No Meat March: Try eating something green

Noor Ashouri

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Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker

Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker

While for many students this may be just another month of the school year to trudge through, for others it’s a challenge in the form of No Meat March.

No Meat March is an annual event hosted by The Girls Gone Green of Jacksonville. People can sign up for a 31-day challenge to be meat-free.

When it comes to meat, there seem to be conflicting views. You may have heard that a vegetarian diet doesn’t contain enough protein. Recently, vegetarianism has gained attention with studies suggesting that a plant-based diet can give you all the nutrients you need.

Nutrition-wise, there can be no clear answer as to which lifestyle is “better for you.” Candy, pizza and french fries are all vegetarian foods but they are universally known as unhealthy. A healthy vegetarian diet entails planning: Find out which nutrients are most prevalent in meat and find substitutes that can still give you all the necessary nutrients. Appropriately planned, a vegetarian diet can help contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

What’s your Body Mass Index? A study done by the University of Oxford suggests that vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index than meat eaters. BMI is a measurement of weight and height to determine body fat. A lower BMI suggests lower body fat.

Do vegetarians live longer? According to the CDC, the average lifespan of an American is 78.7 years. A study done by Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health showed vegetarian men living to an average of 83.3 years and vegetarian woman living to 85.7 on average. But consider the leading cause of death in the United States: heart disease. The risk factors for heart disease include smoking, sedentary lifestyles and an unhealthy diet. One of the advantages of a vegetarian diet is you are are less likely to pick up such habits, according to Harvard Health Publications. It is hard to say whether a vegetarian diet or a combination of these factors is the reason vegetarians tend to have lower cases of chronic diseases such as heart disease.

Nutrients to pay special attention to when going vegetarian:

Protein:
Women should eat about 46 grams of protein daily, men around 56, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. A study done by Door to Door Organics showed that Americans, on average, eat about two times more protein than recommended just from meat alone. While we tend to base our protein intake on meat, it can also be found in beans, which contain roughly 12-14 grams per cooked cup. Nuts can also go toward your quota of protein providing 9-21 grams per cup. Slurp down a cup of milk and get 8 grams of protein.

Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker

Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker

Vitamin B-12
Another nutrient commonly found in meat, vitamin B-12 can be found in dairy products like milk or cheese. If you’re choosing to go big and skip dairy products, get the vitamin from fortified cereals.  Fortification is the process of adding vitamins and minerals to a food. This may be done to increase its nutritional benefits or to help reduce the number of deficiencies of a certain nutrient in a population. Fortified cereals include MultiGrain Cheerios, General Mills Wheaties and Kelloggs Frosted Flakes.

Omega 3 Fatty Acid
Most often found in fish, one of the most common substitutes for this nutrient in a vegetarian diet are fish oil supplements. This is a sufficient source, but keep in mind that vitamins are absorbed better from food than supplements. Vegetarians can turn to dairy products such as milk and cheese for this nutrient. Non-dairy options include cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and flaxseed oil.

No Meat March wouldn’t be the first time we’ve tried to cut back on meat. Ever heard of meatless mondays? The key to a plant-based diet is recognizing that a vegetarian food is not necessarily synonymous with healthy. Plan your vegetarian diet according to the nutrients you need and perhaps you’ll find more than just a few benefits to a plant-based diet.

 

Vegetarian diets tend to be:

Higher in:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Folic Acid
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Phytochemicals

Lower in:

  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Saturated Fat
  • Cholesterol