Celebrating vegetarians and vegans: challenges, weddings and festivals

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Five days of foreign diets

Six teams of Cornell University dining staff members embarked on a five-day challenge last week to try a new, restrictive diet, and they blogged about their experiences. The goal was to put themselves in the shoes of students adhering to those diets in the dining halls, and, based on the results, change the way they cater to those students’ lifestyles.

Meatless marriages

The Huffington Post reported the recent increase in vegan weddings and shared advice to those throwing or attending a meat-free reception. A couple of hints: make sure the caterer has experience with vegan cuisines, be willing to debunk myths for guests, and make sure what’s in the details match personal beliefs. (And don’t forget the cake.)

Fried (faux) meat in the Big Apple

The NYC Vegetarian Food Festival was last weekend, and NYT Village Voice blogger, Kansas City native and vegan Chris Packham dove head-first into the action, which he said were mostly people waiting in lines for food. In his comical recap, he wrote about trying samples a few local New York vegan and vegetarian eateries and meeting a fellow non-meat eater who’s been following the diet for 50 years.

Photo: By wetwebwork [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Better Blood: Why is a Vegetarian Diet a Better Alternative to Medication?

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The College Veggie: A scientific meta-analysis found vegetarians and vegans have lower blood pressure. Kelsey Fortin, a peer health educator at the University of Kansas, said the difference between two kinds of fat is at the core of the results.

Kelsey Fortin: Your body needs fat for essential everyday functions, but it needs the good fat, not the bad fat. When we’re looking at nuts and beans and those products, the fat content in there, we’re looking at unsaturated fats, so those are going to be the fats that are good for you and essential for body function. When we’re looking at the fats that are in meat products, we’re looking at saturated fats or trans fats. Trans fats, what they do is lower your good cholesterol level while simultaneously increasing your bad cholesterol level, so it’s kind of a double whammy.

TCV: Popular high-protein diets have two downfalls: more saturated fat and more sodium.

KF: We found that a lot of Americans consume way too much protein, especially through animal products, and so not are they only getting over their allotted amount of protein, they’re also, then in turn, getting over their amount of fat. It also has a higher sodium content as well. Both of those — fat and sodium — are going to contribute to any clogging of the arteries, which in turn is going to heighten your blood pressure.

TCV: A vegetarian diet is a natural and better financial alternative to using medications to combat high blood pressure.

KF: I don’t know anyone who would want to be on medications for all of their life. Not only is it kind of strenuous in thinking that you’re going to have to pay for that, and you’re going to have to be conscious of taking that every day, but also it’s going to be hard on your body, you’re going to have to be processing that medication every day. A lot of doctors have actually been able to reverse the effects of these diseases by getting people off of their medication by switching them to a fully plant-based diet. Not only are you going to reap the benefits financially, your body’s going to feel better, but you’re also doing it the more natural way. You’re also combating that disease before you even get it.

TCV: This has been Emma LeGault with The College Veggie.

Vegetarian superheroes this week: human blood, livestock farmers and Chipotle

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And the best blood award goes to…

…vegetarians, apparently. Those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet have significantly lower blood pressure levels than carnivores, according to a meta-analysis published earlier this week. A lower blood pressure correlates with lower weight and fewer health concerns, like cholesterol levels. Researchers aren’t certain, but there are three key factors in the blood pressure argument: consuming more potassium from plant-based foods and less saturated animal fats, and having a more active lifestyle.

Farmers and vegetarians: unite!

To prevent global warming from becoming worse and keep up with the rising demand for meat, the answer isn’t eating less meat: it’s changing the animals’ diets. When more land area is added to the 30 percent already used for the world’s supply of livestock, greenhouse gases are released. There are even more emissions if those animals are fed grass, like most of the developing world’s meat supply. To reduce the emissions and improve efficiency, a new analysis says farmers must start feeding their animals grain.

Chipotle goes vegan (or, what’s a Sofrita?)

Chipotles across the country will soon be adding a new vegan option to the menu: shredded tofu. The Sofrita’s protein source organic, sustainably grown, soy-based, GMO-free and tasty, made with roasted poblano peppers, chiles and spices. Chipotle culinary manager Nate Appleman said he thinks it might even shift meat-eaters away from the chicken and steak options on the menu and reduce meat consumption throughout the brand. Currently, Sofritas can be found in 16 states and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Image courtesy of User:Proshob on Wikimedia Commons.

Vegetarian myths debunked

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Sierra Upton loves animals, but never considered eliminating them from her diet. That is, until Upton started high school — her sister became a vegetarian and pressured her to do the same.

“She showed me the typical PETA videos where animals are being tortured, and immediately I thought it was horrific,” Upton said. “There was no way I said I could support something like that.”

As a vegetarian on a midwestern college campus where “Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wraps” are more common than salads, Upton hears misconceptions about vegetarians and vegans all the time.

A few of these myths have truth to them, but a greater number are false. Here are four misconceptions and the truth about them:

1. Vegan is just a fancy word for vegetarian. 

There are actually different levels of vegetarian diets, each with it’s own set of rules. Amy Kennett, a graduate research assistant in the University of Kansas Medical Center dietetics and nutrition program, said four types are most common:

Pescetarian:  Pescetarians eat fish, dairy and eggs, but not red meat or poultry. It’s the least restrictive diet.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: “The traditional vegetarian diet” allows dairy and egg products, but doesn’t include any meat and fish.

Lacto-vegetarian: These vegetarians are a step up from their lacto-ovo counterparts, and the closest to vegans. They eat dairy products, but no meat or eggs.

Vegan: Vegans don’t consume any animal products (meat, fish dairy, eggs and gelatin) and some avoid using animal-based products like cashmere, lip balm or wool. 

In high school, Upton’s mom stopped cooking meat, and her family became pescetarians. But as Upton sat down to meals with salmon and shrimp on her plate, she started to consider what it would be like to become a vegetarian.

“I decided, maybe a year after we made the decision to become pescetarian that eating fish wasn’t any different than eating beef, so I decided to become full vegetarian,” she said.

There’s only one thing holding her back from becoming a vegan.

“It will be really hard because I love cheese,” Upton said. “That is my weakness, and I have yet to find good vegan cheese.”

2. Vegetarians don’t eat protein. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends women and men 19- to 30-years-old eat five-and-a-half and six-and-a-half ounces of protein foods per day.

Nine amino acids essential for life are typically found in meat, but are not in plant protein sources. Experts once told vegetarians to eat “complement proteins” like rice and beans at every meal.

“It used to be the thought in the nutrition world what in order to maintain a healthful diet a person would need to eat a source of each essential protein at a meal,” Kennett said. “It is now known that as long as you eat the essential amino acids throughout the day you can maintain a healthful diet.”

It’s Upton’s biggest pet peeve when people question her protein intake, which she supplements with soy chicken and meatless hamburgers.

“I think everyone thinks that I don’t get any protein at all, so I’m completely unhealthy, or I’m going to die in, like, five years or something,” she said. “I didn’t become vegetarian for health reasons, but I do think it is healthier if you do it right. I think eating meat, the way that at least Americans eat meat is extremely unhealthy.”

3. Vegetarians are healthier than non-vegetarians.

This is partially true. In a 2009 study by the American Diabetes Association, researchers found people who adhered to a vegan diet had a lower BMI compared to other types of vegetarian diets. Non-vegetarians had the highest BMI of all diets.

Vegans also had the lowest prevalence of Type 2 diabetes at 2.9 percent, compared to the non-vegetarians at 7.6 percent.

Several studies backed up the USDA’s claim in its Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 that “vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes—lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality.”

There are some diet downsides, as well. Vegetarians sometimes have low levels of vitamin B12, which contributes to nerve and blood cell health, is typically found in meat products. Vegetarians must also keep a close watch on their iron, calcium, vitamin D and zinc levels.

Diet habits aside, Kennett said vegetarians aren’t automatically leaner than non-vegetarians.

“A vegetarian diet that includes of a wide range of protein sources, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is probably healthier than the traditional American diet,” she said. “However, it is important to remember that there are no bad foods and no good foods, but there are good diets and bad diets.”

4. It costs more to be a vegetarian.

A pack of non-organic strawberries at Dillons costs $2.99, compared to its organic counterpart at $4.99. However, a pound of beef costs anywhere from $4.49 to $7.99.

It’s not a huge difference, but it can add up. Over the course of a year, that pound of beef each week would cost about $325, whereas a pack of organic strawberries each week would ring in at $260, a savings of $65.

Upton thinks the higher price is worth the health benefits.

“Healthier foods definitely cost more,” Upton said. “At the same time, you’re paying that price for healthier foods, but you’re also not giving money toward meat, which I think is way overpriced anyway.”

Sierra Upton shares her thoughts about myths she’s encountered:

Find the transcript here.

Image credit Skånska Matupplevelser http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode

Fish, friends and fake food

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Something’s fishy

Over-fished oceans are leading to an increase in fish farms: places where fish, like salmon or trout, are bred to stock grocery shelves, pet stores or anglers’ tackle boxes. However, it can take up to three pounds of wild fish (anchovies and sardines, for example) to feed one pound of farm-raised fish, which means draining the sea of these limited resources. New USDA research says it’s possible to raise these farmed fish on vegetarian diets, saving money and the “fishmeal” population.

Give us our veggies 

At Princeton University, students have almost filled a petition to bring a new vegetarian co-op to campus. As of Feb. 19, only 10 signatures were needed. The new co-op would stand among the current three vegetarian ones,  which are each filled to capacity or wait-listed this spring spring. The four campus co-ops are alternative dining methods for undergraduate students at Princeton, designed in part to promote a sense of community.

“Fake-con” and eggs

A Californian start-up company wants to “replace all factory-farmed eggs in the US market – more than 80 [billion] eggs, valued at $213.7 [billion]” according to a Feb. 14 article in The Guardian. Beyond Eggs is a part of the growing, vegetarian-friendly fake-food industry in the heart of the Silicon Valley thats gaining financial support from corporate giants, like Bill Gates.

Eat like an Olympian (or Béyonce) and still stay inside pyramid lines

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How do Olympians like Hannah Teter, Bode Miller and Jamie Anderson maintain their rigorous schedules while also keeping their bodies toned and lean? Some of them go vegetarian. Without the bulk of meat weighing them down, they’re able to perform in high-intensity activities, “feel renewed” and bring home a gold medal (like Jamie Anderson did on Feb. 9).

It’s not just Olympians, though—superstar Béyonce made headlines by going vegan for 22 days in December with her husband Jay Z. However, she hasn’t called it quits yet—her trainer revealed she’s sticking to a plant-based diet and still finding time and energy to get in a gym session with Jay.

A plant-based pyramid is the latest innovation from Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition organization. It rolled out the new Vegetarian and Vegan Diet Pyramid to supplement the current “MyPlate” and traditional food pyramid options. The guidelines are designed to expand knowledge of food options and supplement a few key nutrients often overlooked in a vegetarian or vegan diet.