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July 18, 2007

As I move into week three of my vegetarian conversion, I’m most surprised to find that there are more veg dishes out there than I could’ve imagined. I panicked on my first trip to the supermarket, wondering what on earth I’d make for dinner. And I almost backed out of a birthday party because I thought there’d be veg-friendly options on the restaurant’s menu. But now, it seems the possibilities are endless. I’ve made burritos, lasagna, pasta salad, bean salad, fritatta, and quiche and I still haven’t run out of possibilities.

I recently tried Quorn faux-meat products for the first time. I loved the taste and the texture—much closer to the real deal than soy. I put Chik’n Tenders into a sweet-and-sour stir-fry over whole-wheat couscous, and for the first time in 10 days, I felt satisfied after dinner! But my favorite product so far is the Chik’n Nuggets, which paired nicely with some black-eyed peas and a salad of greens, pecans, and gorgonzola cheese.

Curious about what exactly is in my Chik’n Nuggets, I decided to do some research. I visited quorn.us and learned the products are made primarily of mycoprotein, a fermented fungus similar to mushrooms. Other ingredients in Quorn’s faux-meat products include eggs, milk, and wheat flour. I realized how easy it is to view this stuff as health food without considering that it’s still processed (albeit with natural ingredients). And so began an internal debate: Is it better to eat something unprocessed yet time consuming, or premade but quick…a battle most Americans deal with nightly. Also, it could’ve been the small part of me still craving meat, but I wondered, wouldn’t eating chicken be more natural than this?

So then I decided to compare the nutritional profiles of chicken vs. Chik’n. Four ounces of Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlet has 133 calories and 4 grams of fat, compared to 190 calories and 5 grams of fat for the same amount of chicken breast. But of course, no animal had to suffer for my Naked Cutlet and there were no hormones pumped into the product. But what about protein? The Quorn product contains 18 grams and the chicken has 35 grams. I wondered if this is why I feel unsatisfied after meals? Am I getting enough protein?

According the USDA, the average adult (based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet) needs about 54 grams of protein a day (it’s 0.36 grams per pound of body weight). So I’m definitely getting enough. Between the Quorn, beans, cheese, nuts, and the small amounts of protein in pastas, rice, and breads, there is nothing to worry about. It only makes me realize that as a meat-eating omnivore, I was getting more calories from protein than I needed.

So as I continue down the road of vegetarianism, I’m optimistic that my cravings for meat will subside and that I truly made the right decision for my health.

— Jacqueline Smith, assistant editor