Are you a "pizza vegetarian”?
You know, someone who doesn't eat meat, but subsists mainly on foods like pizza, french fries, and nachos?
Someone who eats no meat—but is also allergic to vegetables?
Maybe you have a "friend" who fits this description. A vegetarian who takes her hamburger without the burger…and is left with a bun and a soggy tomato slice for dinner? One who orders a chicken Caesar salad without the chicken…and eats a meal of lettuce and croutons as a result?
You’d be surprised to know how many “pizza vegetarians” are out there. And "frozen yogurt vegetarians." And "jelly bean vegetarians." The word “vegetarian” has a health halo attached to it—in other words, when people hear it, they assume that anything associated is good for you. But I assure you, while being a vegetarian can be a wellness-promoting lifestyle choice, going veg does not automatically equal healthy. The secret: What you add to your diet is even more important than what you're removing.
Take 38-year-old Dan Janssen. I recently read a story in The Baltimore Sun about Janssen, who stopped eating meat when he was a teenager for ethical reasons. Janssen, however, did not like vegetables. Apparently he also didn’t like beans, nuts, rice, quinoa, peanut butter, or the loads of other things that can comprise a healthy vegetarian diet, because as a teen, Janssen decided to eat one thing, and one thing only.
Now, pizza is a vegetarian food (it’s not vegan, since it’s got cheese on it—but you already knew that). And pizza no doubt tastes great. And there’s no reason why some pizza every now and again can’t fit into a balanced diet.
But every day? For every meal? Come on!
Eating one food day in and day out—vegetarian or not—is not a healthy way to eat. It doesn't even matter how nutritious that one food is. If you ate a bucket of carrots every day, your skin would turn orange! Your body needs a wide range of nutrients, and eating a variety of foods is the only way to deliver those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (you can take a vitamin supplement, but the forms and amounts of those nutrients are just a guess at what our bodies truly need…real food is always your best bet). Not so surprisingly, Janssen was—according to the Sun article—diagnosed with diabetes around the time he started his pizza diet. He may be a vegetarian. But he's not healthy.
It’s really easy to be a pizza or bagel or muffin vegetarian. It’s also not so hard to be a well-balanced, good-for-you food-devouring, life-loving veghead. All it takes is a little bit of thought and planning, and my hope is that The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian and this blog can help you get there—the book with advice from a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been in your shoes, and the blog with advice from YOU, our community of veg-leaning teens who can help each other out.
Were you ever a “bad vegetarian”? Where did you go wrong? And how did you fix the way you were eating?
I’ll start the conversation: When I stopped eating meat, I loaded up on starchy side dishes like rice and potatoes and didn’t think about ways of replacing some of the protein and other nutrients in my diet that I was missing out on from giving up meat. Here’s how I fixed it: I started making plant sources of protein, iron, and zinc like beans, hummus, and nuts part of my regular rotation.
What about you?