Go Vegetarian!

October is Vegetarianism Awareness Month - which celebrates the 2.3 percent of Americans 18 and older who avoid meat, fish and poultry in their daily diets. Thinking about going meat-free? Here's more about eating a vegetarian diet and tips to go meatless.

Woman Making Vegeterian Lasagna

The future of vegetarians

With soy milk sprouting up next to cow's milk in the dairy section of the grocery store and veggie burgers being served at fast-food joints, it's clear that vegetarianism has entered into the mainstream.

According to a poll by Time magazine, some 10 million Americans today consider themselves to be practicing vegetarians, while an additional 20 million have flirted with vegetarianism at some point. High school and college students, in particular, are leading the trend. Surveys show that more and more schools and universities now offer non-meat alternatives as main courses for vegetarian co-eds.

Penn State, for example, features at least one vegetarian soup and entree in all of its dining halls daily, while students at Binghamton University in upstate New York run a food co-op, which sells healthy vegan and vegetarian food and cooking ingredients. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) even sponsors a "World's Cutest Vegetarian Kid" contest for those non-meat eaters 10 years old and under.

Reasons to eat vegetarian

Need a reason to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle? Just ask one of the finalists in PETA's aforementioned contest: "It's good for animals, and it's good for you!," says five-year-old Marley-Anne.

While the choice to become a vegetarian is always a personal one, many who chose the lifestyle — like Marley-Anne — are animal-rights advocates. Others are more persuaded by the health benefits a meatless diet brings. Vegetarians have much lower cholesterol levels and a lower incidence of heart disease than meat-eaters. Additionally, eating a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other low-fat vegetarian foods may help lower your risk of developing breast cancer and other chronic diseases.

Tips to become a vegetarian

If you're considering a switch to vegetarianism, take note of these tips, as recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Pump up your protein. Build meals around protein sources that are naturally low in fat, such as beans, lentils and rice. Don't overload meals with high-fat cheeses to replace the meat.

Jump for soy. Calcium-fortified soy-based beverages can provide calcium in amounts similar to milk. They are usually low in fat and do not contain cholesterol. You can also try try soy-based sausage patties or links.

Make simple substitutions. Many foods that typically contain meat or poultry can be made vegetarian. This will increase your vegetable intake as well as cut your saturated fat and cholesterol intake. A variety of vegetarian products look (and may taste) like their non-vegetarian counterparts, but are usually lower in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. Try adding vegetarian meat substitutes to soups and stews to boost protein without adding saturated fat or cholesterol or making bean burgers, lentil burgers, or pita halves filled with falafel.

More vegetarian fare

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