Why I'm vegetarian: health

Photo credit: PETA PSA adWhy did you become vegetarian?

Having been vegetarian for 17 years, I'm going to guess very conservatively that I've answered that question about a hundred times. There are many reasons I'm vegetarian -- health, ethical (considering both treatment of animals and world hunger), the environment and my personal preference. When I explain these reasons to people, they often had never thought about how eating meat impacts our world. So, in a series of posts, I'm going to explain each reason I'm a vegetarian.

It's never my intention to change one's mind about their personal decision whether or not to be vegetarian, vegan or anything else. I'm not saying eating meat is wrong for you, I just know it's wrong for me. It's just important that we are all educated about how what we eat affects the greater good. However, I do hope to motivate people to make small positive changes, such as throwing in a few vegetarian or vegan meals into their weekly mix. 

So first reason: health

I do not care to get into a debate as to whether a vegetarian diet is healthier than a traditional diet. I can cite numerous studies proving that vegetarianism is healthier and that vegetarians are less likely to be overweight and more likely to live longer. If you want to play devil's advocate, you could cite many studies debunking that. Let's not get carried away by the health merits of a vegetarian diet.

Instead, I will discuss the health merits of a vegetarian lifestyle.

  • Less fast food (in my case, none). Consider that it's pretty much impossible for vegetarians to love fast food. I've never in the last 17 years uttered, "I'll take a number 3 value meal to go!" or "Biggie, please!" or "Supersize it!" or any other drive-thru lingo. When you commit to being vegetarian, you immediately limit your intake of fast food. Considering that the average American eats 159 fast food meals a year, I'm feeling good about my vegetarian lifestyle.
  • More variety. I find it funny when people ask me, "Well where do you get your [insert random nutrient here]?" As a vegetarian, my diet has more variety in it than the average person's. When most people are planning dinner, they instantly start thinking about what meat/chicken/fish main dish will appear on the plate and then plan a few side dishes to go with it. That kind of thinking keeps you eating a diet of relatively similar meals day after day. Meat and potatoes, fish and vegetables, spaghetti and meatballs. Being vegetarian, I have to be much more creative than that. I turn to chickpeas for hummus and falafel, soy for edamame, tempeh and tofu or beans and lentils for making veggie burgers and soups. I've experimented with polenta, quinoa, couscous and countless other foods that are not common in the American diet. I am getting my nutrients from a much wider variety of sources.
  • International cuisine. Since the American diet is a lot of burgers or meat and potatoes, vegetarians have to look to different cultures across the world for inspiration and to try new things. Some of my favorite meals are inspired by my world travels. Spain introduced me to fritattas and vegetable paella, Central America to plaintains, yucca and blackbeans and rice, Italy to caprese salad and gourmet pizzas, Greece to yogurt, spanikopita and village salads and Asia for curry and tofu stir frys. While I'm at it, I need to thank all of Europe for crepes! The point is, we all know the American diet is horrible...that's why a shocking 63 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Given that, I'm happy to take cues from healthier countries.
  • More veggies. You can never go wrong with eating vegetables. The American Cancer Society recommends we all eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I usually have 5 servings taken care of by lunchtime! Veggies are so good for you and are very filling. If you eat meat, consider making your main dish a vegetable and your side dish a meat for a much healthier and lower-calorie diet.

Okay, so, that's one reason down. Vegetarianism, if done right, can lead you to a healthier lifestyle. I hope if you eat meat,  this post at least made you think about how you could change your lifestyle even the littlest bit to take on some of these healthy habits. Eat less fast food, pick up a cookbook for international recipes, or try cooking a new vegetable or using a different ingredient in your meals once a week.

Whatever is on your plate, I hope you enjoy it. Please, visit back here to see my other reasons for being vegetarian in future posts.