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How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian

What are the pros and cons of becoming a vegetarian? If you have considered becoming or are already a vegetarian, are you receiving the appropriate amounts of nutrients in your diet?  What supplements should you take? Join House Call Doctor as she reviews crucial tips on how to be a healthy vegetarian and avoid any medical pitfalls.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
September 29, 2016
Episode #223

Page 1 of 3

When I told my parents I was going vegetarian in my last year of high school, they thought I was crazy. No one had ever been a vegetarian in my family. In fact, my parents had never even known a vegetarian. 

Needless to say, they didn’t quite take me seriously initially. With my mom being the chef of the household, despite my continued veggie persistence, I’d often appallingly discover a piece of meat or chicken in my food, which brought a very speedy end to mealtimes for me.

“You need the protein!” my mom would say.

“It’s just one little piece.”

“I thought I separated it all out.”

I eventually boycotted almost everything she made. Now, I feel some guilt over causing her any stress. It wasn't her responsibility to become a short-order cook and cater to each of our food whims.

But because of my persistence, she eventually realized that I was serious about vegetarianism and gave up trying to “trick me.” 

Now, I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. At the time I initially gave up meat/chicken/seafood products, it was not a popular choice.  As a result, I would frequently be questioned (and not just by mom, but seemingly everyone I dined with):

“Why are you a vegetarian?”

“Don’t you crave meat? I could never do it.”

“You still eat fish, though, right?”

However, I have seen patients converting to a vegetarian diet throughout the years for more than a number of reasons:

1. Animal rights

2. Improved heart health

3. Religion

4. Undesirable taste and/or texture

5. How the food is produced (this is one of the most common reasons)

6. The thought of what they are eating

For me, it was initially due to a combination of number 4 and 6. It all began when my eldest sister would refuse to eat seafood or red meat. “Ew, this is disgusting” is a sentence I heard almost every day in our house. I now simply do not enjoy the taste, nor the thought of what it is that I'm consuming. But it doesn't bother me to see others consume meat. In fact, I even prepare and feed my own kiddos with it.

Living in California, I was lucky. Eating out is not a challenge. Most restaurants already cater to vegetarians because of an ever-growing plant-food lover population now. But after having moved back to the East Coast for medical school, I realized that it was still a foreign concept there. I was much more restricted when eating out.

For whatever reason it may be, however, we are now seeing a surge of vegetarians everywhere in our advanced society. Foods and supermarkets are dramatically increasing their supply of foods catered towards vegetarians. More restaurants are catering to vegetarians with special meal options.

Now as a physician, do I recommend a vegetarian diet to my patients?  No, I don’t think it is right for everyone and never initially suggest it. But if someone has already made that decision, then I just think it’s essential that they are supported, and informed as to how to be a healthy vegetarian and avoid any medical pitfalls.

It’s an achievable diet, but one with some health risks if the patient is not educated on how to devise a well-planned and nutritionally adequate diet.  So, how can you be a healthy vegetarian?

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