Vegetarian questions and answers | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

Vegetarian questions and answers 

Health myths, survival tips, recipes, and vices from 17 vegetarian, vegan, and veg-friendly Chicagoans

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Health & environment


It really depends on the quality and quantity of meat one eats versus the quality of one's vegetarian diet. A lot of the vegetarians that I work with are pizza-and-Diet Coke vegetarians. Not a very nutritious diet. You have to be eating vegetables—lots of them—and getting good sources of protein from beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, unsweetened dairy products, and whole grains. If you are a vegetarian and aren't eating kale and quinoa I'd be a bit concerned.

—Breea Johnson, registered dietitian at Sustaining Nutrition in Lakeview

A vegetarian diet is going to be full of disease-fighting compounds from fruits and vegetables, full of fiber to keep you full and remove excess toxins and cholesterol from the body, and rich in healthy fats that can decrease inflammation. The standard American diet is lacking these compounds and is rich in compounds that raise inflammation, such as cholesterol, saturated fat, and omega-6 fats from animal protein and poultry. Inflammation is what drives cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, etc.

—Eric C. Sharer, registered dietitian at the Block Medical Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment; Chicago outreach coordinator for the Vegetarian Resource Group


Compared to omnivores' diets, vegans typically consume more fiber and nutrients, as well as less calories and saturated fat. Since the only source of dietary cholesterol is from animal products, vegans don't eat any cholesterol at all.

—Jennifer Vimbor, registered dietitian at Nutrition Counseling Services in the Loop


A raw vegan diet includes foods that aren't cooked above 118 degrees. The more a food is modified/processed, the more nutrients are lost. Raw food offers minimal loss of enzymes and nutrients.

—Jennifer Vimbor, registered dietitian at Nutrition Counseling Services in the Loop

While I have many friends who successfully and healthily follow a raw vegan diet, I believe most people would benefit from having some cooked foods. Many people will have better absorption if they consume cooked grains and beans. Also, certain plant compounds are better absorbed when cooked, such as lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene from orange, starchy vegetables.

—Eric C. Sharer, registered dietitian at the Block Medical Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment; Chicago outreach coordinator for the Vegetarian Resource Group


Diets lower in meat and other animal products lower one's carbon footprint as well as other environmental impacts. The breakdown depends on the items reduced and what replaces that item in the diet. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

When we talk about carbon footprint we really mean the greenhouse gas footprint—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide (yep, laughing gas) are all greenhouse gases associated with agriculture, thus are affected by food consumption choices.

The grain for cattle and other animals not only requires a lot of energy to grow but greatly impacts the quality of our water. Nutrient runoff from row crops in the midwest is a major contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and pesticides contaminate our surface waters and ground waters. More efficient grain use is feeding it to people, not animals.

"Free range" beef may require less energy to produce than "grain fed," but that doesn't translate into a greenhouse gas savings because of increased methane (belching) from the more natural diet.

Bottom line: Reducing the amount of animal products in your diet, particularly beef, can help to reduce one's environmental impact. But make smart and healthy decisions when substituting those foods. Heavily processed and packaged foods can also take their toll.

—Dr. Pamela Martin, associate professor of earth science and geography at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; director of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Related Locations


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Galleries & Museums
May 07
Performing Arts
April 30

Popular Stories