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Meat or no meat? It's a personal decision

Fitness Answer Man

September 27, 2010

The ongoing debate of vegetarianism isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The pro veggie side claims to have discovered the key to health and longevity. The carnivore purists side says vegetarianism is for hippies, and they need to eat a steak. What is the truth?

Back in the late 1990s, I decided to experimentally switch from a carnivorous lifestyle to a vegetarian one after attending a few lectures on the subject and several discussions with the owners of a local health food store.

At the time, I was a competitive bodybuilder, and was eating meat five to six times a day. I didn't go completely vegan, which means no animal consumption of any form, as I still used dairy products and eggs. After a few weeks of trial and error, I pretty much had a working system in place, making the proper food combinations to get complete proteins, and essential vitamins and minerals.

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Four years went by, and overall, my experience wasn't that bad. I noticed some performance issues when I trained at the gym. I couldn't build muscle like I used to, and my strength gains weren't as frequent as they had been in prevegetarian years.

On the flipside, my bathroom habits had become more regular. My blood pressure, and bad cholesterol levels were always low so not much of a change there.

When I decided to start eating meat again, within six weeks, my strength had increased 30 percent, and I packed on about 5 pounds of solid muscle, which I determined through body fat analysis. My body fat level hadn't changed, but my muscle weight shot up. It's almost like my body had been waiting for the return of the meat into my diet.

Vegetarianism wasn't for me.

The American Dietetic Association recognizes appropriately planned vegetarian diets as nutritionally adequate, and providing healthful benefits in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.

Some researchers say the vegetarian way of eating shows lower incidences of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity and food-borne illness among omnivores compared with vegetarians. Other researchers say these benefits come from the increased consumption of uberhealthful foods like beans, nuts, fruits and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, not necessarily the removal of meat.

So is vegetarianism healthy? It can be, if it's right for you.

I believe moderation is the key. Balancing your food choices is what has consistently shown to be the healthiest way to go. Some would say your nutritional needs are as unique as your blood type, as stated in the best-selling book "Eat Right For Your Type."

If you want to explore vegetarianism, do it with all the right information, as there are health risk associated with a poorly planned vegetarian diet. This is where working with a registered dietitian who has experience with vegetarians can make a huge difference in your overall health and well being. A good registered dietitian can help you determine what your unique dietary needs are, and advise you on proper execution.

My overall experience with vegetarianism was that it has pros and cons like everything else. The American culture is a meat-and-potato society that doesn't make it easy for people living an alternative dietary lifestyle.

Pure vegetarianism wasn't for me because of my particular activities, but I am eating far less meat now (twice a day opposed to six), and I've adopted a wider range of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans into my daily nutrition.

I'm the healthiest I've ever been, and stronger than ever. So I've become better for it. You might, too.

Visit my blog at http://www.hometeamfitnessblog.com and check out the list of registered dietitians in and around Hagerstown who can help you determine if being a vegetarian is right for you.

Chad Smith is co-owner of Home Team Fitness LLC, a Hagerstown personal training company. For more information, go to http://www.hometeamfitness.net http://www.hometeamfitness.net.

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