By: Allison Mizzi/SHEC

Does one of your New Year’s resolutions include an attempt at becoming vegetarian or vegan? This lifestyle has many potential benefits, but the change requires reflection and careful consideration of your nutrition-related needs. There are many types of vegetarians or vegans. These include lacto-vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, lacto-ovo-vegetarians, pescetarians, vegans, strict vegans, or anything in between. You may identify with one of these labels and enjoy finding a community of others that share it. However, you don’t have to define yourself or how you eat; your relationship with food is yours, and that can change over time.

People often choose a plant-based diet for health-related purposes. Many vegetarian options tend to contain lower fat and cholesterol, and are associated with lower incidence of chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. They also contain more fiber and antioxidants, which promote digestive and cognitive health.

Others argue that vegetarian nutrition lessons strain on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, chemical and animal wastes are the major sources of pollution in rivers and streams. Others feel that meat and animal products are unethical and thus their diet represents a stand against the use of animals as food. Others choose plant nutrition for religious, cultural and spiritual reasons.

There may be people who disagree with or stereotype you for your chosen diet. Luckily, McMaster is a very vegetarian-accessible and inclusive university: McMaster was voted Canada’s most vegan-friendly university in 2013. Bridges Café, McMaster’s all vegetarian restaurant, provides a plethora of veggie-friendly meals, and Hospitality Services has expanded their range of vegetarian meals and snacks across campus eateries.

It is important to replace meat with nutritionally equivalent alternatives. As a major source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, eliminating meat without replacing it with plant-based options may lead to protein and nutrient deficiencies. Luckily, there are several nutrition and delicious vegetarian protein sources to fill up with. These include tofu, tempeh, beans, seitan, eggs, milk and milk alternatives like soy and rice milk, high protein grains like quinoa, wild rice and amaranth, lentils, edamame, protein powders and nutritional yeast. It’s helpful to make a conscious effort to include protein with each meal and snack you eat throughout the day, paired with healthy portions of carbohydrates, to set you up for a balanced and healthy vegetarian diet.

In the initial transition, it might be particularly beneficial to connect with others, for support and to gain insight into their tips and tricks. Be prepared for some trial and error, and listen to your bodily needs.

Photo Credit: Bettaveg

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