I am a two-week old vegetarian. It has been 14 days since declaring I will eat no animal flesh in October, a 30-day exploration of the vegetarian lifestyle.
It has been an interesting and enlightening two weeks, thus far. I am seeing positive changes in day-to-day energy, sleep, bloating, and weight. And I’m fumbling a bit around the market and the kitchen as I learn new ways of preparing and eating meals.
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First, allow me to share my food documentary NetFlix binge of late. In my earnest desire to learn as much as I can about this newfangled way of eating (which actually harkens back to ancient days), I immersed myself in food films, news archives, books and research. From Forks Over Knives to What the Health and Vegucated to The China Study, my appetite for information is ravenous.
Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based this and that. Fields to farms to slaughterhouses to regulatory agencies, the documentaries alone leave me wide-eyed and, quite often, in tears. I feel an overpowering need – a tug from Mother Nature — to do more for my health and for the planet.
At nearly 60, I’ve never been described as a tree-hugger, an animal rights activist, or a plant proponent – nada, none of that. I’ve been an omnivore my entire life, happily consuming animal products and plants.
But as I get older, I’m also highly aware of my body’s need for protein to support strong muscles and proactively fight the effects of age-related muscle loss. The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Not so much for those over 50. The PROT-AGE Study Group recommends physically active adults get 1.0 to 1.2 grams/kg of body weight per day. And that number goes up to 1.5 grams/kg of body weight for bodybuilders over 65.
My Meatless Awakening
So why am I experiencing this awakening now? I have wrestled with this question for two weeks and am still searching for answers.
I am certain my vegetarian and vegan friends are jumping for joy. They have long warned – ever so gently – of the health risks associated with meat and dairy products. I haven’t gone the vegan route, yet. But out of curiosity, I did buy a block of jalapeño-jack cheese made with almonds this week. And you know what? It is delicious. I wouldn’t guess it is plant-based if not for the label.
According to a nationwide poll in 2016, just over 3 percent of American adults are vegetarians or vegans. Not surprisingly, a larger percentage of younger adults (6% of 18- to 34-year-olds) versus older adults (2% of those 65+) are either vegetarians or vegans. So what’s up with Baby Boomers?
I reached out to one of our regular BOOMbaby readers recently in connection with some market research. What I discovered quite by accident was that he went down this road about three years and 55 pounds ago.
George MacDonald is a 67-year-old retired nurse from the Pittsburgh area. As a retired healthcare professional, he doesn’t want to end up in the same shape as his patients. “As a home health nurse, most of my patients were suffering from self-inflicted wounds,” he says. “They were fat and sick with lifestyle-related diseases. I realized they were about halfway down a slippery slope, and there was no way they could get back up. I saw myself on the top of that slope.”
That’s when MacDonald changed his ways. It started with a bicycle and over time he took up running. “During the same period, I realized I needed more than aerobic training.” He joined a gym, started lifting weights and adopted a whole-food, plant-based diet.
“I’m in better shape now than I was at 57, 47 and 37,” MacDonald says. “I had been on cholesterol and blood pressure meds for 20 years. Within a month or two of starting the diet, I was off both medications.”
Does he ever crave the junk food or meat-based foods that once were the focal point of every meal? “To be honest, I do miss pizza,” he laughs. “But then I realize that all the medications I was taking weren’t treating any innate disease in me. They were treating my diet.”
Vegetarian Observations So Far
Yes, dietary choices and questions are here to stay. And while the vast majority of Americans choose meat as their primary source of protein over plants, this experiment is opening my eyes.
Here are my top 10 observations so far:
- Less bloated – I’m down 2 pounds, which I attribute to lower overall inflammation.
- More energy.
- Sleeping more soundly.
- Random rash that I’ve had for years is clearing up.
- Don’t miss eating meat or fish.
- Craving vegetables.
- Tastebuds are changing – food seems more flavorful.
- Garbage can no longer stinks – no wrappers from meat products.
- Grocery bill is down 35% compared to this time last month.
- My dogs are enjoying the chicken left in my freezer.
The jury’s still out on whether this new way of eating will graduate to permanent status in my life. I have two more weeks and a ton of documentaries, news clippings, research and books to pour through before I make the final determination.
What I do know is I feel better in a very short timeframe. And the only thing I have changed is my diet. Two weeks to go!
Bonus Recipe – Stuffed Vegetarian Spaghetti Squash
Here’s a terrific recipe I made last week. It’s quick, easy and a great option for a meatless meal.
Quick & easy vegetarian spaghetti squash is quick and easy for a meatless meal any night of the week.
- 1 whole spaghetti squash roasted and scraped
- 1/2 white onion chopped
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 cup zucchini diced
- 3 cloves garlic diced
- 1 15 oz. can organic black beans
- 1/2 cup fresh basil chopped
- 2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese grated
- olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Halve spaghetti squash, remove seeds. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast cut side down on parchment-lined baking sheet until done. Cool. Scrape "spaghetti” into a large bowl. Set aside the squash shells.
In large frying pan, sauté onion, pepper, zucchini and garlic until tender.
Stir in black beans and basil. Remove from heat.
Combine spaghetti squash with veggie mixture. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Fill the squash shells with the mixture, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Can serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat. Excellent for leftovers through the week.