October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, a national celebration created to help us consider what it means to eat lots of plants and move meat away from the center of our plates. Need some help to appreciate all the buzz?
Here are 10 ways to check in with all things vegetarian or vegan. As you tick through our list, keep in mind that a growing number of doctors and other health professionals urge us to embrace the nutritious and delicious world of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans, and legumes as all we need for a healthy and sustainable diet.
1. Look to History. Plant-based diets aren’t fads, despite the fact that current celebrities who eschew meat often get recognized by the media. Plant foods play a leading role in traditional diets around the world. Great thinkers including Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi, Ovid, Socrates, Plato, and Virgil extolled the wisdom of vegetarian diets and left behind some elegant musings on the topic.
2. Connect Your Health to Your Diet. According to science-based research, adopting a plant-based diet can help boost your energy level and may reduce your chance of developing chronic illness. In the journal Circulation, Dariush Mozaﬀarian, MD, DrPH and Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, points to research showing that poor nutrition is the leading cause of poor health: “Evidence-informed dietary priorities include increased fruits, nonstarchy vegetables, nuts, legumes, ﬁsh, vegetable oils, yogurt, and minimally processed whole grains; and fewer red meats, processed (e.g., sodium-preserved) meats, and foods rich in reﬁned grains, starch, added sugars, salt, and trans fat.”
3. Consider Your Options. There are several ways to focus on increasing the number and amount of plant foods you eat every day. Try one this month.
- Semi-Vegetarian or Flexitarian: Includes dairy foods, eggs, and small amounts of meat, poultry, ﬁsh, and seafood.
- Pescatarian: Includes dairy foods, eggs, ﬁsh, and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
- Vegetarian (also known as Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian): Includes dairy foods and eggs, but no meat, poultry, ﬁsh, or seafood.
- Vegan: Includes no animal foods.
4. Understand Protein. “But what about protein?” is a common concern among people who think about plant-based diets. Have no fear. Guess what an elephant eats: nothing but plants! Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and many vegetables supply protein. Visit the Oldways Vegetarian Network’s list of protein plant foods for tips on how to ﬁgure out your daily protein needs.
5. Go Shopping. Explore the produce section of your largest supermarket to discover innovations including purple carrots and kid-sized cukes. Look for ways your retailer makes it easier than ever to put plants on your plate, from cut up fruit bowls to spiralized veggies. And check out new plant-based milks, yogurts, and cheeses that can support a healthier diet. Stop by your local farmer’s market, too.
6. Look at Cookbooks. Search for vegetarian/vegan cookbooks online and in your local bookstores. You may be surprised to see the wide range of new titles that have been written to help people learn new techniques and discover the tantalizing world of plant foods and how to use them to support traditional diets. For a month’s worth of simple but delicious menus, order a copy of The Oldways 4-Week Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Menu Plan.
7. Put Plants on Your Plate. Get cooking! Make a simple stir fry, or toss some sautéed veggies with your favorite pasta. Or visit our selection of easy recipes to help you include fresh veggies in daily meals.
8. Order a Meatless Meal. Look over the menus at your local restaurants and pick one that oﬀers a vegetarian or vegan meal. Give it a try. Plant-based choices are popping up everywhere.
9. Dress Your Child as a Vegetable for Halloween. Pumpkins get their due in October, and it’s easy to ﬁnd them featured as costumes. But as this Pinterest display shows, that’s just the beginning.
10. Take the Veg Challenge! Sharon Palmer, consulting dietitian for Oldways Vegetarian Network, oﬀers a multi-step challenge to help you experiment with a plant-based diet for a week, two weeks, or the whole month.
Georgia Orcutt, Coordinator, Supermarket RD Symposium and Oldways Vegetarian Network