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How to Stop Eating Meat

Tips for living a healthy, vegetarian lifestyle

For some, vegetarianism is an extension of world or social views. For many, it reflects a necessity or a desire to eat healthier. No matter what the reason is for this choice, eating a wide variety of different foods, including raw vegetables, colorful plants, and high protein foods like legumes, seitan, and quinoa, is crucial to a successful vegetarian diet.

The bottom line for most dieters is health. A plate of French fries covered in cheese is delicious and vegetarian, but the negative health effects are obvious to most.

“Vegetarian diets can work well, but they can also be tricky,” says Allyson Odachowski, a registered dietitian and owner of Custom Dietetics in Amherst.

The trick is keeping the diet nutritionally balanced. This can be a challenge.

Vegetarians tend to eat more fiber, so digestion and bowel habits are typically better. Cholesterol levels are lower and heart-related problems are more rare, since a lot of cholesterol intake comes from meats, Odachowski says.

One of the traps that some people fall into is using too many plant proteins, which are high in carbohydrates. If you’re not careful about portions, it’s very possibly to gain weight on a vegetarian diet. Protein is something that helps you feel full, Odachowski says.

Eating Vegetarian and Local

No matter what your eating habits are, it’s worth it to try a vegetarian dish every now and then. And while you’re at it, how about visiting a few local restaurants?

Ask any vegetarian where they like to get breakfast and chances are that they will say Amy’s Place (3234 Main Street). With its diverse menu, vegetarian and vegan friendly options, great prices, and walls covered with local art, Amy’s Place never disappoints. Get there early for Sunday brunch, there’s usually a line out the door. Try a lentil berry sandwich, veggie wetshoes (curly fries topped with lentils, onions, peppers, and tomatoes), or make your own omelette with meat substitutes such as seitan or tofu.

If you love Indian food, you’ll love Palace of Dosas (656 Millersport Highway). Their menu is exclusively vegetarian. Their unsweetened crepe-like dosas can be ordered filled or unfilled. Try the Mysore masala dosa, a thin, slightly spiced rice and lentil crepe filled with spicy potatoes and onions, alu palak (potato and spinach curry), or badam halwa (an almond and saffron dessert) with pistachio ice cream.

To feel hip while you try a vegetarian dish, check out Kuni’s (226 Lexington Avenue). Kuni’s offers vegetarian sushi rolls such as avocado, radish sprouts, tofu, and shiitake mushroom. They also serve tofu dishes such as tofu gyoza (tofu and vegetable filled dumplings, pan-cooked, served with a chili-soy sauce), agedashi tofu (lightly fried tofu topped with scallions finished with a soy-based sauce), and vegetable tempura.

If you want to feel right at home for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, check out Betty’s (370 Virginia Street). Along with a cozy atmosphere, Betty’s offers a wide variety of vegetarian options. Try a hummus sandwich or a ginger baked tofu wrap; both are piled high with veggies and sprouts. Or if you’re looking for something to warm you up on a crisp autumn day, try a “Roasted Veggie Yummwich” stuffed with roasted eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, red and green peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and fresh herbs. If you’re particularly hungry, dig into some barbecue grilled tofu—tofu “steaks” grilled with Betty’s own chipotle barbecue sauce.

If you’re craving something sweet, head over to Zillycakes (1008 Elmwood Avenue), where you can try a vegan cupcake (they offer a different flavor each month) or a vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar cupcake made with agave nectar. Agave nectar is made from plants and has a lower glycemic index than table sugar, which makes it vegan friendly and healthy. It also happens to taste delicious.

jill greenberg

Jessica Laski

Murphy’s Main Street Station

52 Main Street, Hamburg

“When choosing seasonal ingredients, I like to use pumpkin and sweet potatoes. We get ingredients like that locally from Braymiller Market on Route 62. One of my favorite seasonal dishes to make in the fall is sweet potato gnocchi. I make that dish with sweet potatoes, flour, and brandy cream.”

jill greenberg & cory perla

Meat offers all the proteins the body needs in the appropriate proportions. Most plant proteins are incomplete; therefore one must eat a variety of plant proteins each day to furnish the body the proteins it needs, says Sharon Lawrence, a registered dietician and nutritionist, as well as the president and founder of Nutri-Trends Inc.

“I’ve seen vegetarians battle obesity and that’s because they’re not exercising and they’re assuming their vegetarian diet is taking care of all of their needs,” Lawrence says.

Lawrence stresses the importance of legumes, such as lentils, soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas, as a staple source of protein for vegetarians. It’s not even enough just to choose your favorite. The most effective plan is to eat a small amount of a wide variety of legumes as often as possible, Lawrence says.

Angela Goldberg, a graduate of Ithaca College with a degree in writing, has been a vegetarian for five years. Vegetarianism seems natural to her. Her parents have always adhered to a strict vegetarian diet. She eats nuts and other legumes as a main source of protein in her diet.

“I always keep walnuts and cashews around,” she says. “Peanut butter is also good for a quick snack,”

Goldberg is on the right track. Choosing to eat a variety of nuts, rather than focusing on one specific nut, is a good way to mix up plant proteins, Lawrence says. But when it comes to peanut butter, vegetarians might be doing more harm than good. Peanut butters like Jiff, Skippy, and Peter Pan can be very high in saturated fat that provides no protein.

A better choice would be ground peanuts with no additional oils added except for that which comes from the peanuts, Lawrence says.

Nuts and peanut butter are good for an energy-boosting snack, but planning meals are a different story.

Keeping dishes nutritionally balanced is important, but can also be tricky. James Taylor, chef at Merge restaurant, has taken up the challenge of physically preparing nutritionally balanced vegetarian dishes on a daily basis. Taylor has been working as the head chef at Merge for about a year. Fresh, organic produce is his standard.

“Organic vegetables and locally grown vegetables offer more of a nutritional boost compared to a tomato coming from California that is under-ripe and coated in wax and pesticides,” Taylor says, seated on the faux leather couch in the corner of the restaurant on Delaware Avenue.

Raw is becoming a buzzword for Taylor. He is constantly creating new menu items made of raw foods, such as raw pizza and raw lasagna.

Cell membranes aren’t broken down in raw foods, Taylor says. This makes them dense with nutrients.

“It’s about live food for living people,” says Mark Zanghi, a server at Merge and former chef.

Although raw foods are highly nutritious, they cannot be the lone focus of a diet, either.

“You really need a balance of raw and cooked food,” Odachowski says.

Some vegetables, such as tomatoes, have nutrients in them that can only be brought out by cooking. Lycopene, an antioxidant that also improves eye health, is present in tomatoes. It is only released fully when cooked, so tomatoes in pasta sauce or chili are more beneficial than raw, Odachowski says.

Lycopene exists in the tomato’s pigment. The color of a fruit or vegetable contains what Lawrence calls “biologically active pigments,” which protect health. For this reason, she recommends choosing foods that are loaded with bright colors. That means choosing red or yellow onions over white onions, or red potatoes over white potatoes.

Taylor agrees with Lawrence when it comes to choosing which vegetables to eat. It’s not about just eating vegetables, Taylor says, it’s about eating the right ones. He will often refuse to cook with a vegetable just because it came from too far away. But, according to Lawrence, vegetables that have been flash frozen are some of the most natural and healthy vegetables one can eat.

When a dish seems to be lacking in protein, Taylor will often serve it over a highly nutritious seed called quinoa. This seed simulates a grain, similar to couscous, and, unlike most grains, is a complete protein.

“Quinoa is crucial, it’s a handy weapon to have in a vegetarian kitchen,” Taylor says.

Some of the other weapons in Taylor’s protein arsenal include meat substitutes like seitan, tempeh, and soy. One of his specialties is a deep-fried seitan dish that he calls seitan wings. Seitan is made of wheat gluten and has a texture and appearance similar to meat. It doesn’t have much of a taste on its own, but when it is deep-fried and covered in barbecue sauce, its as close as a vegetarian will get to our city’s pride and joy, the Buffalo wing.

Although the wings are deep-fried, Taylor says that when prepared correctly, the fat content is not increased.

When it comes to cooking vegetarian dishes, Taylor doesn’t believe it is necessary to add meat substitute unless it is absolutely called for. He’ll be the first to admit that fake meat doesn’t always turn out the way he wants it to.

“A fake chicken patty doesn’t really taste like chicken. It tastes like fake chicken,” Taylor says.

“The key to a vegetarian diet is to eat different foods throughout the day, each day and every day,” Lawrence says. “Every time you go shopping put new foods in the cart. Don’t live by a shopping list.”

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