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Vegetarianism: Clearing Up Some Myths

Fall is a wonderful time of the year to make dietary changes. Fruits and vegetables are abundant, the weather slows most of us down, and it is a good time to make lifestyle changes (BEFORE the holidays arrive with their added calories and artery clogging richness). Everywhere you look you can find vegetable stands displaying a kaleidoscope of corn, melons, potatoes, berries, squash, cucumbers, peppers, beets and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes... As a Vegan (one who does not eat meat, dairy or eggs) who loves to eat, this is my favorite eating season. For years I have been asked so many questions about Vegetarianism (the practice of not consuming meat) - I think now is a good time to clear up some misconceptions.

Myth #1 - Vegetarians do not get enough protein.

Most people have a skewed idea of how much protein the body actually needs. A vegetarian diet contains more than enough protein. Vegans, on the other hand, have to be aware of getting the right variety of amino acids (protein building blocks). his is not difficult though. Vegans can combine foods such as beans and grains, cereals and leafy greens, nuts and grains, or using soy products to get the necessary amino acids that the body cannot synthesize by itself.

Myth #2 - Vegetarian diets are healthier than omnivorous diets.

A Vegetarian needs to be well educated in nutrition science. I have spoken with people who have attempted to become Vegetarian and found themselves anemic, fatigued and drawn. Others have gained a lot of weight by overeating breads and cheeses.

Generally though, Vegetarians are significantly less likely to struggle with diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and obesity. And the high fiber content aids in preventing gastro-intestinal diseases.

Myth #3 - Vegans, inherent of their diet, are calcium deficient.

The dairy industry has convinced us that they have the corner on dietary calcium. The truth is that many plant foods contain calcium: tofu, collard greens, blackstrap molasses, figs, turnip greens, kale, navy beans, almonds, oranges, broccoli and more.

Myth #4 - Vegetarians eat a lot of weird foods.

A large proportion of the world's population is vegetarian, so this perspective may be strictly American. However, much of the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian foods are delicious and very healthful.

I am not trying to convert anyone. In fact, if you are an omnivore; I strongly suggest you talk with someone who has been a Vegetarian for many years before making any changes. Even if you have no intention of giving up your meats, this is a great time of year to enjoy the fresh harvest.

Referenced: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter: April 1998

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