, and the drugs with their unwanted side effects that were needed to control it.
I decided I would rather make it to my greatgrandson's wedding than eat another cheeseburger with fries. I began with a water fast the first two days which cleansed my palate and taste buds. Then for 8 more days I only drank water and green smoothies made with fruit and leafy greens ("Green for Life", Victoria Boutenko =$10@Amazon.com).
After the first 10 days I began chewing ... fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds.
By the eleventh day a simple piece of fruit tasted as delicious as a Thanksgiving feast!
I was off the BP pills in 4 weeks, lost 30 lbs. in 2 months and after 80 days passed my annual physical with an A++! Doc was amazed, my circulation and prostate are that of a 20 yr. old, and my BP averages well below normal, 110/70! Doctor remarked that if all his patients were on my diet he would be out of a job. I have never felt better or slept better in my entire life! And as a result Mr. and Mrs. Happy have put the happy back in happily ever after!
All simply because I'll never eat anything again with a face or a mother!

Posted by: greatgrandbabydaddy | July 14, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I am not actively a vegetarian, but I'm skittish about handling raw meat so I tend to eat a primarily vegetarian diet when I'm cooking for myself (augmented by eggs, tuna, smoked salmon, and shrimp.) Unfortunately, I still don't eat much in the way of actual vegetables -- instead I have a very carb-heavy diet dominated by cereal, (peanutbutter) sandwiches, pasta, and/or rice. With so much fresh produce available right now, I'm really trying to eat more salads, but I swear my lettuce starts to rot the moment I close my refrigerator door!

Posted by: JHBaileyDC | July 14, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Vegans and vegetarians do not have to rely on processed foods any more than omnivores do. That's not to say we don't seek convenience, but that we don't have to. I'm a vegan, I prepare my own food. Nothing is processed, except the obvious few (no, i don't press my own oil!). Instead of "bocaburgers," home-made black bean burgers...mmm mmm. It must be lunch time, I'm Hungry!

Posted by: drenn | July 14, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I've been vegan for 26 years, vegetarian before that. it's MUCH easier with so many food choices now than in the past. I agree with ewilliams1's post above, let's alleviate the suffering of farm animals. Although my eating choices are based on my belief that animals are not for eating, the health benefits of such a diet are undeniable. Never had high blood pressure, I weigh the same as age 17, have minimal body fat, no medical issues. Aside from a winter cold every few years, I've had no illnesses. My parents were also vegetarians,so perhaps heredity helps.

Posted by: Roxcy21 | July 14, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the post, Jennifer! I became vegan out of consideration for animal welfare, but have enjoyed the health benefits as a side effect. I do eat my share of processed convenience food, but even then it's far superior to meat and dairy. I was a flexitarian along the way, and think that's a great way to try out vegetarian eating.

Posted by: lenega | July 14, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Good for you for considering a vegetarian diet! It's easier than ever now to make the switch ... there are so many amazing meat alternatives on the market and just plan good cooking out there to make this a totally worthwhile transition.

When I tell people I've been a vegetarian for 7 years, they marvel at my discipline and say, "Wow, I can't believe you did that! That must be really hard!" But honestly, I find that the reasons behind being vegetarian are so compelling, and the food available to vegetarians (or flexetarians/anyone for that matter) is so GOOD that the last thing it feels like is a sacrifice.

Once you know how changing your diet in this way helps you, the planet, and animals, it's hard to think that you'll miss the cheeseburger. Especially when you discover how good veg. cheeseburgers have gotten. Yummm. :) Good luck and keep going! You're in good company.

Posted by: kcarrus | July 14, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

The DC area is such a great place to explore veg-friendly foods -- check out www.VegDC.com to get started!

And be sure to mark your calendar for the DC VegFest on Sept 12! www.DCVegFest.com

Posted by: emeier | July 14, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

At the time of my cancer diagnosis at age 27, I was vegetarian for 14 years, vegan for 7 of them. After my diagnosis, I started eating meat again and confess to loving it. I know, this is not the usual order of things but it works for me.

I eat only organic, tall grass, local farmed meat, which significantly limits my meat intake because of lack of availability and cost. I love this new diet of mine. It feels like the best of both worlds.

In writing and researching my book Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, I have met many young cancer patients who are reduced to tears by the pressure of becoming vegetarian and the loaded hope that it can possibly put their cancer in remission. Food is a personal choice, and the option of "flexitarianism" can make it a less stressful one for people facing monumental health issues.

Posted by: KairolRosenthal | July 14, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Plant-based diet is more healthy, more ethical and more ecological.

Many meat analogs exist today, you can check them out at http://www.MeatAlternatives.org

Posted by: DonaldWatson | July 15, 2009 3:20 AM | Report abuse

Flexitarian is the way to go for a healthier life. I have seen some backlash at the word flexitarian, mostly from people who think it is the same thing as an omnivore. While flexitarians eat both meat and plants (the definition of an omnivore) they are actively working toward or actively eating a mostly plant-based diet. An omnivore is someone that eats meat and plants really without any regard to how much meat and how many plants. They eat whatever they want whenever they want. This is the key difference between an omnivore and a flexitarian. Dawn Jackson Blatner's book The Flexitarian Diet outlines three levels of flexitarianism and encourages people to work toward consuming more plants, grains, seeds, nuts and legumes. I highly highly recommend it!

Posted by: thirstyape | July 15, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer, Years and years and years ago I was a vegetarian, but returned to my German roots at a cookout where my vegie kebab didn't smell as fabulous as the bratwurst grilling next to it. In the years since, I would definitely describe myself as a flexitarian. Having seen Food Inc, however, I'm contemplating vegetarianism again. Can you please comment on the method used by greatgrandbabydaddy to switch? I'm intrigued.

Posted by: pflugrad-dpf | July 15, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Dear pflugrad-dpf:

I would definitely check with a physician before going on an extended water/green smoothie fast. I'm happy to hear about that reader's excellent results, but that approach is probably not suited for everyone, and there are other ways of easing or jumping into a vegetarian diet if that's where you want to go.

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | July 15, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I've been a vegetarian for 13 years, and I don't think I'll ever go back to eating meat or fish. I made the choice for ethical and environmental reasons, but I also feel much lighter and more energetic when I eat more green vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains. I also eat as much in-season fruit as I can get my hands on.

I don't miss meat at all, nor do I rely heavily on Boca burgers, faux meatballs or soy sausages for protein. They can be tasty, but I try to eat more tempeh, beans, lentils, tofu and wheat gluten (plus occasional organic yogurt and eggs). I feel good about what I eat and I enjoy good health.

Posted by: shantybird | July 15, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

There are two immediate problems with a vegetarian diet: (1) many plants eat meat, or consume meat from dead animals, starting with micro half-plant, half animal organisms, bacteria, and other one-celled creatures, on up the organic scale of complexity to sea plants that eat fish, pitcher plants and venus fly traps which eat insects and carrion; and women, who in first world countries at the upper middle income scale, are particularly susceptible to iron-blood and calcium deficiencies, which a meat and dairy supplemented diet helps to prevent. On the evolutionary scale of earth's life, our plant and animal life diverged along different evolutionary tracks, but before that point and at that point the earth's plants and animals were eating one another.

Posted by: thedefendantX | July 15, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

I haven't eaten red meat in about 20 years. I have not eaten chicken or turkey in about 10 years. I do eat fish and dairy. So, what would I be called? Not sure if I will stop eating fish, although I said I would not stop eating chicken and turkey. I eat lots of veggies, fruits, and beans. I love junk food, but limit it as much as possible for weight control. I feel good and I'm healthy. Doesn't get much better!

Posted by: cristalyoung | July 16, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

When I changed my diet, I found the nutritional information available from the Vegetarian Resource Group very helpful. Most, if not all, of that information is now online at http://www.vrg.org/ . I highly recommend it to anyone who is worried about how to obtain enough nutrients on a veg*n diet.

I've now been a vegan for 18 years. During my first year attempting to be vegan, I occasionally drank milk or ate cheese, but with the wide availability of soymilk these days I no longer feel any temptation for dairy products.

Posted by: katz3 | July 20, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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