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Health in Focus: A Closer Look at the Vegetarian Lifestyle

Published on October 27, 2011 by Alicia Benjamin | Social Media Manager

October is National Vegetarian Awareness Month. So that begs the question - Can you imagine your life without meat? Ordering a burger without the beef? Skipping the turkey at Thanksgiving?

It may not seem like a dietary choice many would make; but according to a Vegetarian Times study, there are over 7.3 million vegetarians (or 3.2% of U.S. adults) in America. I’m sure that number has grown even more since the study came out.

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Salads can be colorful, delicious, and filling. (Photo source: peasandthankyou.com)

Vegetarians differ in what they do and do not eat  -

  • Vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products including meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, or honey
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not consume meat, fish, or poultry, but they do include eggs and milk products in their diets.
  • Lacto vegetarians include milk, but no other animal products in their diets.
  • Ovo vegetarians include eggs, but no other animal products in their diets.
  • Pescatarians include fish in their diets, and some may also consume milk and egg products, but meat and poultry are not included.

Going meat-free may not be an option for you, and that’s okay. For many of us in America, we were raised on foods we don’t want to give up, like barbeque chicken and brisket, or we find ourselves as adults appreciating cuisines like sushi, a personal favorite of mine, or lobster.

But that’s what makes life so wonderful! We get to choose how - and what - we eat, from classic home-cooking our moms fed us to ethnic favorites like pho

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We get to choose how - and what - we eat. Shown here: apple cupcakes! (Photo sources: ohsheglows.com)

Vegetarianism in Magazines, Blogs, Healthcare

Go online and search for “vegetarian,” and you’ll be greeted with over 94,000,000 results. Certainly the awareness of vegetarianism, and the adoption of the lifestyle, is on the rise. Popular magazines like Eating Well and Whole Living offer up meat-free recipes in just about every issue. And on Mondays, hundreds of thousands of people (vegetarians and meat-eaters alike) make the pledge to go an entire day without eating any meat -- this is known as Meatless Monday.

There are blogs and books solely dedicated to a vegetarian lifestyle. Sarah of Peas and Thank You, one such popular blog-turned-book, shares meatless meals for the entire family; and Matt from No Meat Athlete writes about how he is able to run, literally, on plants. These two blogs, as examples, dispel the popular beliefs that it’s impossible to raise a healthy family or compete in endurance sports without eating meat. 

What’s more, Twitter and Facebook has made it possible to follow more closely and interact with health advocates like Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital; Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual; and Dr. Mark Hyman, family physician, New York Times best-selling author, and Chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine.

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Food Rules by Michael Pollan lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating.

Even past presidents and celebrities are helping to raise awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet. President Clinton recently changed his diet to address his growing concern about his health. And celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Ellen Degeneres, and Paul McCartney openly endorse meat-free diets.  

Vegetarianism Health Benefits 

In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that vegetarian diets are associated with improved health outcomes. What does this mean exactly? Vegetarians, and those who incorporate its principles in their daily diets, are more likely to consume more fiber, potassium, and vitamin C than their carnivorous peers.

A vegetarian lifestyle is also associated with lower body mass index, a measurement of your body's fat percentage, and vegetarians have lower rates of obesity in general, according to the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." Vegetarians also have lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, as a diet that is heavily reliant on plant-based food sources helps you have a healthier heart.

But what about protein? Vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy products get adequate amounts of protein. Those who don’t eat any meat or dairy get their protein from eating rice, beans, nuts, and soy products.

This doesn’t mean all vegetarians are thin, though, as you could be a vegetarian and live solely on omelets and ice cream. In general, though, vegetarians tend to indulge in healthier cuisine and learn how to infuse flavor in simple recipes, like the apple cupcakes (pictured above) or the lentil and roasted beets dish (below). 

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Meatless Mondays encourage people to go meatless one day each week by choosing meat-free recipes like this lentil and roasted beets medley. (Photo source: eatboutique.com)

The Changing Landscape of Health

Discussion around healthy eating and well-being it as an all-time high, considering the past couple of years has seen an unbelievable surge in the creation of health apps, like Daily Challenge; the attendance at healthy living, e-Patient, and healthcare- and health designed-focused events like the Connected Health Symposium and the Healthcare Experience Design Conference; the production of health documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Food Inc.; the increase in bloggers who share their experiences with eating healthfully; and the transparency of what healthcare professionals think due to the increasing publication of blogs, articles, and books.

Even the recent revision to the USDA’s Food Pyramid, now called My Plate, is reflective of how the times are changing. With the new My Plate, the USDA has considerable lessened the recommendation of how much meat we should be consuming. It’s now suggested that half our plates be filled with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables -- and meat and dairy being consumed in much smaller portions.

Rip Esselstyn, triathlete turned firefighter, is a strapping All-American ambassador for the whole foods, plant-based diet. (Photo Source: Forks Over Knives)

Small Actions for a Healthier Lifestyle  

Like anything, change can be hard. At MeYou Health, we believe that change is possible when you approach it step-by-step and day-by-day. So if trying a vegetarian lifestyle or a diet lower in meat sounds like something you’d like to do - if even for a short time to see how it impacts how you feel  - start by taking small steps, like going meat-free one day a week on meatless Mondays, or crowding out the pot roast on your plate with extra asparagus and green beans.  

Produce Boost is a DailyChallenge.com Track focused on fruit and veggie consumption.

And it’s always advised to talk to your physician about any changes in diet and lifestyle you want to make. While many have raised the concern of not getting enough protein, vitamins, or minerals on a vegetarian diet, your doctor can help determine your individual needs.

These small, approachable actions to boost your produce intake can make all the difference in embracing a healthier lifestyle, regardless of if you completely give up meat or not.

SHARE YOUR OPINION: How have you incorporated more fruits and veggies into your diet? What’s been the benefit of doing so? Would you ever go 100% vegetarian - why or why not? 

Health Pop Culture, Daily Challenge, Health in Focus Whole Living, Dr. David Katz, Eating Well, healthy eating, Meatless Monday, Vegetarian Times, dietary guidelines, USDA, plant-based diets, Dr. Mark Hyman, vegetarianism, Michael Pollan