Thinking Vegan (Even When You’re Not)!
First, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to read this article. You need only understand that every action (food put into our mouths) has a reaction (our bodies biological processes). At the age of 13 I decided it was time to spread my wings, voice my independence, and exert my dominance in the household when it came to decide what would be on my plate. It was my first bout with “vegetarianism” and trying on a new health trend for myself. Why? Well one may conclude that as an aspiring dietitian my intuition geared me towards the tasty morsels of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamin rich face-free foods staring at me on my plate, right?
Just Kidding. I know you didn’t really presume my passion for wellness emerged prior to my capacity to even navigate four on the flour and successfully apply mascara. No. Back then my thinking lingered a little more on the lines of “I have a dog. I like my dog so why should I eat animals?” That was really all the logic I needed back in the day. However, as my carnivorous counter-thinking friends have so avidly informed me, this is hardly even logical as… we don’t eat dogs here.
Regardless of the roads we take to get where we are today, there were the invaluable lessons I learned alongside my defiant episode of vegetarianism which ended up extended over an 8-year durationn First and foremost, I learned what the hec tofu was! I also learned a little about malnutrition.
My mother used to joke, “You’re the only vegetarian I’ve ever met that refuses to eat a vegetable.” And she was right! My existence basically was sustained on cheese pizza (I was vegetarian, not vegan), eggs, and vegan commercially produced products. Also, did you know McDonalds fries are vegetarian? I landed myself in a state of iron deficiency anemia, poor athletic performance, and a continuous lack of energy. I was also underweight, and I’d imagine a few lasting repercussions may potentially rear their evil head as I get older.
I joined my carnivorous friends for a brief bout in adulthood. During this time, I experimented with eating meat, but keeping it low-key by subbing in vegan products. last year I resumed a mostly vegan diet (except the right, nutritionally adequate way). Surprisingly, this was extremely easy after familiarizing myself with foods most people have never heard of in my teens.
I have a strict rule now that I don’t put anything into my body that doesn’t “do” something for me. So, here’s what that looks like if you don’t want to become a vegan but you want to hinge onto some of those fancy health perks. 3 ounces of beef gives you a whole bunch of stuff you need, protein, B12, zinc, magnesium, the works. You need that stuff (though I’m not saying it’s impossible to get through non-meat choices, it just requires a little more concentration). What you don’t need is a lot of that stuff (meat that is). In nutrition, enough is as good as a feast.
As an emerging dietitian I learned the power of complimentary proteins (e.g. beans and rice) in which each food choice supplies what is called a “limiting amino acid.” When you hear the term "essential amino acids" that means we MUST obtain it in our diet because our bodies cannot make it. Meat contains all 9 in one spot, but non-meat proteins you have to get creative to get them in. when you hear the term "limiting amino acid", you know that choice must be combined with another food choice to get all of the amino acids your body needs. Choosing complementary foods is essential for ensuring our body has all the essential proteins needed to build tissues, make enzymes, sustain lean muscle tissue, and all that other good stuff.
If you really are vegan, or just want to get fancy, brewers (nutritional) yeast on everything. This is a product that naturally contains B12, a vitamin that is extremely hard to attain unless supplemented for the Vegan. It's is great on popcorn, and in stir fry's and soups. It supports neuron function (e.g. in our brains) which makes it pretty important. You may also try your hand at subbing out items like milk for soy for almond milk in recipes (sometimes omitting up to 2/3 of the calories here). Most of the time you wont be able to taste the difference unless it's a very creamy dish. Mushrooms also make an excellent alternative when it comes to texture for a non-meat dish.
Instead of adding extra beef, I usually recommend substituting things like tofu, textured vegetable protein, beans, or oatmeal in place of ½ of meat. Tofu is basically a magical mystery food that takes on the flavor of anything you put it in. Once you learn this trick its REALLY hard to mess it up. It also contains all of the essential amino acids we need in one spot (just like meat products)! Beef patties, pastas, tacos, lasagnas, and many other traditional meat dishes are the best dishes to start out with for the novice vegetarian adventurist because they have a powerful flavor already. Practicing these tricks will save you a ton of calories, fat, and saturated fat!
Being a vegan is kind of like being an artist. However, you can be an artist without being a vegan! I won’t lie to you and say it doesn’t take practice to acquire the skill. But in the end if done right you’ll typically find yourself with heaps of health benefits. This may include more energy, reduced risk for chronic diseases such as cancer, type II diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Don’t take my word for it. Try it out and see how it feels (and most importantly, what it tastes like!).
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