Being a vegetarian worth the effort

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    I am a vegetarian.

    No, I am not a super activist for animal rights, saving the rainforest or wearing only vegan shoes, though those are important issues. And no, I will not roll my eyes or give looks of disgust if someone around me orders a juicy steak.

    Many people are quick to stereotype vegetarianism as something as strange as being from Mars. I do care for our Earth, and since we only have one, we should protect it and all of the wildlife that populates it.

    But I chose to be a vegetarian just for the health of it.

    The American Dietetic Association affirms that a well-planned vegetarian diet is nutritionally adequate and provides health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Furthermore, vegetarians typically consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and more fiber, folic acid and antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, because the diet is rich in fruits and vegetables.

    The American Cancer Society notes that studies have shown that vegetarian diets have been linked with a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and colon cancer. In fact, the American Dietetic Association reports that a review of five studies involving more than 76,000 subjects showed that death from coronary artery disease was 31 percent lower in vegetarian males and 20 percent lower in vegetarian females when compared with non-vegetarians.

    Beyond these wonderful health benefits, since I made the pledge to go vegetarian, I feel as though I have embarked upon a culinary adventure.

    Many meals can be converted to vegetarian-friendly meals, as suggested by an article on Mayoclinic.com, by using meat replacers, soy products, tofu, beans or just by simply adding more vegetables. Additionally, many ethnic cuisines offer a plethora of flavorful options for non-meat eaters.

    Tryveg.com suggests visiting Indian, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai restaurants to experience some delicious vegetarian dishes. With options such as hummus, red coconut curry, pad thai, vegetable korma and chickpea vindaloo, I never suffer from food boredom. The spices, aromas and textures entice me to step into an exciting world of discovery.

    The feasibility of testing the waters of a vegetarian lifestyle has increased with the rise in availability of vegetarian products in grocery stores and restaurants.

    The Research and Markets Web site explains that the market for vegetarian foods had a 64 percent increase from 2000 to 2005, with a reported sales of $1.2 billion in 2005. The National Restaurant Association reports that eight out of 10 restaurants in the United States with table service offer a vegetarian entree.

    Even though, as mentioned in the article “Vegans Have it Rough in Cowtown,” there are few strictly vegan restaurants in Fort Worth, many offer vegetarian options. Also, most restaurants will alter menu items to fulfill customers’ needs. Spiral Diner is a favorite of mine, but I also enjoy Central Market, Pei Wei, Yum Yums, Baker Brothers Deli, Sammy’s Diner and several other ethnic restaurants in the area.

    Perhaps now the concept of vegetarianism does not seem so foreign. If you think you may be interested in health improvement and exciting food experimentation, try having a “meatless Monday” or be adventurous the next time you go out for Chinese.

    Kristina Keilson is a senior nutrition major from The Woodlands.