On paper, Chetan Hebbale’s life is an ideal picture of success. He maintains a high grade point average in his fourth year at The University of Georgia. He balances two majors, microbiology and economics, activities on campus and a social life. He meets uncertain post-graduation plans with positivity.
But Hebbale is stressed. He frequently loses sleep and misses meals. He feels weak and tired. Just like any other college student, Hebbale struggles to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
What makes him different? He is a lifelong vegetarian.
Modern day vegetarians no longer struggle with social stigmas. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants are gaining momentum across the country, especially in college towns, where health-conscious young men and women rule the majority. Vegetarians have no problem finding meal choices, either—the options in restaurants and grocery stores are almost limitless. It is the lack of nutrition in most options, the high prices of health food products and the time it takes to prepare healthy meals that prove to be major issues for vegetarians.
Hebbale says the difficulties of being vegetarian depend on what type of vegetarian you are.
“There are two ways to be vegetarian. One way is to eat desserts and Doritos and mac-and-cheese. The second way is to eat salads and vegetables,” Hebbale says. “Getting organic, fresh produce is expensive, and then it goes bad so quickly. Or you can buy a tub of hummus and a huge bag of chips, and they will last.”
“Starchatarian” and “starchavore” are terms are used to describe vegetarians who mostly eat starchy foods, and foods high in carbohydrates, in place of meat. Abby Deane, 20, University of Georgia junior, says she has only heard these words used to insult vegetarians. Whether used in seriousness or in jest, these portmanteaus, and those who identify with them, are gaining popularity in the food world.
People have a variety of reasons for transitioning to a meat-free diet; some examples include weight loss, religious beliefs and animal rights.
Deane decided to become a vegetarian a month ago to become more intentional about the food she eats. “I used to not even consider what I ate, and I’d eat whatever I wanted. Now I just feel better about eating things that make me feel better,” says Deane.
According to the July 2012 issue of News in Health, a monthly newsletter from the National Institutes of Health, cardiologist Dr. Gary Fraser says, “Because vegetarians by definition don’t eat meat, some people jump to the conclusion that simply cutting meat from your diet will lead to health benefits, but it’s actually more complicated than that.”
Dr. David Williams, holistic healthcare professional at Multi-Care Holistic Health Center in Conyers, Georgia, says vegetarians are “some of the sickest people” he sees each week in his office. Williams says most people become vegetarians because of what they see on television, or what they read online. Williams says most patients he sees transition to vegetarianism to lose weight, but end up only consuming fruit and starchy vegetables or carbohydrates, which prevents weight loss. Although they attempt to be healthy, they end up “overweight but malnourished,” Williams says.
Why are vegetarians getting sicker now than they were 10 years ago? Many vegetarians find it more convenient to fill their plates with refined starchy carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, instead of purchasing and preparing vegetables and rich sources of protein.
“I don’t think anyone realizes how important protein is,” says Williams. “Most people, vegetarian or not, don’t know how much they need each day. A good rule is half your body weight in grams of protein per day,” says Williams. “Protein helps regulate blood sugar, and satiates you—keeps you full longer. It protects muscles while you’re trying to lose weight,” says Williams.
Complete sources of plant-based protein with low carbohydrates include tofu and dark leafy green vegetables, like spinach.
Hebbale says, “Protein isn’t something I really think about. The Indian diet is very rice-based. I don’t consciously look for protein when I eat.” But Hebbale is not concerned about his health, anyway. His entire family is vegetarian.
“My family has a serious history of diabetes and heart issues,” he says, “but I think we’re at the age right now where we can get away with the worst habits because of our metabolism. We can’t see the results yet.” Until then, like so many vegetarians, Hebbale remains a "starchavore."