Have you tried a vegetarian diet? Most of us have been raised as meat eaters, never knowing anything about the meatless part of today's society. And most of us are under the impression that a vegetarian diet is inflexible, fanatical and worst of all, goes hand in hand with poor nutrition. Not so.
You will find that healthy vegetarians are quite knowledgeable on the subject of nutrition, and they can quote you word for word the value content of each item they ingest and how each item in turn works together to complete the body's needed nutrients.
There are at least three divisions of the vegetarian diet. Strict vegetarians, or vegans, eat no animal foods and take in all their protein from plant sources. This means no chicken, fish, eggs or dairy products. Ovolacto vegetarians, on the other hand, do eat eggs and dairy products, but not chicken, fish or red meats. Then you have the lacto vegetarians, who consume their protein in the form of dairy products, but leave out the eggs, poultry, fish and meat. To this list of three there are those people who call themselves a vegetarian while only giving up red meat. They are not a true vegetarian, but it fits in here somewhere.
People were not designed to be exclusively herbivore, nor a strictly flesh-eating mammal either. Although the design of the teeth lean more toward a chewing-and-grinding movement than the tearing-and-killing eating methods of the carnivore. The human digestive system lends itself more to the vegetarian existence, with long intestines and the lack of a double stomach. Food digestion is meant to be slow and to allow for absorption of nutrients. Early man consumed most of his food in the form of plant foods and the occasional kill that meant meat.
Nowadays, the average American consumes more than 200 pounds of meat, poultry and seafood every year. This does not include the ingestion of dairy products and eggs. Meat has become the status symbol of the American plates.
If you plan on starting a vegetarian diet, be sure your diet includes a wide variety of plant foods, particularly soybeans rich in protein, vitamin B, iron and fiber. Combine your vegetables so that the limited essential amino acid of one food fits with the limited essential amino acid of the other food. An example is rice with beans.
Some vegetarian diets do not give you the required amounts of zinc and iron that are important ingredients for the athlete. Vegetarian athletes should also include a rich source of vitamin C to help with mineral absorption.
I would suggest a diet rich in vegetables, grains and fruits, with low-fat dairy products, and settling for having meat every other day or twice a week.
Be cautious about starting a vegetarian diet. Trying to maintain a strict meatless diet might mean substituting fatty cheeses and high-cholesterol eggs for the lack of protein. Balance your meals to achieve a finished protein. Question those you know about their vegetarian diet. I'll bet you will find during your discussion that they have a much lower cholesterol level than you do, and maybe a bit more exercise energy, too.
n Jerry Vance is owner of The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Senior Center.