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Hats off to my family and extended family. At least half of us have had a dedicated stint with vegetarianism with a quarter of them (yes, notice the pronoun change) being a dedicated vegetarian for their entire life. My father-in-law is 80 and has been a vegetarian since he was a kid. No religious reasons or medical reasons involved, strictly personal choices all around.
As a former vegetarian (of 15 years until my husband broke my will with homemade, bacon-wrapped, stuffed jalapenos) I can attest that the vegetarian lifestyle is not always the healthiest. Struggling to get a sufficient amount of protein and perpetually hungry, vegetarians typically don’t eat as healthy as the carnivorous majority would think.
Processed foods, especially meat and dairy products, are leading causes of many chronic diseases and health ailments.
It’s not all salads and fava beans, veggie wraps and mushroom burgers. Believe it or not, most of us don’t crave a burger so much as we crave the convenience it delivers. Being a dedicated vegetarian that eats "right" takes time, money, and willpower. It is an impossibility for your average person, with budgetary constraints and devoid of a personal chef, to eat to the ideal meal with well-balanced, nutrient-dense, unprocessed vegetarian foods. Many vegetarians consume more sugar and carbs than you would think, and we eat way more processed food than is reasonable even for a college student. Because it is easier to put a veggie burger in the microwave than it is to continuously arrange a salad; easier to order a cheese pizza than sort out how to make arugula palatable.
Vegetarianism and Culture
Travelling across and throughout the globe one finds than many cultures are actually vegetarian based. Some because of religious beliefs, many because of lack of resources (i.e. poverty and/or access to regular animal-based food sources). In fact, it has long been known that healthy longevity is reliant upon nutrient dense, plant-based diets. Processed foods, especially meat and dairy products, are leading causes of many chronic diseases and health ailments.
Setting Personal Goals
As much as I love my husband’s savory carnivorous offerings, I know in my body and mind that a primarily plant-based diet is the way to go. Yes, semantics matter: primarily vegetarian is my chosen goal. Repossess my Thanksgiving turkey, the ease of ordering when at a restaurant, and the joy of not having to always eat salad at the (insert social function here) - I’m not giving up the bacon wrapped jalapenos anytime soon. I am slowly transitioning back from the land of meat while conversely avoiding the pitfalls of convenience-based vegetarianism (i.e. meatless options that are highly processed).
The Balancing Act
For my carnivorous aging family members, I know that their dietary choices must also be improved. Our less than ideal meals counter balanced with fresh and healthy vegetarian options. The research is indisputable that those eating a plant-based, nutrient dense diet have healthier longevity than their less vegetarian inclined counterparts. No, I don't want to turn them vegetarian as well, but I would like to have our aging family members live to their longest and healthiest potential. Diet is just one of our many endeavors to influence our aging loved ones' healthy longevity!
5 Easy Vegetarian Meal Substitutions
No need to go cold (tofu) turkey when amending a diet! Simple meal substitutions can be made in any amount and in any frequency. The more meals (and the healthier the meals are) that can be substituted in the better! Healthier plant-based diet incorporations serve a dual purpose: in addition to encouraging longevity inspiring diet choices, not only are good food options added in, but less adequate food choices are substituted out! Here are 5 easy substitutions that you can make when eating out with your aging loved one to help them incorporate more vegetarian options and add healthy years to their longevity.
- 1.Deli sandwiches are easy, convenient, and very easy to amend. Simply skip the deli meat and pack the sandwich full of veggies instead. Some places may offer a meat substitution such as simulated deli meat made from soy, tempeh, or tofu. Typically, these "meatless meats" do offer additional and much needed protein but keep in mind many such products easily and commonly available are heavily processed.
- 2.Sushi is very easy to make a vegetarian substitution for, and it is delicious! Many sushi restaurants offer a variety of vegetarian options already incorporated; if ordering off menu a vegetarian request is not uncommon. In general, Asian food is a good go to when looking for vegetarian options as there are a few different Asian based religions that are primarily vegetarian. In Jainism vegetarianism is absolutely mandatory. For Hinduism and Buddhism being vegetarian is not a requirement but is strongly promoted and advocated for, hence quite commonly practiced.
- 3.Burgers are increasingly often being offered with a vegetarian substitution. Vegetarian options and meat substitutions vary widely: soy, tempeh, tofu, mushroom, quinoa, black bean (among others)! Less inspired places will happily offer a burger sans meat patty, similar to the deli subs minus deli meat. You can’t go wrong taking out a serving of processed meat and subbing in extra vegetables!
- 4.Pasta meals are easily made vegetarian. Skip the meat, whether it be a meat-based sauce or additions such as meatballs or sausage. Italian food is typically easy to opt for vegetarian from pizza, to stuffed shells to any variety of pasta dishes; it is very easy to say “Sono vegetariana,” and be graciously accommodated.
- 5.Tacos and burritos sans meat! Add in extra rice and beans and be generous with the hot sauce and you have a great vegetarian substitution! Beans are high in fiber and protein which is an added plus. Be cautious as many traditional places cook their beans in lard which unintentionally counteracts the vegetarian attempt. Conversely, many places offer a meat-simulated substitution (i.e. a ground beef crumble, usually soy based) that tastes almost as good as a “real” taco!
About the Author
Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.