Green eating: The science behind plant-based diets

    What's on your plate? Or, it might be better to ask, what isn't? Plant-based eating seems to be growing more popular.

    While according to a 2015 Harris Poll, only 3.4 percent of American adults eat no meat, 36 percent of American adults eat at least one vegetarian meal a week. And Northwestern students are among those shifting their consumption.

    Due to the abundance of vegans and vegetarians on campus, a particularly persuasive documentary or just the sheer fact that the vegan and vegetarian lines in the dining hall are shorter, you may have considered turning toward a diet without meat or animal products. There are a few things to keep in mind when making the switch to a more plant-based diet.

    There are many different variations of the plant-based diet, with the three most common being veganism (no animal products), vegetarianism (all animal products except meat or fish) and pescetarianism (fish and animal products but not meat).

    Graphic by Masha Dolgoff / North by Northwestern

    For those who are ready to commit, Sodexo consultant dietitian Pam Lugthart recommends transitioning gradually.

    “I recommend to start by substituting one or two meat-containing meals per week with meatless meals. Once that is established, one can continue eliminating animal products from their diet until they reach their goal,” she writes. ”If someone wants to become vegan, I recommend that they consult with a dietitian to assure they are getting adequate nutrients in their diet.”

    Many health experts agree that there are multiple benefits to a more plant-based diet, including lower risk for cardiac events, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. However, even with these benefits, it is important to keep in mind the necessity of certain key nutrients.

    “Overall, I generally feel like my diet is healthier because ... I cut a lot of fat out,” said Communication freshman Sophia Blake, who has been a vegetarian for almost five years.

    However, a worry many non-meat eaters may have is getting the proper nutrition. You could technically eat cookies all day every day and still be vegetarian, but you would not receive the nutrients and vitamins necessary for healthy body function.

    Iron and protein are some of the key nutrients many vegetarians may have difficulty consuming because they are predominantly found in meat products. However, fear not, plant-eaters: Iron can be found in beans, dark leafy greens and some fortified cereals. Vegetarians can get their protein fix with beans, soy, eggs or dairy.

    “I definitely feel more alert and healthy since becoming vegan,” said SESP freshman Sydney Cohen. “Being vegan has also made me try a lot of new healthy food like quinoa and different veggies.”

    Dairy often provides nutrients such as calcium, Vitamin B12 or Vitamin D, but vegans can find other options. Some ways to get vitamins B12 and D are through fortified foods such as cereal, soy milk and more. (Just be sure to check the label!) Calcium can also be found in some fortified foods, but is more prevalent in leafy greens, broccoli and almonds.

    For Northwestern students, eating vegan or vegetarian can be a daunting task, even with dining halls providing a vegan option at the “Greens and Things” station. Remember, you don’t have to stop there – grilled cheese, pizza and waffles are all frequent vegetarian options in the dining halls, and a vegan could always go for a PB&J or some pasta. Just try to mix up your options to get all your important nutrients.

    When you need a break from the dining hall monotony, restaurants such as Blaze Pizza, FlatTop Grill and Olive Mediterranean Grill provide vegan and vegetarian meals along with important nutrients.

    So, if you decide to try the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle at NU, just remember to eat your greens!


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