Vegans and vegetarians say plant-based diets are healthier – and a growing number of experts agree

 

2011 marks my 20th year as a vegetarian.

I’m celebrating because it hasn’t always been easy, and I am proud of my accomplishment! I decided what was important to me and I stuck with it all these years.

In fact, I had given up red meat six years earlier and became a complete vegetarian in 1991 while I was still breast-feeding my son Jackson.

The availability of creative and tasty vegetarian meals in restaurants has improved over the years. However, it surprises me that there are a  lot of fine restaurants that still think a good vegetarian meal is limp veggies stirred into white pasta or rice. The best restaurant vegetarian meal I ever had was a delicious gourmet-style bean loaf served at dinner four years ago when my husband and I were on a Hawaiian cruise. The chef was probably vegetarian. It tasted home-made.

Jackson & Wendy, 2008

The most resistance I had about being a vegetarian was from my son’s grandmothers when they found out I was intending to raise him as a vegetarian. I can be a stubborn woman, but I knew they needed reassurance, so I showed them I knew what I was doing. I did a lot of research over the years and always made sure Jackson ate from a variety of whole foods. I did what I thought was right as a parent and he grew up strong, tall (6’4″) and healthy. He played hockey for years and loved swimming and hiking at my parents’ cottage in Quebec.

Jackson was a vegetarian until he was 16 years old. It was after a challenging, but normal, period of teenage attitude that he decided he liked the rules better at his father’s house where they ate meat, and when he moved in with them, he started eating it too. He’s almost 21 years old now and I keep hoping he’ll meet a nice vegetarian girl who’ll bring him back to the fold! :-)

John making Thanksgiving tofu turkey with a 10 lb dumbell, Oct. 2007

My husband John, bless him, knew how important being a vegetarian is to me and when me moved in together 10 years ago, he suggested that we have what he called ‘a vegetarian kitchen’.

Until this past Easter, when it somehow seemed ok, and quite generous of me to let my parents bring a pre-cooked half-turkey for their Easter Sunday main course, the only meaty meals we’ve served in our home have gone to the cat.

Why have I been a vegetarian for all these years? Ethical reasons – I love animals so “I don’t eat anything with a face”, and health concerns. Eating meat has been linked to cancer, heart disease and …constipation. There’s no fiber in it people! :-)

A 2009 Harris poll found that we vegans and vegetarians make up only 3 to 4 percent of the population, however, 8 percent of young people ages 8 to 18 describe themselves as non-meat eaters.

It’s possible that vegetarianism is the wave of the future, especially as more people become aware of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, and understand that eating meat supports a commercial industry focused on profits, not taking good care of the animals it raises for slaughter. There are also many professional athletes who are vegetarian – using top quality whey protein to ensure their ability to add and maintain lean muscle.

The Miami Herald recently ran a feature story on the benefits of a vegetarian diet – with all the usual cautions.

USDA endorsed vegetarianismin its 2010 dietary pyramid. “Compared to non-vegetarian eating patterns, vegetarian-style eating has been associated with improved health outcomes — lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower total mortality.”

The USDA stresses, however, that “vegetarians must carefully plan their diets to avoid deficits of certain nutrients — particularly protein, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12 — that normally come from meat, eggs and dairyproducts. It notes that they can get protein from cheese, eggs, beans and nuts; iron from spinach, kidney beans and eggs; calcium from milk, soy beverages and mustard greens; zinc from milk and wheat germ and vitamin B12 from milk, eggs and soy beverages.”

I don’t drink milk or use soy beverages, but basically this is my diet, along with Isagenix superfood shakes, and nutritional supplements – especially important for anyone over age 40. I get a wonderful supply of B-vitamins from the Isagenix morning drink – Ionix Supreme. I’ve always said they could have built their whole company around that product! I don’t go a day without it so I always have lots of energy!

It’s become more acceptable to be true to your own standards of what’s right, and that’s true of the vegetarian choice. No need to keep quiet about it anymore, out of fear of ridicule. Oprah Winfrey put her 378 TV show staffers on a vegan diet for a week in February and Martha Stewart cooked a “seitan bourguignon” — using a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. Former US president Bill Clinton has said that since his open-heart surgery last year, he’s become “almost vegan,” eating only a bit of fish. Boxer Mike Tyson is proud to say he avoids meat, milk and eggs.

Over the past decade, the medical community has increasingly supported plant-based diets.

When I spoke to a geriatrician last fall about problems my 79-year-old father was having, he strongly recommended dad and mom eat a mainly plant-based Mediterranean diet for good health and longevity. BTW, he recommends this diet for everyone, regardless of age.

A 2009 American Dietetic Association position paper said that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

Got a vegetarian story of your own to share? Can’t wait to say something about this post? Please comment and share.

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