Jerry Snider, Hewitt, TX
Health and wellness author, coach and business owner
Jerry Snider likes to debunk myths about vegetarianism. For example, at age 45, he is a Master’s-level distance runner. “I’m proof you don’t need meat to be active,” he says.
Although his diet had been about 75% plant based, Snider recently upgraded from vegetarian to vegan for two reasons.
“First, everything I’ve researched has proven to me that being a vegan is the healthiest way to live,” he says.In one study, 20 of 26 participants who switched to veganism for a year were able to discontinue their blood pressure meds. Click To Tweet
Second, Snider says, “is with coaching my clients on ways to become healthier and eat healthier, I needed to become a vegan to live through the difficulties of the lifestyle in a heavily meat-dominated food supply.”
Transitioning to a total vegan diet was not an overnight process. “I knew better than to try and do it right away,” Snider says.
Although he’d previously enjoyed a good burger or steak on the grill, in general, he’d always considered his diet a healthy one, “but I was a big meat eater.” Snider admits he missed eating meat at first, but he noticed after about two months on a vegetarian regimen that the smell of meat cooking no longer appealed to him.
Nowadays? “I can’t walk by a restaurant that’s cooking meat,” he says.
As a surprising side benefit, Snider finds he recovers more quickly from workouts since he’s become vegetarian, noting, “I was surprised to see my [running] times have improved over the past years, week by week.”
Snider’s biggest challenge lies in finding vegetarian fare when dining out in his hometown. “It’s hard to find places to eat in Texas,” he says. “I make sure to always carry some apples with me. I know a handful of restaurants where I can go and be pretty comfortable.”
At home, Snider typically makes his own cereal out of oats, almond milk and fruit (nuts and fruits make up a large part of his diet). Lunch is an organic pea protein shake. Dinner often includes beans (black beans and chickpeas), tofu, stir-fry meals with veggies and rice.
Snider’s special treat? Vegan ice cream.
Liem Quang Le, Daom, Tampa, FL
Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa
Having been raised in a Buddhist family made a vegetarian lifestyle second nature for Liem Quang Le. “We were eating different things growing up, and it was just a normal way to eat. And then it became trendy,” he says.
Le admits his own vegetarian lifestyle was “on and off” since the age of 14. Now 38, he says his diet has been based on plants for the past 15 years.
An extreme workout routine was one reason for Le’s intermittent vegetarianism. Years prior to completely transitioning to a plant-based diet, Le worked as a professional dancer; the daily hours-long workouts took their toll on his energy level. This led him to eat meat, hoping it would give him more stamina.
Le then became aware of the ethics involved in the treatment of farm animals, and this inspired him to go back to a vegetarian way of eating. He has stuck with it since.According to the ASPCA, nearly all chickens raised for meat are kept indoors in sheds containing 20,000 or more animals. Click To Tweet
“I personally became a vegetarian for two reasons,” says Le. “Ethical and religion/Buddhism, and for health reasons. I believed that I have to practice what I preach.”
Le also feels his humanitarian and ethical reasons for becoming a vegetarian makes it more likely he’ll stay with it versus doing so purely for health reasons, although he sees how eliminating meat from one’s diet can help improve overall health.
“I personally see and treat cancer patients almost exclusively,” says Le, “and I encourage a plant-based diet for my patients.”
It took time for Le to find what worked in terms of getting enough of all necessary nutrients from a vegetarian diet.
“Becoming vegetarian has been a process of many years of trial and error, of eating mainly rice and pasta,” says Le. “But I have transitioned over the years to eating more vegetables and fruits.” Today, a typical meal for him is cauliflower fried “rice” with spinach, mushrooms, kimchi, tofu, peas and carrots.
Like most vegetarians, Le’s biggest challenge lies in finding restaurants that cater to a meatless lifestyle.
“It’s a trend that’s growing here in Tampa, but it’s not fully accepted,” he explains. “I previously worked in San Diego, where people usually came in [to his office] ready to quit eating red meat. But here in Tampa it’s not uncommon for people to eat a fruit or vegetable as infrequently as every other day.”
Divya L. Selvakumar, PHd, RD, Laurel, MD
Registered Dietician, professor, author and consultant
Growing up in an Indian-American family, Divya Selvakumar rarely ate meat even as a child.
“My family has always been lacto-vegetarian,” she says. “We didn’t eat chicken, fish or meat, only eggs, milk and cheese. I ate meat very occasionally but completely quit more than 25 years ago.”
The importance of respecting animals, a crucial part of Hinduism, also contributed to Selvakumar’s meatless lifestyle. One of the religion’s main principles “is the concept of ahimsa, which emphasizes non-violence and the respect for life and nature,” Selvakumar says.
In addition, she says that her work as a nutrition professional and registered dietitian led her to be “particularly intrigued by the increasing public awareness and interest towards adopting a plant-based diet.”
Selvakumar says she recently began eating some cheeses. They don’t always agree with her digestive system, however; as she puts it, “Cheese on pizza from some of the chain restaurants upsets my stomach.” For this reason, Selvakumar prefers plant-based milks, such as those made from coconuts and almonds, and she snacks on plant-based cheese.According to one industry group, the market for plant-based cheese has grown 19% over the past year. Click To Tweet
Although it is easier today than in the past, Selvakumar finds it sometimes difficult to obtain vegetarian meals, particularly at restaurants with menus that emphasize animal products.
This becomes most challenging when she voyages to different parts of the world.
“Finding vegetarian meals is particularly tough when traveling to places such as West Africa, where the concept of vegetarianism is not completely well understood by the public,” Selvakumar notes. “When traveling, if I am not fluent in the local language, I have experienced difficulty in obtaining adequate vegetarian food, much less vegan dishes. Also, since ghee (clarified butter) plays a large role in my culture, it can be problematic in obtaining a proper substitute.”
For Selvakumar, a typical day starts with a breakfast of oatmeal with almond or coconut milk, flaxseed and nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds), and a cup of coffee with almond or coconut milk and brown sugar. Lunch may be a grain—such as brown rice, quinoa or millet—and spicy lentils with curry (eggplant, squash, okra, spinach, tomato—any vegetable, really) along with a cup of non-dairy yogurt with water or organic, low-sugar juice.
Dinner is often roti (an unleavened flatbread) with dal (dried pulses or soups made from dried pulses) and vegetables, along with avocado slices or vegan cheese. Bananas, blueberries and raspberries are her favorite snacks.
Ginny Grabowski, MS, Anchorage, AK
Founder of Alaska Fit, a nutrition and wellness consultancy
For Ginny Grabowski, being raised in a home where meat dishes weren’t a family favorite made it easy to give meat up at an early age.
“I grew up in a home where meat was not particularly well flavored,” says Grabowski, 49. “My dad tended towards plain foods and my mom didn’t love cooking. My mainstays through high school were chocolate, bagels, pasta, fruits and veggies.”
Eating a meatless diet became even easier once Grabowski began attending college. “A cafeteria salad bar, plenty of bread and unlimited frozen yogurt… I was in heaven,” she says.
Being surrounded by vegetarians and vegans while working at a supplement company further reinforced Grabowski’s abstinence from meat. She never “branded” herself a vegetarian, she says. “I just started avoiding meat. At the time, dairy was still a large part of my life, however. I lived in New York and life without pizza or a schmear on my bagel wasn’t worth living.”
Now focused on eating plant-based, whole foods, Grabowski confronts different concerns than she did two decades ago. “Vegetarian packaged foods are much easier to find now versus in the 90s,” she says. “The biggest challenge is when I forget that not everyone lives/eats this way.”An industry group reports that retail sales of plant-based foods in the US have grown 11% in the past year. Click To Tweet
Other challenges in adhering to her meatless diet include travel; as she puts it, “Fresh produce is expensive and not particularly fresh.” Plus, Grabowski has found it tough to find meals when a menu has no veggie options. “I’ve had to create my own on the fly with the help of patient chefs.”
Meals are simple and typically include a grain, beans and greens, most often in a single bowl. Grabowski says her favorite three-minute meal is brown rice, chickpeas, salsa and any leafy green. “If I don’t already have rice or other grain cooked, I’ll go with couscous because it requires no cooking. I just boil some water, pour it over and wait two or three minutes.”
When all else fails, Grabowski reaches for a “good, old-fashioned PB&J in a pinch.”