Major Changes: Switching to a Vegetarian Lifestyle


Pasta Primavera: A nutritious and delicious vegetarian dish.

Maria Garbin, Staff Writer

     Making a major change isn’t something that happens from day to night. The first way to start is by deciding how to proceed and making small changes, until one day the major objective is achieved. And this is no different if you’re looking to become a vegetarian.

     Aside from religious beliefs, ethical motivations or personal preferences, there are also some other reasons as to why one should consider becoming a vegetarian. 


     Health Impacts of Becoming A Vegetarian

     Science teacher Emily Lockhart explains that a grain-fed animal, which is fed the typical American cattle diet of corn or soy, is fatter and, in her opinion, sicker. “The meat from grass-fed cows is leaner, contains higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids (a healthy fat), and has more fat-soluble vitamins. Conversely, a grain-fed animal is going to have more fat; that provides less nutrient density.”

     According to the US National Library of Medicine, plant-based diets lower the risk of blocked arteries by 91%, and actually 60% of people who consume plant-based proteins have healthier heart arteries compared to meat-based protein consumers. 

     A research project undertaken at the Massachusetts General Hospital, which monitored the health and diet records of over 130,000 people over thirty years, found that every 3% increase in calories from plant protein reduced risk of death by 10%, and risk of dying from heart disease by 12%.


     Environmental Impacts of Becoming A Vegetarian

     Greenhouse gases absorb outgoing infrared radiation from Earth, and just as a greenhouse, warms the planet. Naturally occurring greenhouse gases (primarily water vapor and carbon dioxide) make the planet habitable for life, but anthropogenic greenhouse gases, which are the ones to be focused on here, contribute to the warming of the world, also known as global warming.

     In the United Nations’ 2006 report, it is said that livestock generate more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. It is known that most of it comes from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide gases generated by manure. 

     More simply, “Instead of being a part of a healthy ecosystem, feedlot animals only have a negative impact on the environment. All cattle produce methane gas which contributes to the greenhouse effect and climate change,” explains Lockhart.


     How to Start

     Since there are many types of vegetarian diets, it may be best to start with a less restrictive version. Also, there are many plant-based ingredients that can substitute the meat-based ones, so an important step is to figure out what your personal preferences are.

     The first thing to have in mind when switching to a vegetarian diet is that sudden changes should be avoided. Dietitian Dr. Melissa Mitri says, “It takes time for your body to adjust to new foods and new habits. If you want to change or make improvements in your diet, take it one step at a time. Small changes will enable you to build the new diet into your lifestyle so you are more likely to stick with it.”.

     Mitri explains that when transitioning to a vegetarian diet, there are important nutrients that should be monitored. “The first is iron, as it is found in more animal products. If you decide not to eat animal products, then focus on getting more iron-containing foods,” such as beans, lentils, leafy greens, or iron-fortified cereal. “Vitamin B12 is another nutrient to pay attention to, as it’s typically only found in animal products. If you are consuming very little animal products, I would recommend a B-12 supplement.”

     An extremely restrictive diet can result in feeling hungry or deprived. Culinary teacher Miss Randy Colin explains, “Often, it will have an impact on a person emotionally, physically and mentally. If a diet is too restrictive, such as reducing nutrient dense foods, or strictly adhering to specific foods everyday, I don’t feel it’s an eating plan to improve your health.”

     According to the Vegetarian Society, there is more to becoming a vegetarian than just not eating meat, but there is no need to worry about that initially, just finding out preferences and taking a step into it is already a good start. 


     Vegetarian Dishes to Try

     Even though it might be a challenging change, there are various options to try and start with.“I love a good lentil chili,” says Dr. Melissa Mitri. “Some other delicious vegetarian meals are black bean quesadillas, homemade veggie burgers, or a quick stir-fry with shrimp or edamame.”

     Culinary teacher Mrs. Bernadette Sobel shares a Pasta Primavera recipe: In a frying pan stir fry in olive oil, peppers, garlic, onions and any other veggie. Add oregano and any seasonings of choice. When they are getting tender, add things such as mushrooms, squash and beans of choice. Then just simply sauté all, add cheese, and stir in a cooked pasta to have a fabulous dish. She adds that this is “a great substitute for meat or chicken. This is a very versatile, nutritious dish and you can use any veggies you like.”


     Tips from Other Vegetarians

     For whomever is trying to start on this new lifestyle, it is always good to hear a word of support from others. David Bilmes states, “I would encourage them [people who want to become vegetarian] to give it a try, regardless of whether they are doing it for ethical or dietary reasons.”

     “Don’t be hard on yourself.  Learn to love and not love foods (and be ok with that) and explore what works for you,” explains Jessica Belin, ”Fake meats/meat alternatives aren’t necessarily healthier alternatives; do your research.”

     Paul Valleau advises, “Just start one meal at a time, it might shock you how little you miss meat products. You may even find that you don’t.”