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February 4, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 4 Faves: 1

Carnivore to CARBivore: Too Many Vegetarins Go from Meat to Muffin Tops (Here's How to Avoid That)

By Christina Pasternak More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the FOOD-A-MINS Blog Series

We all know one. A vegetarian. The peace-loving conscientious objector who chooses not to gorge on pain and suffering. The bologna-boycotting animal rights activist who prefers freshly ground herbs over freshly ground body parts. The disease-fighting wellness warrior who’s traded in carcinogenic-clad meat for phytonutrient-packed plants. We see them everywhere... those vegetarians. Passing judgment on your cheeseburger; scoffing at your steak. “That’s cruel!” they say, “And so unhealthy!”

Some people tend to look at vegetarians as one of two things: extremely healthy or extremely deprived. The reality, however, is that vegetarianism is too often an unfortunate mix of both - too much deprivation of a variety of nutrients and not enough health-promoting food choices. I call them muffin-lovin’ vegetarians. The carbivore. Think of a T. rex thrashing through a stack of pancakes every day. Not healthy. Not sustainable. Kinda funny, though! While it continues to be a debate (for another time) whether humans are true meat eaters, no one can argue that eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast every day is healthier than eating bacon. 

Are You a Carbivore?

When we decide to give up meat, we’re sometimes left with a big fat gap to fill, and we end up resorting to foods that do just that - make us big and fat. No fair! Vegetarian food is supposed to make us healthy, balance our weight, energize our lives, and give us a glow from the inside out.

The thing is, a vegetarian diet can either enrich our lives or make us just as sick, if not sicker, than we were in our meat eating days. Here’s the problem: most of us were raised on the Standard American Diet - full of meat and processed foods. When we ditch the beef, chicken, and fish, we’re left with only what we know: processed foods. White bread, pasta, cheese pizza, muffins, cereal, pancakes, granola bars. Junk with a little more junk sprinkled on top for good measure. These foods do very little for our body except spike our blood sugar and stress out our pancreas, cause mood swings and uncontrollable unhealthy food cravings, feed candida, and inevitably cause weight gain. If we ate like this forever, our carnivorous cronies would be right about us - vegetarians truly are deprived.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Time for a moment of full disclosure. When I was eating a completely vegan diet (no meat, eggs, milk, cheese), I felt a moment of sheer bliss upon discovering that Oreos are technically “vegan.” It was like my spirit floated out of my body, drove to the grocery store, picked up a package of Double Stufs, came home, locked the doors, closed the curtains, poured a glass of almond milk, and shamefully, oh so shamefully, overindulged. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t looking for an excuse to eat those hydrogenated oil-laden, guilt-infused sandwich cookies. It wasn’t about the Oreo. It was about the feeling of familiarity.

Though I loved how I felt eating a plant-based diet, there were parts of me that missed my old SAD ways. I knew better, only because I understood the difference between healthy and unhealthy vegetarian food. But what happens when we can’t differentiate between the two? We fill the void of animal products with what we know - super processed, disease-promoting, and addicting foods.

Getting Schooled in Food

While a diet predominant in meat can lead to heart problems, cancer, and diabetes, a diet full of simple carbs and processed foods can cause these same diseases. Not only that, unhealthy vegetarian diets increase the risk for calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 deficiencies.

Pump the breaks on your Prius, though, and don’t head to the meat market just yet! If you are eating a vegetarian diet, or thinking about taking the plunge, it’s important to first do a diet analysis. Take inventory of your food intake. Write down the foods you eat over the next week. Don’t change a thing! Don’t get all plant-based on me and choke down some chard just so you can write it in your spiral notebook. It’s important to take a long, hard, honest look in the mirror. If you see T. rex with that plate of pancakes, maybe it’s time do some diet tweaking.

Great Veggie-Based Meals

The trick is finding meals that rely on a veggie-based base, rather than the wheat-based base we're used to. Cauliflower adapts to become tortilla shells, mashed potatoes, and pizza crust. A spiralizer transforms zucchini into noodles you can use in place of the ordinary wheat sort in almost any of your favorite pasta recipes. Beans and lentils are super-filling, protein-rich base you can use instead of rice. And vegetables soups, salads, and southern-style cooked greens are all no-brainers! 

Cauliflower Tortillas

"Ironically the drained cauliflower kind of looks like fresh masa flour as well. I personally prefer lettuce wraps because they are fast and easy. But if you’re ever looking for a change of pace this is an excellent way to get your veggies in and have a nice soft and warm tortilla at the same time. That’s a win win in my book. Luckily they hold a bunch of toppings and ingredients pretty well so don’t be afraid to bulk up..." Recipe HERE

Cauliflower Mash

"This is a great low-fat and low-calorie dish. It’s a great substitute for mashed potatoes." Recipe HERE

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Cauliflower Crust Pizza

"I threw caution to the wind and decided to give it a whirl. You know what? It was so easy, even easier than making a batch of actual pizza dough and to my delight it actual baked up into a darn good pizza crust. The consistency reminded me of a flat bread almost like Naan, but I bet if you used a pizza stone  it would be more like actual pizza dough. Bottom line, my family loved it and we now have a way to resume our weekly pizza night and I can feel good about knowing that I snuck another vegetable into the mix." Recipe HERE

Green Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Warm Spices

"Sometimes you run across a recipe that’s just so perfect you’re not even tempted to tinker. And so you make it, exactly as written, year after year. Thick with coconut and laced with sweet spices it definitely nods towards India, but the use of French lentils, vegetable (or chicken) stock and thyme ensures it stays firmly grounded in the great European soup tradition.." Recipe HERE

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Apple Soup

"Come. Come closer. Look. Look deep into my soup… Experience the hypnotic quality of curry. Let dainty chive blossoms enchant you.. This is no ordinary soup. It has the power to transport …to soup nirvana." Recipe HERE

White Bean and Roasted Mushroom Soup

"Using a healthy pureed white bean and broth base instead of cream, this White Bean and Roasted Mushroom Soup recipe can be enjoyed often as you would like, guilt-free. That’s my favorite kind of recipe. In addition to broth, the pureed base includes the roasted onions, garlic and herbs, which is very much a good thing. Oh so fragrant! The process is not complicated at all, so don’t be concerned and think that this recipe is something that you can’t pull off. This homemade soup recipe is simple stuff, y’all. I promise. And it’s so very worth it. I promise that too." Recipe HERE

Citrus Collards with Raisins Redux 

"This recipe was the seed of Vegan Soul Kitchen... a brand new classic, if you will, dedicated to my home city in the mid-South—Memphis, Tennessee." Recipe HERE

Autumn Cobb Salad with Smokey Pumpkin Dressing

"The smoky Pumpkin Dressing is also a new favorite. I have been putting it on all kinds of salad and I feel like it could be a great dairy free spread on a sandwich too. By the way, you could absolutely make this a wonderful vegetarian salad by skipping the chicken and bacon and going for some white beans or kidney beans for a shot of protein." (Or veggie chicken rather than chicken and sundried tomatoes rather than bacon.) Recipe HERE

Zucchini "Spaghetti" with Creamy Lemon Chive Dressing 

"This is a lovely dish, I tried it and stirred a little smoked salmon as I happened to have some on hand and it was a delight!!"

"Very pleased with this simple dish - fresh, bright, and unexpectedly chic." 

Recipe HERE

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  • I, too, am a proponent of a healthy vegetarian diet, if, and only if, the diet is truly healthy. Working as a primary care provider, I have seen a few vegetarians whose healing was compromised due to their diet. Do your homework and plan your meals accordingly or you may suffer from a poor immune response.

  • Well said, Rene! Trading in your grass-fed organic chicken breasts for mini muffins is not a diet upgrade.

  • Great read! Personally I think I like bacon too much to go vegetarian, but I've been steering toward the "Meatless Monday" (or whatever day of the week works for me) routine. I've found that you can make plenty of amazing, flavorful, and healthy Indian-style curry dishes without any meat involved, so that's one of my go-to meat-free dishes.

  • That's awesome, Dave! You're right, there are plenty of healthy and flavorful vegetarian and vegan recipes available. I love quinoa salads. I make a big batch and enjoy it throughout the week. Saves times on those lazy days or when I'm in a hurry!

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