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(As published on TheTownDish.com, October, 2011)
If you want to be a vegetarian there are 2 questions you should to be ready to answer for your curious friends, family and anyone daring enough to eat a meal with you.
"Why are you a vegetarian?"
"What on earth do you eat?"
Let';s start with WHY: After considering all the health-related, ethical, economic, ecologic, political, and social reasons why, you will find that generally it boils down to one of two reasons (or a combination of the two).
1. It';s a healthier way to eat.
2. Ethical reasons: To protect the rights of animals and show respect for how they are treated.
For me, personally, it';s a combination of the two. The health benefits of a vegetarian diet are numerous. A plant based diet can decrease the risk of many chronic diseases, including certain cancers, heart disease, arthritis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Unlike animal products, fruits, veggies and whole grains contain NO cholesterol and are low in saturated fat. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products like meat and dairy. It is the fat that raises the LDL (low density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol levels. Saturated fat or trans fat molecules attract and bond to each other leading to plaque formation in arteries and coronary artery disease. Fruits and veggies are also high in fiber and contain a lot of certain minerals and phytochemicals that not only keep us healthy but also help us feel good!
As far as the ethical reasons, I will leave that discussion for another time. It certainly deserves more than a paragraph in my opinion. But I will say "it is important to treat animals, each other and the earth with respect."
In the words of Charles Darwin, "The love of all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."
Now, on to "What on earth do you eat?"
The answer to this depends on the "type" of vegetarian you ask. A vegan is the strictest form of vegetarian. They eat only plant based food. They consume no meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs or honey and they also often avoid using any leather, silk, wool, soap or cosmetics derived from animal products. A lacto-vegetarian eats plant based foods, milk, cheese and yogurt products but not meat, poultry or eggs. A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats plant based foods, milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs but not meat, poulty or fish. A flexitarian or semi-vegetarian eats plant based foods primarily but will also, on occasion, eats meat, poultry or fish.
The difficulty most people have when they think about being a vegetarian is the notion that foods will be limited and definitely not tasty. The good news is that most vegetarian meals take less time to prepare and are indeed very tasty, not to mention packed full of energy boosting antioxidants minerals and vitamins. There are so many options these days. Most supermarkets and restaurants are offering more and more healthy vegetarian options.
One of my favorite foods is quinoa. This healthy grain is tasty, full of protein, easy to make (usually cook it like rice, rinse well, add 2 parts water to 1 part Quinoa, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes). It can be used in numerous ways such as a side dish with added beans or lentils, in a whole grain wrap, or mixed with tofu and veggies.
Quinoa can be found generally in any supermarket in the rice and grain section. Although it is usually considered a "grain" it is really related to the leafy greens like spinach. Quinoa was once called "the gold of the Incas," because they it was found to improve the stamina of the warriors. It provides all nine amino acids including lysine, which is needed for tissue repair and growth, as well as being a good source of magnesium (which relaxes blood vessels and can decrease blood pressure, prevent migraines and is needed as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes), copper, phosphorus and many other beneficial nutrients. A variety of recipes can be easily found for quinoa. Remember, the goal of any diet is to have a balance of nutrient rich foods that allows your body to function optimally. A vegetarian diet, when done right, can do accomplish this while tasting great.
So, the next time you hear someone ask a vegetarian what they eat and why, you now have a basic understanding of these answers.
"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of life on earth as the evolution of a vegetarian diet." -Albert Einstein
Recipe for Quinoa (Rashmi';s Spiced Quinoa)
Last Updated: 9/7/2012