Vegetarianism and Veganism: Healthy Diets For a Greener Lifestyle

VegetarianismI recently transitioned to vegetarianism, and I can attest to the benefits of a plant-based diet. As someone who wasn’t raised a vegetarian, it’s no surprise why people would question my sudden urge to go meatless. People often ask, “Aren’t you starving?” “Don’t you miss eating cheeseburgers?” Admittedly, there are definitely a few foods that I do miss, but the benefits of becoming a vegetarian ultimately outweigh the "sacrifices." In reality, becoming a vegetarian for me wasn’t so much about the foods I couldn’t eat but what I was missing. Healthy, energizing foods like quinoa, buckwheat, beans and lentils were missing from my everyday diet, and now that I’m eating them on a regular basis, my health has improved. I have more energy, sleep well at night, and I feel, for lack of a better word just — great.

So how can you achieve a plant-based diet? Alicia Silverstone’s recent book “The Kind Diet” shares her transition into veganism and the benefits of following a plant-based diet.

In the book, Silverstone divides the transition into veganism into three phases:

1st phase: “Flirting” — where you get a taste of what it’s like to be a vegan by cutting back on meat and dairy and replacing them with plant-based substitutes. 2nd phase: “Vegan” —where you start to experience the benefits of restricting all animal products and enjoy whole foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and meat substitutes. 3rd phase: “Superhero” — it’s based on a macrobiotic diet, but while still enjoying delicious wholesome foods. A macrobiotic diet is similar to the vegan diet in that it emphasizes eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables — the main difference is that many macrobiotics incorporate fish into their diet.

Now the mention of the word “vegetarian” or “vegan” may conjure up images of free-loving, granola-eating hippies, or even radical left-wing animal rights activists who scream bloody murder at the sight of a fur coat. But there's a lot more to being a vegetarian besides an obvious love for animals.

According to a study by the Smithsonian Institution, seven football fields of land are cleared every minute to create room for farmed animals and the crops to feed them. Moreover, 80 percent of agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals. And a 2006 report from the United Nations reveals that raising animals for food creates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.

Whether you’re flirting with the idea of becoming a vegetarian or trying to lead a greener lifestyle, simple things like buying local produce and slowly reducing your meat consumption can make a difference. Though being a vegetarian or vegan may not be for everyone, it is definitely a lifestyle worth leading.

So if you’ve recently decided to become a vegetarian or a vegan, be sure to start by eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet that includes whole grains like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of eating processed, sugary foods to replace calories and fullness. For more information about nutrition and the vegetarian diet, visit the Mayo Clinic for dietary guidelines.

Image via vegetarianoutlook.com