WESTMINSTER — "Where's the Beef?"
Vegetarian Cynthia Blum and others with similar diets have little interest in the answer to that question, posed afew years back on a popular commercial.
For the last 14 years, the Westminster resident and her husband, Michael, have been vegetarians, a diet they consciously selected for health reasons.
"Becoming vegetarians started out as an experiment," recalled the 39-year-old Blum. "Right after we got married, we both had gained a lot of weight, and we just felt yucky for two people in our early 20s. We gave ourselves 30 days, and in that time we saw adifference."
In the beginning, Blum and her now-38-year-old husband ate dairy products along with their vegetables. But over the last few years, their vegetarianism has become complete.
"The last three to four years, we have gotten away from dairy products altogether. We used to eat eggs and cheese in the beginning, but not anymore. Nowwe are strict vegetarians," she said.
While their diet consists mostly of leafy greens, grains and protein substitutes like soy and tofu, the Blums find some of their favorite cuisines include Chinese, Mexican and Indian food, cultures whose dishes are predominantly vegetable-based.
"We really enjoyu ethnic foods," said blum. "Just recently, we went to a Chinese restaurant in Laurel and feasted on vegetable tempura, vegetable fried rice and spring rolls. We even had a dish with marinated fofu."
The Blums have had little problems adapting to the dietary changes, but for daughter Sarah, 9, and son Erik, 6,the issue has been more of a social one.
"Obviously, they have never had a school lunch," joked Cynthia. "It has beenuncomfortable forthem at times, but they understand. the kids at school will get freecoupons for ice cream, and that can be tough because they do not eatdairy products."
Blum said her children enjoy all the fruit juices and use almond or soy milk on the morning cereal.
Westminster residents Kathy and Mark Shane, friends of the Blums, became vegetarians years ago, but for different reasons.
"We became vegetarians forspiritual reasons. We eat strictly vegetables because we do not wantot eat animals," said 39-year-old Kathy. "We feel that there are other sources of food. We do not believe in killing animals for food."While Kathy says health was a secondary reason for the vegetarian diet,she and 50-year-old Mark have never felt better.
"I feel healthier, and have never been healthier since becoming a vegetarian," said Kathy, a nurse at the University of Maryland Cancer Center in Baltimore. "I typically work more than a 40-hour week and care for two children. I find that I have more energy and require less sleep."
The Westminster couple's children -- Amanda, 9, and Alison, 7 -- are also vegetarians.
Sharon Schwartz, a registered dietitian at Carroll County General Hospital, said the best vegetarian diet includes proteins.
"Proteins are necessary to get the eight essential amino acids. By combining foods, vegetarians can receive these amino acids."
For example, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter on whole wheat or beansand rice are ways vegetarians can receive their amino acids," she said.
Schwartz said strict vegetarians should learn from a dietitan how to combine foods.
"My concern is that they know what they are doing," she said. "There are benefits from a diet of this nature. Usually the person is lowering their saturated fats and cholesterol, as long as they are not eating junk food and an overabundance of margarine."
Dr. Natvarial Rajpara, a Westminster physician specializing in pulmonary diseases and allergies, has never had trouble including proteins in his vegetarian diet.
"There is a big misconception thata vegetarian diet is low in protein, but a vegetarian gets their protein by eating peanuts, cereals, chic peas, wheat and rye," said the 39-year-old native of India.
Dr. Rajpara, whose Hindu religion dictates begetarianis , said he has "never missed out on the necessary nutrients" because they can be consumed through a variety of foods other than meat.
Nationwide, some 25,000 vegetarians belong to the vegetarian resource group. For more information on vegetarianism or thegroup, call Cynthia Blum at 876-7882.