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The rise of Vegetarianism

Up until two years ago, I was a rabid consumer of fat juicy sausages and bacon double cheeseburgers complete with a side of oil-soaked fries. My decades of ardent meat eating, with a few vegies on the side, had seen me through some pretty tough times — like the time when I was really hungry on the way home from work and decided to pull in at the nearest American takeaway food giant. Or in my childhood when my brother and I cunningly tipped all the vegies into the garbage bin and were left with a leg of ham for Christmas lunch.

But recently I have converted. This was not due to anything remotely connected to health consciousness, a desire to save the animals, or the meaty taste of a rack of lamb. Rather, it was because the person I was living with was a vegetarian and I tagged along for the ride. (It's a pretty pathetic reason, I know.)

At first I was concerned that being a vegetarian, especially after having eaten meat for such a long time, would deny me of sufficient levels of high quality proteins. And I thought that even if I consumed acres worth of celery, the inferior vegetable proteins wouldn't make up for the lost animal proteins. Surely I would lose massive amounts of weight and be devoid of energy!

Indeed, the first reaction I got from my friends was, “You're skinny enough already! You'll waste away if you don't eat meat.” However, I am pleased to report that traditional myths about vegetarian diets are largely unfounded. I am living proof.

The first myth is that vegetarians are weird new-age freaks clutching to trendy leftist fads in a desperate attempt to avoid the mainstream. I can assure you, this is utter nonsense. I know many vegetarians who are as mainstream as you can get in all other aspects of their lives. Many choose their diet for health reasons, and others choose vegies because meat plays havoc with their stomachs.

But the major health-related myth is that vegetarians are prone to protein deficiency. The reality is that many enzymes in vegetables are proteins. And antibodies, of which there is a very high supply in vegetables, contain many hormones and proteins. These proteins consequently yield some dietary energy (4 Kcal/gm), help to transport fats and vitamins, and help to control body's self-regulatory system (homeostasis).

When vegetarians have an adequate calorie intake, then protein deficiency is virtually non-existent. Why? Because proteins are found in grains, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Vegos can also eat soya, lentils (dhal), legumes such as beans, lima beans, potatoes, spinach, tofu, wheat bread, rice and peas. With a skilled chef – something all of us can be if we buy the right cookbooks – a meal made from vegetables can be as scintillatingly tasteful as any meal made from meats.

But the praise for the vegetarian diners gets better! Plant protein is much healthier than animal protein. It is virtually impossible to consume too much vegetable protein, but as we know, excess animal proteins can lead to increased chances of heart disease and poor kidney function.

The next time you dine out, try a vegetarian Cairns restaurant. And even if your dining partners are carnivores, a good restaurant will always have a vegetarian option on the menu. Give it a try and you never know - you may be converted!

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