Q: Is being vegetarian just about not eating meat?
A: Technically yes, but there are several types of vegetarians.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy foods and eggs.
- Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but not eggs.
- Vegans eat no meat or animal byproducts of any kind.
Notice that none of these include fish. A common misconception is that vegetarians eat fish. Typically vegetarians do not eat animal meat of any kind. We at Vegetarian Zen are lacto-ovo vegetarians.
Q: What are the health benefits of being a vegetarian?
A: Various studies have shown that eliminating animals and animal byproducts from our diets can reduce health risks such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, and hypertension. A study conducted in 2008 indicated that over half (53 percent) of current vegetarians eat a vegetarian diet to improve their overall health. Environmental concerns were cited by 47 percent; 39 percent cited “natural approaches to wellness”; 31 percent cited food-safety concerns; 54 percent cited animal welfare; 25 percent cited weight loss; and 24 percent weight maintenance.
Q: Is it difficult being a vegetarian?
A: Being a vegetarian in this day and age isn’t very difficult. It does take some preplanning and an occasional adjustment in plans but many restaurants have suitable accommodations for those living a vegetarian lifestyle. We have experienced much more of a variety in our eating since many ethnic foods tend to lend themselves well to a vegetarian diet. Mexican food and Indian Food in particular have a lot to offer!
Q: So what’s the deal with tofu?
A: A staple in Eastern cultures for centuries, in Western culture in recent decades, tofu has surged in popularity among vegetarians and vegans. Mention the word to people who don’t consume tofu regularly, and you may get a response like, “Eeeww, it has no flavor, a strange texture, and didn’t I read something about soy products causing cancer?” Tofu is made from soybeans, water, and a curdling agent, such as vinegar or fresh lemon juice. Tofu tends to take on the flavor of what it is cooked in (soy sauce, barbecue sauce, other marinades, etc), making it suitable for use in many different cuisines. Many people compare the texture of cooked tofu to that of cooked chicken. There are many health benefits to eating tofu, particularly if you follow a vegetarian diet, since it’s a great source of protein. There have also been some studies conducted which have suggested some potentially negative aspects of consuming soy products, including tofu. We will be sharing some of our findings with the Vegetarian Zen community in future posts/podcasts. For now though, as with anything else, moderation is the key.
Q: How do I know I’m eating a balanced diet with regard to nutrients?
A: The first big mistake we made when choosing to live a vegetarian lifestyle was to simply give up meat without researching how to ensure we were getting the right nutrients. Getting enough protein seems to be the most common nutrition concern among vegetarians. For vegans who don’t get protein from egg/dairy sources, consuming enough protein can be even more of a challenge. Good sources of protein for vegetarians include:
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans)
- Quinoa and other whole grains
- Nuts (be careful not too many as these are high in fat!)
Juicing has also become a regular habit in our household to help ensure we are getting plenty of nutrients.