September 1, 2007

Health and Beauty

Veg Eating: Fact Not Fancy

by Sandra Pianin

In one of my other roles in life, as tutor of literacy subjects, I get asked lots of questions. By far, the most popular question from my students is about making the change from normal eating patterns to a vegetarian or vegan diet! Becoming a vegetarian or a vegan is a conscious large life decision.

When you become a vegetarian, you are making a decision to not eat meat. This means beef, chicken, pork or fish. Some vegetarians decide not to eat animal products like eggs, milk, gelatin or honey - these are called 'vegans.'

There are basically four types of vegetarians, but plenty of variations on the theme exist. A lacto-vegetarian will not eat flesh of any kind. Their diet consists of fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. A lacto-ovo vegetarian has the same diet; however, they will add eggs to their regimen. Vegans eat only plant food. They will not eat flesh, eggs, or dairy. The last type of vegetarian is a fruitarian who will eat only fruits, nuts and seeds. Researchers seem to agree that if a person maintains a well-balanced vegetarian diet drawing from the four main food groups - beans, nuts and seeds, grains, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables - then that person will have sufficient nutrition.

Vegans, as I mentioned before, avoid eating any animal products. They do not drink milk or eat cheese, eggs, honey or gelatin. Being a vegan is making a political statement to yourself and to others about how you want to live your life. Vegans also do not wear clothes containing animal products. They avoid leather, wool and silk. Vegans will not buy make-up that has been tested on animals. Being a vegan is a serious life commitment. You must think about these new personal life decisions and philosophies when considering becoming one.

Eating a balanced diet is imperative to becoming a healthy vegetarian. It is much more than simply modifying your old eating habits. You must be careful to replace meat with foods that hold the same essential vitamins and nutrients. You can do this by eating the right amounts of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, soy products, nuts and eggs. It is imperative that you eat enough protein to support continued good health.

Carbohydrates provide energy and vitamins for your brain and muscles. Healthy diets should also contain fats because they contain essential fatty acids. These are to be found in nuts, oils, and avocados. Vegetarians and vegans should be sure to eat plenty of nuts, peanut butter, soy products and beans, peas, and lentils. Vitamin D, zinc, iron and calcium are also imperative to a vegan and vegetarian diet. Getting enough vitamin B12 can be tricky, but yeast flakes are an excellent source of it.

Becoming a vegetarian or vegan is about more than food choices; it affects your entire life. Your health and well-being depend on how well you compensate for the foods you are giving up, so be a mindful eater and you will have success.

Sandra Pianin is a freelance writer. She is a regular contributor to and Crumbs for Men magazine. Sandra lives in New York City and enjoys reading and crossword puzzles.