College students explore many diets throughout their college careers, but many of them are fads and can be unhealthy and do more harm than good. Many may be surprised to know when done the right way, a vegetarian diet can be healthy.
Those who choose a vegetarian diet, as long as it’s well-balanced, can get all the essential nutrients they need by eating vegetables and grains, said Cal State Fullerton health educator Darany Hoang. Choosing a plant-based diet has essential benefits such as reduced long-term risks of diseases caused by a high-calorie diet including heart disease, diabetes and higher rates of obesity.
Hoang said a student can transition into this diet by first assessing what they are eating. They should be aware of the ultimate goal, such as trying to lose weight, because that might only be temporary. Students should also know what to eat to have a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. Students need to make sure they have enough caloric intake, because when a food group is removed it is important to remember to replace it to stay balanced.
Victoria Ford, 22, an anthropology and political science major, said that she was once a vegetarian and vegan and made sure she had her diet well-balanced to get all her vitamins and nutrients. She also felt a lot better on the diet.
“I was vegan for a while because I wanted to see if I could do it, (and) if I enjoyed it, it was cool,” said Ford.
She also said she had more energy and weighed less.
Hoang said a great option to transition into vegetarianism is eating vegetables that have a meat-like texture such as eggplant and mushroom. When removing meat from the diet, a lot of people worry where they’re going to get their protein.
“A lot of students that I talk to forget about beans and legumes, some people don’t enjoy that, but sometimes they start to enjoy nuts,” said Hoang.
As well as consuming protein, Hoang also said that students should take in complex carbohydrates.
“Complex carbs really provide an array of nutrients that I think the general normal fast food diet that students consume kind of takes away from that, so once someone introduces that part as well, they might feel fuller, and get those nutrients that (are) absent,” she said.
Students like Monica Nguyen, 18, a kinesiology major, said she would most likely try a vegetarian diet for health reasons, but her biggest concern with becoming a vegetarian would be not being able to eat meat, such as burgers.
For those who want to try a vegetarian diet but can’t live without burgers and other meat products, there are veggie burgers and meat substitutes. Many of these can be found in the neighborhood grocery store, Trader Joe’s, or specialty stores like Sprouts. The downside to adopting a vegetarian diet is the initial cost of food, because choosing more wholesome and organic foods costs more.
“If someone is able to plan ahead and really plan out a week’s worth of meals, it really, long-term wise, would be beneficial,” Hoang said.
Whether or not someone is thinking about starting a vegetarian diet, the Produce for Better Health Foundation said it is important to get the right amount of servings of fruit and vegetables in a day. One way to to this is adding fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits and vegetables, to any meal, the foundation said.