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Easy being vegan

The healthy, cheap alternative to cafeteria mystery meat

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I 'm biased; I admit it. When it comes to this subject, objective reporter-girl has to step aside.

After my first year of college dining-hall fare, I made the switch to veganism, a diet I once attributed exclusively to hippies. The world of animal-free diets held no appeal for me. I wasn't that fond of meat, so a vegetarian diet was inviting, but the idea of cutting out all animal products seemed inconceivable. A vegan diet meant no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no cake, no ice cream and no cheese.

But with more and more residential programs like UCCS, CU and Colorado College requiring an on-campus meal plan, students may find themselves in a dining hall more often than they anticipated. Frankly, you can only poke at greenish meat and sip lukewarm milk for so long. Soon enough I was ready for a change.

Apparently I'm not alone.

Whether for health, ethical or environmental reasons, 12 million Americans are vegetarians. About 2 million of those have diets that are completely animal-free. And -- according to Judy Krizmanic, former editor of Vegetarian Times -- the largest growing segment of the vegetarian and vegan population are college-aged: 19- to 24-year-olds.

In the mid-'70s Sen. George McGovern's Select Committee on Nutrition revealed that the abysmal state of the American diet (and all the messy health problems associated with it) were largely the result of diets with too much meat and too little fruits and vegetable. As a result, vegetarianism started inching its way into the mainstream.

Veganism, however, still carries with it some trappings of kookiness. But much about the vegan diet makes sense for the modern college student. Here is a completely one-sided case for making the switch while you're in school:

1. College students are poor

I may not be the first person to realize this, but there is nothing like school to make one realize the value of a dollar.

Vegan dietitian Virginia Messina points out the economy of cutting out the often-expensive meat and dairy components of a diet in her article "Vegan on $40 a Week." According to Messina, there are plenty of cheap, nutrient-dense foods, all of which are ideal for student-sized food budgets.

Buying bulk amounts of oatmeal, peanut butter, rice, and pasta is cost efficient and provides for easy meal preparation. Most of these foods require only enough kitchen ability to boil water, and are versatile enough to ensure an adequate variety in on-campus dining.

2. The freshmen fifteen

This is not a myth. According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, more than half of college students gain weight their first year.

Balanced vegan diets are one of the most nutritious ways to lose weight, and most consistent. Studies conducted by the National Weight Control Registry showed the best way to lose weight and keep it off is a diet high in complex carbohydrates and lean proteins and low in fat. Medical writer, Shauna S. Roberts, Ph.D., recommends cutting out meat, cheese and eggs as an effective way of cutting fat.

When faced with dining-hall fare, strict dietary limits force you to be creative. Rather than being a slave to the meaty, greasy standard entrees, you can gather your own delicious combinations. Soon you'll find delicious blends that work for you: like apples and dry oatmeal, avocado and rice, raisins and bread, or peanut butter and nothing. Overall, what you mix and match will probably be tastier and healthier than the pre-made dishes from dining services.

The bottom line: Nothing can turn the Freshman Fifteen into the Freshman Negative Twenty like an animal-free diet. You can't eat most traditional college junk foods like ice cream or pizza. That's rough, but totally worth it when you can slide into a size so fabulously itty-bitty you haven't seen it since middle school. As catty as it sounds, the feeling is even better when your girlfriends can't squeeze into their high-school jeans.

3. "I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit."

-- William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (Act 1, Scene 3)

Shakespeare wasn't a nutritionist, but he may have touched on some dietary wisdom in this one. There's a reason no one tells you to eat a steak before you run a race, or down a huge chunk of cheese before your SATs. Dense foods take a lot of energy to digest, meaning more blood rushes to your stomach. That leaves less for other crucial areas, like your brain.

The fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and lean proteins that make up the bulk of a vegan diet are perfectly basic and nutritious. They are the simple, natural foods that are easy to digest and provide you with energy consistently throughout the day.

It may sound bogus, but it's definitely something to keep in mind when preparing to pull your first all-nighter.

-- Lola Garcia

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