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From The National Humane Education Society

Changing your diet during the high season of outdoor grilling, holidays, and parties may seem hard to do, especially if you’re adopting a vegetarian diet. It takes commitment, awareness, time, and energy (whew—bring on the beans!). But when it comes to preventing animal cruelty, improving your health, cleaning up the environment and reducing world hunger, adopting a vegetarian lifestyle is worth every bite! So, whether you’re diving right in or slowly revolutionizing your humane plate, be sure to do your research, and you will succeed. To help you get started, here are just a few FAQs about vegetarian eating:*

Will I get enough protein?

The amount of protein a person needs varies upon factors such as age, sex, and physical activity level. In general though, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is just 10-15% of a person’s daily food intake. When consuming a diet consisting of foods that emphasize grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and oils, vegetarians can easily consume the recommended daily protein intake. This is true for vegetarians whom consume dairy products too. Dairy though, just as meat, has human health and animal welfare implications to consider.

But isn’t meat healthy?

Perhaps the most worn misconception about meat vs. vegetarian eating is the “protein myth.” In the United States (and other western cultures that heavily emphasize meat consumption) it is difficult to imagine dinner without meat, and even more so to imagine being healthy without it.

In reality, many studies have shown significant links between meat consumption and health problems such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease and many forms of cancer. Further studies have shown that reducing or eliminating meat eating and increasing plant-based food consumption can actually help reduce health risks associated with meat.

The American Dietetic Association officially endorses vegetarianism stating, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

What about Iron, Vitamin B12 and other nutrients meat is supposed to provide?

Many forms of vitamin and mineral supplements are available today to specifically meet the nutritional needs of vegetarians. Also, lots of cereals, breads and other foods are fortified with vitamin B12 and other necessary nutrients. Of course, eating a wide variety of fresh foods will also help ensure a proper vitamin and mineral balance.

A vegetarian diet just means not eating meat right?

As any reliable doctor will tell you: Eat a well-balanced diet. Choosing to eat vegetarian does not mean you should start substituting meat with lots of dairy products, pastas, and junk food. Not only will you probably gain weight, feel bloated and have other uncomfortable results, but you deprive yourself of wholesome, healthy eating as well as the opportunities to try new food combinations and ethnic dishes. So be sure to eat a balanced diet of foods that encompass grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and oils. Don’t forget to delve into fresh spices for added flavor!

What about dairy, fish and seafood?

There are several types of diets that people refer to as vegetarian, and they range from including dairy, honey, fish and seafood, to even chicken. NHES accepts the definition of a vegetarian diet as one which is plant-based and may include dairy and honey. True vegetarians do not eat the flesh of any animals, whether of land or water.

Where can I buy vegetarian foods?

Vegetarian food options have exploded onto the marketplace in the last few decades! Of course, health food markets offer vegetarian items, but many great products can now be found at your local grocery store.

What (the heck) do I do with tofu/soybeans?

Great question! We don’t know either. Ok, we do! Tofu is simply fermented soybeans packaged to different solid states (firm to soft). Just think of it as a blank canvas ready to be spiced, marinated, glazed, chopped, fried, grilled, baked, simmered, and blended.

A few preparation examples:

Cut extra-firm tofu into thick slices, marinate and grill. Or, cut into small chunks, spice and fry, then toss into salads or stir-fry.
Semi-firm tofu is great for creating “eggless” salad sandwiches or for adding to soups.
Soft tofu is excellent for blending into fruit shakes or using as a base for silk pies.

Salads and veggie burgers are great, but I’m ready for something new—what else is there?

Its time to “think outside the box.” Don’t just buy lots of cheese pizza, tofu nuggets, and garden burgers—open your mind and then a vegetarian or ethnic cookbook and get creative! Healthy and humane food is something to enjoy and celebrate. The best way to do that is by not limiting yourself to the “tofu and potatoes” dinner and by researching what’s out there. Many American recipes can be altered to vegetarian, and many ethnic foods include and celebrate vegetarian meals. A simple internet search using the words “vegetarian recipes” will lead you to literally thousands of great dishes.

How can I eat vegetarian when I’m out for dinner?

First, don’t hesitate to find out what ingredients are in the restaurant dishes. As vegetarian options are becoming the norm, many restaurants are acquainted with meeting this dietary need. In some cases, the restaurant staff may not know all of the ingredients—unless it explicitly states “vegetarian” on the menu, it is a good rule of thumb to assume that soups, dips, etcetera, use beef or chicken broth bases.

Second, get creative! What sides are available? What combinations of smaller dishes or appetizers can you order to create a whole meal? What dishes can be prepared minus the meat? Don’t pass on the opportunity to order chicken fajitas “no chicken please.” The waiter and your friends might do a double take, but order with pride because each of these little moments is a triumph for the animals!

Finally, many restaurants are popping up that explicitly emphasize vegetarian eating. Isn’t it about time you checked one out?

How do I talk to my family and friends about vegetarianism and the cruelties of animal farming?

Ahhh, the awkward silence that falls as you tell [mom, Aunt Sue, your best bud] you’re going to skip the famous family meatloaf at dinner and enjoy a veggie burger instead.

How do we answer questions about animal suffering and dietary choices without becoming defensive, insulting, or grossing everyone out at the table, while also defending animals, and informing and hopefully inspiring our loved ones? Truly, it is an art form that can only be perfected over time.

To start, know the facts and stand by your beliefs. Having your “ducks in a row” will be a powerful tool to communicate the downside of meat and the upside of vegetarianism with intelligence, passion, empathy and grace. Although deterring animal suffering may be your primary goal in adopting a vegetarian diet, it’s helpful to meet others halfway. Are your family and friends concerned about their health, the environment, or human starvation? Be sure to emphasize the benefits a vegetarian diet has on these aspects of life as well as helping animals.

Second, speak from the heart. When talking with family and friends about your choices, let them know that kindness, mercy, justice, responsibility, love and other important values—which are no doubt enjoyed and shared by you and your family and friends—are values you’ve now found in your heart apply to all living beings.

Third, be patient and have a laugh. For sure, some people will tease and heckle your dietary choices—it is easy to judge what is not understood. Interact with humor, patience, confidence and knowledge, and you will eventually win these people’s respect. They might even decide you’re right.

So who’s coming with me?

Estimates suggest about 3 million people in the United States are vegetarians. Many famous athletes, film and music performers, political activists and others share this lifestyle. And take some notes, because many wise folks over the centuries had something smart to say about vegetarianism too. Just a few historical vegetarians you can draw from include:

Albert Schweitzer, humanitarian, Albert Einstein, scientist, Aristotle, philosopher, Benjamin Franklin, scientist, Buddha, Coretta Scott King (wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.), Epicurus, philosopher, George Bernard Shaw, playright, Jean Jacques Rousseau, philosopher, Leo Tolstoy, Russian author, Leonardo de Vinci, artist, Mohandas Gandhi, humanitarian, Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet, Susan B. Anthony, women suffrage, and Vincent Van Gogh, artist.

Further Resources

Embarking on a vegetarian lifestyle is hard work at first, but can be very exciting if you put in the time and effort to do it right. Many excellent websites and publications are now available to ease the process, offer thousands of vegetarian recipes, and provide nutrition information. Browse the below links for more information and before you know it, eating kind will be second nature!

VegCooking is an excellent, comprehensive website for the “how-to” of vegetarianism. Includes recipes, restaurant listings, and a shopper’s guide.

USDA web-listing of vegetarian information resources covering aspects from health to meal planning to vegetarian children.

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.