By Daphne Oz
Have you ever considered going vegetarian? Whether out of concern for the horrible animal injustices that occur every day on factory farms, knowledge about the pollution these enterprises create or concern over the manifold health issues that might arise from eating a diet loaded with meat from animals that have been raised on genetically modified feed and loaded up with antibiotics and growth hormones to combat their unsanitary living conditions, many of us have wanted to take a closer look at the prime role of meat in our daily diets.
It used to be that meat was reserved for a special occasion meal, because the average person could not afford its cost on a regular basis. Only the very wealthy could eat meat regularly; unsurprisingly, the lifestyle-related diseases we see so commonly today — such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease — were isolated to the privileged classes until recently, when, thanks to astronomical farm subsidies, (low-quality) meat became ubiquitous and cheap.
Unfortunately, the implied price of meat mysteriously has not shrunk, despite streamlined mechanization of agribusiness. Rather, it has been transferred into hidden and delayed costs. The true cost of meat is hidden in the form of farm subsidies, which are simply our tax dollars being channeled to pay for the fees of raising the animals. More viscerally, the cost is delayed as more of us find our way to operating tables courtesy of the high levels of saturated fat found in animal products, which clog our arteries and weigh on our scales. The rising cost of health care could be averted if we chose to spend proportionately more of our money on preserving health through good eating and exercise than on the “health care” we need to pay for once we are ill.
That said, I appreciate that meat is a crucial component of some of our favorite meals. My thought is that if we could revert to enjoying meat as a treat rather than as a dietary staple, we could afford to purchase organic, farm-raised product that not only has been minimally processed, is free of unnecessary additives and is rich in all the nutrients that humanely raised, pasture-grazed animals provide but also allows us to support local business. For that reason, I’m a huge proponent of the “Meatless Monday” movement and its emphasis not on deprivation, but on consciousness, when it comes to preparing our daily meals, with an eye toward really appreciating and moderating our consumption of meat.
Now, if you are considering the vegetarian route — and, as someone who eats a mostly plant-based diet, my experience has been that my body responds with increased energy, more efficient digestion and a clearer complexion to the rich fuels of vital fruits, veggies and grains — here are a few tips to help you get started:
• Start gradually. There’s no rush to go cold turkey, so start by making vegetarian meal choices one or two days a week. You’ll be amazed at how many delicious vegetarian recipes let you have the full flavor of meals you love without the added fat, calories and cost of meat — and they’re often much easier to prepare because you rarely have to worry about cooking temperatures, etc., to ensure food safety. I love Eating Well magazine’s website (http://www.eatingwell.com). It’s a great source of healthy recipes.
• Get your calcium, iron and B vitamins. Vegetarians — and vegans, especially — can run the risk of being B vitamin-deficient because the primary source of this essential nutrient — a powerful booster of energy and the immune system — is red meat. Because I don’t eat much red meat, I get a B complex and B-12 shot once a month to keep my levels stable. That might sound a bit extreme, and you can just as easily supplement with nutritional yeast (you can get this on Amazon.com, and it is one of my all-time favorite supplements; I add it to everything from salad dressings to popcorn) and a good multivitamin or B complex vitamin. (Please consult with your doctor before beginning any supplement plan.)
• Don’t worry about protein. There are tons of vegetarian sources of protein — beans, legumes, greens — to make sure you are getting adequate levels, but you should be aware that some studies have linked high levels of protein with increased risk of cancer. We really don’t need nearly as much protein as we’ve been told. (Many advertising dollars have been spent trying to scare you into over-purchasing meat products.) Women need about 45 grams per day, and men need about 55 grams per day; a cup of tofu has nearly 20 grams of protein, just to put this in perspective. For some more in-depth information on this topic, check out the following movies: “Food Inc.,” “Eating” and “Forks Over Knives.”
• Long live good fats! Though you’ll be cutting down on unhealthy, saturated animal fats as you include less and less meat in your diet, you will want to consider adding back some delicious, health-promoting omega fats. Omega fats are essential for human health, and our body cannot produce them, so we have to get them in our foods. Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are great sources for pescatarians, but there are plenty of vegetarian sources, too, such as nuts and olive oil. If you’ve been watching ABC’s “The Chew,” you probably know by now that I am a huge proponent of coconut oil; I replace butter with it all the time — on my toast, in baked goods, for sauteing. I even use a separate jar of the same stuff to take off my makeup at night! It’s a wonderful source of the healthy omega fats that are so important for keeping hair, skin and nails moisturized and joints lubricated and promoting healthy brain function and preventing heart disease. Not to mention, healthy fats in our diet help us feel full for longer.
So go ahead and dip a toe in! Who knows, you might love it. — CNS