According to the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), approximately 8 million Americans eat a vegetarian diet! A well planned vegetarian diet provides health benefits that may help with the prevention and treatment of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. On May 15, 2017, the University of Maryland Dietetic Interns visited VRG to learn about vegan and vegetarian diets and resources. VRG states that it “is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on vegetarianism and veganism and the interrelated issues of health, nutrition, ecology, ethics, and world hunger. In addition to publishing the Vegetarian Journal, VRG produces and sells cookbooks, other books, pamphlets, and article reprints.”
A lot of people believe it’s impossible to meet their nutrient needs without consuming animal foods; while at VRG we discussed rich vegan and vegetarian sources of calcium, iron, B12, and protein. Did you know that dark green leafy vegetables, tofu made with calcium sulfate, calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice are all rich sources of calcium? Or that dried beans and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of iron, especially if you pair them with vitamin C, such as tomatoes or citrus foods? Check out these resources if you’re curious about nutrients in a vegan or vegetarian diets. As long as you are diligent about your nutrient consumption, it is possible to receive enough nutrients from vegan or vegetarian foods.
While at VRG we were able to hear a few VRG interns share their personal stories about their decision to choose a vegan lifestyle. They mentioned that while it was difficult at first to adjust to such a different lifestyle, they have since overcome the challenges (such as peer pressure or inconvenience) and have maintained a vegan diet for years. Overall, we learned that there are five main reasons a person may choose a vegan diet:
1] Compassion for animals
3] Health benefits
5] Belief in nonviolence
To finish the afternoon, we all shared vegan dishes that were both colorful and delicious. A couple of interns made tabbouleh, while others made vegetarian salads and entrees. We finished the potluck with a large fresh fruit salad and carrots and tortilla chips with hummus and guacamole. It was extremely tasty!
While a vegan lifestyle may not be for everyone, it is a good option for some. And even if you don’t want to eat vegetarian or vegan all the time, it’s great to switch up your diet to include more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. As a future Registered Dietitian, I may counsel clients who want to adopt a vegan diet or who are vegetarian or vegan and need dietary advice for a health condition. I look forward to working with them to tailor a diet to their needs. Both eye-opening and insightful, this visit to VRG showed me a different perspective, and I am grateful for the experience!