With an emphasis on eating foods to reduce obesity and live a healthier lifestyle, people often explore different types of food philosophies. Vegetarianism is fairly common these days, but there are other alternative eating methods that people try and sometimes adopt as a permanent lifestyle change. Many strike at the heart of our relationship with food and personal approach to this necessity of life.

More Vegetarians

It wasn’t too long ago that being a vegetarian was an unusual life choice in the U.S. In the land of plenty, there was a time-honored belief that good eating included a fair amount of red meat from the nation’s farms and ranches.

Vegetarian Resource Group’s national poll on vegetarianism found that as many as 4 percent of Americans–an estimated 9 million people–follow a diet that excludes all meat, poultry and fish. Not counting vegetarians and vegans, the survey found that 43 percent of Americans eat at least one meatless meal each week.

Simply put, vegetarianism is the practice of excluding any food that involves the flesh of an animal, including animal-derived foods such as gelatin. People choose to become vegetarians for a variety of reasons. They may have health or religious reasons, a strong belief in animal rights that precludes their slaughter for food, or simply a dislike of meat. There are many protein replacements, including soy-based foods, legumes, nuts and foods that are often thought of as carbohydrate-heavy but also contain some amount of protein. The same is true of meeting healthy levels of calcium and iron. These key nutrients are also found in many foods beyond meat products.

Being a Vegan

Within the estimated 9 million vegetarians nationwide, about 2 million are considered vegans. In addition to not eating flesh foods, they also typically omit dairy and eggs from their diet and often exclude the wearing of animal products like leather, wool, fur or cosmetics that are derived in part from animals.

Since eggs are an essential ingredient in many prepared dishes, they must be replaced with other foods to meet vegan standards. In addition to using an egg-free substitute, mashed banana, tofu or soy yogurt can be replacements when making cakes and other baked goods. Flax meal, arrowroot powder, cornstarch or potato starch are good binders in cooking and baking.

As with vegetarian diets, vegans get their protein from such foods as potatoes, whole wheat bread, rice, broccoli, spinach, peanut butter, tofu, soy milk and many types of beans and nuts.

The Pescetarian Way

Unlike their vegetarian counterparts, pescetarians eat fish and shellfish, but no meat or poultry. Their diets emphasize vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts and grains, but they also eat eggs and dairy.

This alternative eating plan is a good choice for anyone who wants to reduce cholesterol levels, avoid saturated fats and have a good source of lean protein. It also advocates a fish-based diet as an excellent way to increase the consumption of essential vitamins and nutrients found in high levels in seafood.

For instance, whole fish contain many B vitamins, including B6, B12, riboflavin and niacin. Vitamins A and D are in good supply within fish oil. Having a variety of shellfish, saltwater and freshwater fish is a good way to ensure a healthy intake of minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorous and selenium.

Buying and Eating Local

Deciding to become a locavore has more to do with where people buy their food rather than what they eat. While locavores advocate healthy eating, they base their practice on the consumption of foods that are locally produced within one’s region. Buying food nearby is believed to yield fresher choices than those that travel long distances to reach consumers.

Viewed as part of the sustainability movement that’s reflected in other lifestyle choices such as green building practices, locavores are greatly concerned about the environmental and economic impact on local communities.

Realistically, not all foodstuffs are produced within a given vicinity, so attempting to purchase most of the food they and their children need is the goal of many locavores. As a result, choosing to embrace this food philosophy is rarely an all-or-nothing decision for many families.

Whether individuals decide to limit their food purchases within a 100-mile radius of their homes or extend the concept to include their states or regions, the concept is the same. By creating boundaries, they are making a commitment to consider the origin of their food for financial, health or environmental reasons.

Whatever choices people make about their food, they should educate themselves about how to keep their diets healthy and balanced within the confines of the food philosophy they choose to pursue.