THERE ARE GOOD vegetarians and bad vegetarians out there. I don’t mean that some are out helping the poor and picking up litter while others are emulating Heath Ledger’s Joker and watching the world burn (although that’s surely true as well). It’s just that some people seem to thrive on a vegetarian diet, while others decline like the last days of the Roman Empire. Over the years, I’ve developed a hypothesis to address this discrepancy – some vegetarians eat a very healthy and well-considered diet, others eat mostly junk food, they just avoid meat, poultry and fish. Just because you’re a vegetarian doesn’t automatically make you healthy.
When I first went vegetarian back in the mid ’90s, I seriously didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I ate few vegetables, little fruit, minimal salads and basically lived on carbohydrates and protein (cottage cheese and whey powder), eating oven chips or roast potatoes for dinner multiple times a week. At least I was dousing the chips with tomato sauce, so I was getting something approximating a vegetable. Despite my dire dietary habits, I still felt better than I did when I ate meat on a more or less daily basis, so I persisted, eventually registering that the veg in vegetarian meant that I should eat more vegetables.
Once I started adding in the good stuff, things just got better and better. I seemed to get colds and flu less often, had more energy and felt great. It didn’t take much to improve the way I ate – I still enjoyed a lot of carbs (I was a pasta junkie after all) but the salads and fresh veggies started becoming an important part of my meals, even if that meant something as simple as adding lettuce, tomato and onion to my cheese sandwiches.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve tried hard to be a good vegetarian and eat a balanced diet. There have been times when I’ve been too busy at work and have been slack with the food (not an excuse I know), but generally, I do okay. I eat lots of salads, tuck into stir-fries often, down a lot of smoothies and include superfoods in my diet whenever I can. I also add in a daily low dose of very good multi-vitamin and multi-mineral tablets. People who know me think I’m a total health freak but I just try to avoid too much of the bad stuff.
It all seems to be working pretty well. I get a full blood work up at least once a year to make sure that everything is ticking over nicely. My iron levels, hemoglobin, and B12 levels are always sky high, cholesterol is fine and all the other numbers look good to my doctor.
Being a healthy vegetarian is really easy these days but it strikes me that the key to thriving as a vegetarian is variety – eat a bit of everything, eat heaps of raw and natural, unprocessed foods, don’t get obsessed about blood group based eating, combining proteins, or massive doses of supplements. Don’t embrace anything that’s too far out in left field. Basically don’t act like Heath’s Joker, just keep it simple and you’ll find it easy to be a good vegetarian. ASHLEY KRAMER