“I’ll have the chicken caesar salad…without the chicken”.

So goes my fallback order at nearly every restaurant. And if the salad is no good, I have to stoop down to “I’ll just have a side of fries”.

Aside from the occasional ordering woes, being a vegetarian is both awesome and surprisingly easy! Think of the meats- chicken, turkey, beef, pork, and yes, fish- you regularly eat. Now imagine your diet without these foods- it’s not so different, is it? Even if you live for your daily Chick-Fil-A sandwich, going veggie is a great option if you’re trying to lose weight, embrace a healthier diet, or just feel better about the impact your eating habits have on the planet (not to get all flower-child on you, but many vegetarians do cite environmental concerns as reasons for saying no to meat!). I became a vegetarian primarily because I was really grossed out by the unethical (and often unhygienic) ways animals are raised and slaughtered to stock the shelves at grocery stores (the documentary “Food, Inc.” is a good starting point if you want to do some research for yourself). But I also changed my diet because I was heavier than I’d ever been and simply didn’t feel good about myself. Ready for a change, I stopped eating meat and started hitting the gym. I dropped a few pounds and found myself more energized and more confident about my body. But instead of rewarding my efforts with a big ol’ hamburger, I decided to stick to my veggie laurels. This month marks two years of vegetarianism. I’m still going strong (read: never craving meat-seriously!) and encouraging my friends and family to try going veggie. While my prodding is rarely successful- this is Texas, after all- I’m going to try my best to convince you lovely people to test the waters of vegetarianism. Here are some pros, cons, and common myths about being a veggie.

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PROS:
If you do it right (read: don’t just replace all your meats with junky processed food), adopting a vegetarian diet can give you more energy, help you slim down, and improve your overall health. Cutting down on meat can also reduce your risk for heart disease and help clear up acne. Being forced to find new sources of protein, iron, and all the other good stuff in meat opens up your mind and your taste buds to a wealth of new foods that are both healthy and delicious. After a month or two of vegetarianism, I began to lose my taste for soda, milkshakes and greasy fried foods- they make me feel bloated and lethargic. Now, I tend to crave healthier snacks like fruit or pita chips (although I do have a serious sweet tooth). And finally, vegetarian food is often cheaper- for example, before I went veggie, my order at Freebirds came out to about $7. Now it’s just over $5 for an equally delicious meal!

CONS:
You know how I said being a vegetarian is easy? Well in a sense it is, because if you stick with it for a little while, you’ll stop wanting meat. But when it comes to eating out or dining at a friend or relative’s house, being a vegetarian gets a little trickier. Many restaurants don’t have a great selection of meatless options and many families don’t cook veggie-friendly food on a regular basis. Luckily, you can nix this con by either having a fallback option (what up caesar salad!) or eating at home before going out and having a dessert or drink instead. And if you’re dining at someone’s house, make sure to mention any dietary restrictions a couple of days in advance. The only other major drawback to vegetarianism is the constant temptation and unfortunate convenience of replacing meat with other not-so-healthy foods. For most people, eating freshly prepared salads and gourmet veggie burgers every day just isn’t an option. Vegetarians need fast food too (although if you go veggie, you’re much less likely to end up in the drive-thru at McDonald’s all the time- see, another perk!). Being a vegetarian simply requires putting a little more effort into your grocery list to ensure that you’re maintaining a healthy and well-rounded diet.

MYTHS:
Vegetarians can eat fish, right?
– No, we can’t. If you eat fish but stay away from other meat, you’re a pescatarian. Which is also cool (but not as cool as being a vegetarian!).

Vegetarians can’t eat dairy, right?
– Yeah, we can. If you don’t eat meat, dairy, or any other animal products you’re a vegan.
Which is also cool (and way more hardcore than being a vegetarian).

Vegetarians won’t get enough nutrients without eating meat.
– It’s completely possible to have a vegetarian diet that includes just as much protein, iron, calcium and other nutrients as a diet that’s chock-full of meat. People often ask me where I get my protein. Easy- many veggie-friendly foods such as low-fat cheese, black beans, and almonds are full of protein. In fact, many nutritionists believe that the average meat-eater is consuming too much protein- so take that, carnivores! As far as other nutrients go, most of the good stuff found in meat can be found in other foods too. And if you feel you aren’t getting enough of something from your diet, you can always try taking vitamins- many are vegetarian!

Vegetarians eat only super-healthy, organic foods.
– Definitely false. Who has the time or money for that anyway?! Buying organic is great, and you should definitely look for organic or locally grown produce when possible. But while I can’t speak for the entire vegetarian population, I know I basically eat like any other trying-to-be-healthy-but-not-always-succeeding girl (with a little more adventurousness in the vegetable aisle). If you adopt a vegetarian diet you’re likely to gravitate towards healthier foods, simply by process of elimination. But you still can (and will) eat junk food.

Meat substitutes are weird and icky.
– I have yet to warm to some of the sketchier meat substitutes (I can’t get over how gross the “grilled chicken” looks), but the ones I’ve tried are usually really tasty. While you can’t rely on meat substitutes as a huge part of your diet (they’re often high in sodium and artificial preservatives), nothing beats a great black bean burger!

Tofu is gross!
– False. Tofu is delicious.

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