Greasy cheeseburgers, Ramen noodles and Soup on the Go – behold the first-rate sustenance of the typical college student. With classes, jobs, homework and social engagements to balance every day, planning a nutritious diet is hardly a top priority for most. But a little extra thought before ordering that hot dog and cheesy fries can actually provide students with a much needed break from stress and illness. Of course, no gain comes without sacrifice. Some of the most successful healthy diets focus on vegetarian and organic products.

Paul Wong
Vegetarianism is one option for those who want a healthier diet.

Just in mentioning vegetarianism, the automatic response from the crowd leads to the controversial issue of animal rights. Is it morally wrong to kill an animal for our own selfish purposes? How can we say it is wrong since it has been done for centuries before us? Thankfully, the argument can be easily avoided in this case. Regardless of this great philosophical debate, vegetarianism can be a much healthier, well-rounded lifestyle than those laden with meat products and by-products.

LSA adviser and long-time vegetarian Toni Morales explains, “Eating a vegetable-based diet is a great boost to your health. Fresh vegetables will provide many vitamins and nutrients and increase your intake of water, which will cleanse your system. Vegetables provide fiber, which is essential for your gastro-intestinal functioning. And vegetables … contain no cholesterol and little saturated fat so they will contribute to your cardiac health.”

In addition, many vegetarian dishes offer a lower calorie intake than meat-based ones. Some, such as celery and green peppers, have a negative calorie factor, meaning you burn calories just by eating them.

Despite all these benefits, vegetarianism can require some added work in planning meals. “It’s not just cutting out meats and eating more pastas and breads. (You) have to include soy products, meat substitutes and definitely vitamins and minerals from fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Courtney Knock, a server at Ann Arbor’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, Seva.

Even while ordering meatless meals in most restaurants, vegetarians encounter problems. For example, vegetable soup may sound safe, but some soups are really made from a chicken or beef stock base. Other foods do not contain adequate proteins to support the body. Vegans, or vegetarians that also exclude eggs, dairy, honey and other animal by-products from their diets, have to be especially careful to balance their nutrients. Often, they will need to take supplemental vitamins like B-6 and B-12 in order to maintain a healthy equilibrium.

“This diet tends to make you pay careful attention to what you are eating. It’s a great way to develop gratitude for your food and a spirit of mindfulness,” Morales states.

As if this was not enough to keep your body hale and hearty, there is still a more thorough way. Organic foods are becoming vastly popular in the United States these days as more consciousness is raised of the effects of harmful pesticides. Conventional products are laced with chemicals and preservatives, in an attempt to create better, longer-lasting fruits and vegetables.

Markus Wischmeyer, Shift Leader at Whole Foods Market, says some customers believe they have even healed faster from surgery or illnesses because they eat organic. Others claim to have improved health, stamina and mental ability after switching from conventional to organic. “Plus,” Wischmeyer boasts, “it just tastes better.”

Though Ann Arbor has a large vegetarian population, finding grocery stores and restaurants that serve those special needs can still be challenging.

Meghin-Rebecca Hunt, LSA junior admits, “It’s very difficult to find things to eat in restaurants. A lot of places say they cater to vegetarians, but they don’t.”

While there are hundreds of books written about the subject, that may not be the best answer during the busy school year. Instead, Vegetarian Information Network & Exchange, a vegetarian group in Ann Arbor, offers helpful information, as well as the People’s Food Co-op’s Education office. The Co-op has a volunteer program for those interested in contributing to a community-based business and receiving a discount on purchases. Whole Foods is also open to answering questions you might have.

“Other than providing the product, we have a strong emphasis on education here. If there’s something (the customer) didn’t know before, we can help them out,” Wischmeyer promises.

While it may seem like a huge leap from cheeseburger to garden burger, those who have done it will tell you it is more than worth it. Hunt went so far as to say, “I don’t like the taste of meat anymore, and I don’t miss it.” After all, if the promise of increased mental ability is really accurate, who could say no?

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