There are many reasons an individual chooses to become a vegetarian. Most revolve around choices for better health, eating a more sustainable, eco-friendly diet, or an objection to eating animals and/or the abusive treatment that is often inflicted on animals that are raised for food.
So you want to be a vegetarian? What do you need to know? We’ll share some information about a vegetarian lifestyle, some of its benefits, and tips for making the switch.
Vegetarian versus Vegan
Vegetarians don’t eat meat but may choose to eat products that come from animals such as eggs, cheeses, yogurt, and other dairy products. Individuals who practice a vegan diet eat no animal products at all. This choice is typically based on an opposition to the abuse and neglect often suffered by farm-raised animals. Nonprofit organizations, such as Mercy for Animals, fight for compassion and better treatment for these animals. They and other organizations argue that they are sentient beings as much as our own dog and cat family members.
Benefits of a Vegetarian or Vegan Lifestyle
The benefits of a meatless diet are many, even beyond those related to health:
- Live longer.
- Reduce the risk of disease, including many chronic, degenerative conditions.
- Lose weight and keep it off.
- Enjoy more energy.
- Build stronger bones.
- Avoid toxins and chemicals associated with meat and meat production.
- Increase your options for more locally produced foods.
- Contribute to your local economy and farming community.
- Save money.
- Reduce your carbon footprint.
- Contribute to a reduction in pollution, including methane gas associated with beef production.
- Preserve natural resources and support a more sustainable way of life.
- Decrease the demand for farm-raised animals.
- Spare animals from a life of abuse.
The Protein Challenge
A challenge to the vegetarian diet can be getting enough protein – a macronutrient that is present in every cell in the body. When our bodies don’t get enough protein, muscle and other cells can start to break down. Protein is built of 20 amino acids, though your body can synthesize only half of them. The remainder must come from foods and are referred to as “essential” amino acids. Essential amino acids are not stored in the body so need to be replenished daily.
Animal proteins provide all the essential amino acids and are therefore referred to as “complete” proteins. But few plants contain them all. So there may be a bit of a learning curve if you choose to eat no animal proteins. Quinoa and buckwheat are examples of plant-based sources of complete protein; hempseed and chia are nearly complete, though a bit low in lysine. Eating a combination of grains and legumes can provide the winning combination. Examples are peanut butter on whole grain bread or crackers, oatmeal prepared in soymilk, and a serving of rice and beans or lentils. Other great sources of protein include beans and tofu.
Making the Switch to a Vegetarian Diet
You don’t have to switch to a vegetarian diet overnight. There are many options for making a gradual transition. If you simply want to eat less meat, you might consider “Meatless Mondays” – the practice of choosing one day a week to eliminate meat from your meals. Or you could eliminate one meat-based food at a time, starting with the one that concerns you most, either as it relates to your health or to animal cruelty.
Try some new foods. Most of us have eating “habits.” We like particular foods and tend to eat those often. Eating a variety of foods—especially a variety of vegetables and fruits–can actually be a more healthy way of eating. So roam the aisles of your favorite market with food adventure as your objective.
Check out the internet for ideas. You’ll find lots of resources including online learning and delicious vegetarian and vegan recipes. Make it fun, experiment and enjoy! Get your family and friends on board and cook together, or have a vegetarian or vegan dinner or party…and feel good about the positive difference you are making for your health, the earth, and the lives of animals.