Melissa Freestone, RD, LD
I recently saw my father wearing a t-shirt that says: “Vegetarian…Another name for a lousy hunter.” For as long as I can remember, he has always loved to eat steak, chicken, hamburgers, etc. So imagine my shock when earlier this year, in an effort to shed some pounds, he adapted a vegetarian lifestyle for three months.
He abstained from eating any meat including poultry (he did however, consume dairy, fish and occasionally eggs). He lost over 25 pounds, and at his latest doctor’s visit, his blood pressure and lipid panel were all perfect. I wouldn’t give all the credit to the fact that he ate vegetarian, but the fact is, he was eating more fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, than he ever had before. He was taking in less calories overall with a significantly less amount of dietary cholesterol and saturated fats.
Vegetarianism is different to many people. One thing that seems to be constant is that it means not eating red meat to everyone. All other types of animal proteins can be debatable.
Historically, being a vegetarian has meant not eating meat, poultry, or fish. However, there are lacto vegetarians, who consume dairy products, and lacto-ovo vegetarians who include dairy and eggs. Pesco vegetarians or (such as my father) allow dairy products, eggs and fish.
What type of vegan are you?
Partial vegetarians are those who decide to eliminate red meat only. And vegans refrain from consuming any meats, seafood/fish, dairy, eggs or any products/byproducts made from these foods.
The list of benefits from adapting a vegetarian lifestyle keeps growing. A study in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at more than 73,000 men and woman, and results indicate that a vegetarian lifestyle will help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes and heart disease.
It looks as if the word is getting out, because the number of reported vegetarians in our country is growing.
From a 2012 poll listed by the Vegetarian Resource Group (a non-profit organization located in Baltimore, MD) at least 47% of the country eats 1 vegetarian meal per week (no meat/fish/seafood/poultry). 4% of our adult population is estimated to be vegetarian. This is up from 3% of the adult population who were following a vegetarian lifestyle in 2006. These numbers do not include children/adolescents but their number is also increasing. I see this first hand as I have many adolescent patients asking to learn more about the vegetarian diet.
Some important things to remember:
- As with all diet types, there are foods that are technically vegetarian, but they wouldn’t be considered good for your health if consumed on a regular basis. It takes careful planning of meals and snacks to make sure all nutrient goals are being met.
- Consumers are best off contacting the manufacturer if they want to make sure a product is absolutely meat free when looking at product labeling.
- All nutrient goals can be met through a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Supplementation can be avoided through pairing of foods. For example peas and soy products can be good sources of iron and zinc. Pairing these foods with foods containing Vitamin C (such as broccoli, tomato products, and strawberries) can help your body absorb the iron better.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are important for all diets and even vegans can find ways to have them plentiful in their diet, such as flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed and walnuts which have great sources of alpha-linolenic acid per serving.
- Just because you have made the decision to improve your diet does not mean you can sit on the couch all day. Exercise is still vital and very much recommended as a part of any diet plan.
- Lastly, in 2011 Sodexo launched our initiative of Meatless Mondays. We partnered with the global movement started in 2003 by the nonprofit initiative of The Monday Campaigns. The message is simple, “once a week cut the meat.” Our company does an outstanding job of offering healthy yet delicious vegetarian options in our cafeterias nationwide. In my account we have seen great numbers in our retail area. I have even added Curry Tofu Stew to our patient menu.
Vegetarianism can be different for each person. You can expect the number of vegetarians and/or vegans in our country to continue to rise. Celebrate this movement in October as it is Vegetarian Month. If you live in the Boston area, check out the Annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival October 26 and 27th. It is a FREE event and the longest running of its kind in the country showcasing great tasting foods. Challenge your taste buds and go vegetarian at least once per week, perhaps on Meatless Mondays!
For any other information I urge you to check out the following websites:
Melissa Freestone, RD, LD, is a Registered Dietitian and Sodexo Clinical Nutrition Manager at Sheppard Pratt Health Systems.