Exploring vegetarian, gluten-free options

This article was originally published in The Times Herald Record on December 1, 2010.  Link to original article here.

First, Chelsea had a gluten free vegan wedding, and now Bill Clinton is touting the improved health and dramatic weight loss of his newly vegan diet.  Are the Clintons on to something? Is going gluten free and vegan the new key to health?

Probably not, for most people.  In my experience, it is extremely difficult to be healthy, long-term, on a vegan diet. It can certainly be done, but it takes time and energy to plan, shop and cook, and I’m guessing that Bill probably doesn’t do that personally.  Those of us without a staff need things simple as well as healthy!

But maybe your doctor told you to eat less red meat. Or perhaps you were inspired by a celebrity vegetarian or vegan (see list below).  Maybe you’ve been shocked by exposes on factory farming.  If so, it’s possible to make more moderate changes even if you have no interest in becoming a hard-core, full-out vegan or vegetarian.

It’s Not All or Nothing
Being a vegetarian for some meals but not all of them is a practical choice for most people. In fact, being a part-time vegetarian has become so popular, it has its own name: flexitarian.  Flexitarians eat a vegetarian diet most of the time, but not all of the time.  Many people begin with “Meatless Mondays” and then, once that has become routine and they have discovered some vegetarian recipes they like, or know the menu options at their favorite restaurants, they build from there, continuing to eliminate meat from other meals as they are inclined.

Why do it? Some people reduce or eliminate meat to improve their health: vegetarians generally have healthier hearts and lower weight.  Some make the choice for ethical reasons: they don’t feel right about eating other creatures.  Some do it to lessen their impact on the environment.  Apart from personal health, this choice might help the health of the planet. By eating less meat and decreasing our dependence on factory farming, we can have a positive impact on issues including global warming, water resources, energy and pollution.  Factory farming of animals is highly energy intensive.

What will I be missing?
Get your protein from eggs and dairy (if you’re not vegan) as well as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.  Even vegetables have some protein. A cup of broccoli has about an ounce. 3-4 ounces at a meal is plenty for most adults.  Dark leafy greens are a great source of both calcium and iron. Iron-deficiency anemia is no more common in vegetarians than the rest of us.

And now for the gluten-free part Being gluten-free is beneficial only if you’re gluten-sensitive. Thirty percent of us have that genetic predisposition.  On the other hand, reducing your grain consumption, particularly of refined and processed products, is healthy.  If you don’t want to gain weight eating less meat, make sure you don’t become over-dependent on pasta, rice, crackers and breads, not to mention cookies and cakes.  Instead, use “real” unprocessed foods like sweet potatoes, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables.

What’s a Vegan?
Someone who eats no products from animals at all.  Some – but not all – vegans exclude honey, and also avoid using any products made from animals, such as leather, wool, fur,  and some soaps, as well as products tested on animals, such as cosmetics and hair products.

What’s a Vegetarian?
A vegetarian is someone who does not eat flesh from animals or birds, such as beef, chicken and turkey, but does eat eggs and dairy, because the animals were not killed to obtain these foods.  Some vegetarians eat fish, and are called pescetarians.

Celebrity Vegans & Vegetarians

You might be surprised at the long list. It includes: Paul McCartney, Kevin Nealon, Alicia Silverstone, Carrie Underwood, Natalie Portman, Russell Brand, Tobey Maguire, Alec Baldwin, Shania Twain, Reese Witherspoon, Erykah Badu, Prince, Josh Harnett, Elle MacPherson and Christie Brinkley, to name just a few.

for more articles about gluten sensitivity, click here

for more articles mentioning vegetarianism, click here

and for a gluten-free low-glycemic vegan cake that even Chelsea would have loved, try my recipe here

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