Should You Be a Vegetarian?

The payoffs and pitfalls of going meatless.

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
4-minute read
Episode #18

And, because it exists to satisfy your every desire, commerce has risen to the challenge. Twenty years ago, if you wanted rice milk or vegan mayonnaise, you had to shop in a grubby health food coop reeking of patchouli and bulk granola. Today, you can walk into any gas station convenience store and find soy creamer for your coffee.

But here’s the problem: The more mainstream vegetarianism gets, the less healthy it seems to become. The typical vegan or vegetarian diet used to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes, and less sugar, salt, and saturated fat than the typical omnivore’s fare.

Today’s vegan, however, can easily get through the entire day without coming close to a fresh vegetable. You can fill your cart with vegan frozen pizzas, burritos, and waffles; fake bacon, sausage, and hot dogs; cookies, cakes, and doughnuts; chips, dips, crackers and fake cheese; and breakfast cereals that make Cap’n Crunch look virtuous—without venturing beyond a mainstream grocery store.

I think this is leading some of us to develop a false sense of security. We think that if we’re eating only or mostly vegetarian or vegan products, our diet is automatically going to be healthier. Obviously, a diet of vegan junk food isn’t going to be any better for you than a diet of regular junk food.

Vegetarianism Is as Vegetarianism Does

So here’s my answer: A meat-free diet is not automatically a healthy diet. And, to be fair, a diet containing meat is not necessarily unhealthy. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a meat-eater, your diet will only be as healthy as you make it. And the rules are basically the same for everyone.

Here they are: 

  1. Don’t eat too much. No matter what kind of foods you do or don’t eat, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight.

  2. Eat a balanced and varied diet that meets your nutritional needs. The food pyramid promoted by the USDA is a simple way to be sure you’ve got your bases covered. I did an episode on this a while back, which you can find on the show’s webpage. (https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/healthy-eating/keep-your-diet-on-track )

  3. Eat your fruits and vegetables.

  4. Limit your consumption of processed foods, which tend to be high in sugar and salt.