Vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, fruitarians – the list of different diets is endlessly confounding. There are people who eat only meat and fruit and others who eat only raw foods. Even more astounding is the naivety of millions of people in subscribing to some of these crazy approaches to eating. Every special diet promises to cleanse the body, reinvigorate energy levels and shave off excess weight. Yet, I believe the bestselling author Michael Pollan broke it down best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
There are two different types of popular diets. A diet can either be characterized by the specific type of food or by the different kinds of macronutrients – protein, fat and carbohydrates – consumed. To clarify, the former encompasses vegan and vegetarian diets while the latter includes the Atkins diet and the Zone diet. Promotion of the latter kind of diet is much more common because the profit potential is so much larger. Companies stand to earn a much greater amount of money by catering to people’s tastes, while promising ostensibly impossible results. Americans are suckers for a quick and easy solution, and despite the frightening rise in obesity and other fatal illnesses, Americans continue to spend billions of dollars on diet solutions.
History provides us a telling and important lesson concerning these diets. Those diets revolving around macronutrients are fads, drifting in and out of the American consciousness. They are generally unsustainable over a long period of time, and many of them are virulently unhealthy. It’s hard to make money off of the promises of a vegetarian diet – primarily because people already know it’s healthy but don’t want to give up meat, chicken and fish. Debates rage continuously over the merits of diets like Atkins and Weight Watchers, but nobody will ever debate the worthiness of fruits and vegetables.
The myths surrounding vegetarianism continue to pervade society, despite increased research and mounting evidence proving its worth. Lots of evidence links vegetarianism with reduced occurrences of chronic diseases. Consuming a plant-based diet will naturally lower your intake of saturated fats, which will reduce heart disease and hypertension. Vegetarians also have less of a chance of getting certain kinds of cancer.
There are a few nutrients that vegetarians have to make a conscious effort to obtain. They have to be aware of iron and calcium, which are found in green leafy vegetables, certain grains, beans, dairy and dried fruits. For vegetarians, the only source of vitamin B12 is dairy. Vegans will have to rely on supplements or fortified foods.
The most common complaint of a vegetarian diet revolves around protein. Americans have an infatuation with protein – the über nutrient that is supposed to build muscle and promote good health. As a result, Americans consume about twice as much protein as they need to. This can put a severe strain on your kidneys and have wide-ranging results on your general health. The average American needs to consume just over one-third of one’s body weight in protein. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you need to consume just over 50 grams of protein. But how in anyone’s right mind could that possibly happen without meat or chicken?! It is easier than you think.
Some great and easy sources of protein for vegetarians are beans, tofu, nuts, dairy and eggs. Bread has protein and so do many vegetables. With three balanced meals and a couple of snacks a day, it is very easy to get your daily requirement of protein. For example, two boiled eggs have about 15 grams of protein, and a half pint of soymilk or cow’s milk has about nine grams of protein. You definitely don’t need meat or chicken to meet your protein needs.
The benefits of the diet are too long to list. Try it for a week and see. You will feel sprightlier, happier and healthier – all while consuming a lot less calories. A vegan diet, devoid of eggs or dairy, can certainly be healthy but only with lots of careful thought. Personally, I like to eat fish regularly, because it is equal parts nutritious and delicious. If you’re looking for a diet that’s not too daunting, but will still provide enormous health benefits, look no further than traditional vegetarianism… with fish.