Monday, October 12, 2009

Vegan or Vegetarian?

Many people claim to be vegetarians but statistics show there aren’t that many around. What is a vegetarian?

It depends on what you eat and exclude from your diet. I’ve had many people tell me they’re vegetarians, but eat fish and chicken, and sometimes meat. To me, that’s someone who doesn’t eat much meat. You don’t have to be too concerned about lacking any nutrients in that case.

I’ve had other “vegetarians” who could set themselves up with a lack of nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12. Some vegetarians assume that if they do not eat meat, they can eat donuts and chips instead. No! A vegetarian diet has to have more whole grains, beans, cereals, fruits and vegetables to get the same amount of nutrients as people who do eat meat, fish, chicken, milk and eggs. So, increasing your vegetable consumption is important, but don’t replace meat with poor-quality high-fat/high-salt/high-sugar foods.

To help you understand the different definitions, here are a few examples based on the foods you eat:
Vegan: fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds; no animal products at all, not even butter
Lacto-vegetarian: vegan plus dairy products
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: lacto-vegetarian plus eggs
Lacto-ovo-pecce vegetarian: the one above with fish

I eat everything and LOVE to eat. My greatest joy is overindulging in rich soup, filet mignon, fries and chocolate cake. However, after that I eat only low-calorie, high-fiber, vegan-type meals for a few days to stay in good health.

As a child in South Africa, our family would go searching for the lost city of the Kalahari Desert every year. There were no roads so we used a compass to find our way and had a permit to shoot one buck a week “for the pot.” My father would shoot a buck and my twin-sister and I would have to take off the skin, crying as we looked into the eyes of the buck. Yet, it didn’t stop us from eating a hearty stew afterwards. This is how the Bushmen lived and that was how we survived. I was recently at a book signing when a very angry person came up to me and said, “I can’t believe you’re a nutritionist and eat meat.” I said, “If you were a happy person, you could sell me on the vegetarian diet, but you are miserable.” His companion said “Well, how would you like to go to barbecues, where the vegetables are grilled after the meat, and you cannot eat anything. Wouldn’t you also be miserable?” She had a point. If you want to follow a certain lifestyle, you owe it to your host to tell them beforehand, or you need to carry your food around with you. It’s your choice.

Just be sure you plan your food intake so you eat well, and enjoy your food.