Urban diets

Lily Daniel, Staff Writer

As kale chips have gone from a crunchy hipster trend to a San Francisco corner store staple, it seems as if healthy and clean dietary choices are taking over the world. While approximately 3.2 percent of Americans eat a vegetarian diet, according to a study by Harris Insights and Analytics, a market research firm, only 0.5 percent of Americans eat a vegan diet. Vegan Instagram accounts filled with colorful quinoa bowls and blogs advising dairy alternatives fill teenage news feeds and motivate healthy choices through social media.

Dietary restrictions are not always due to intolerances, allergies and health choices. Many people worldwide also make choices based on their religious beliefs. While some only alter their diets temporarily like Christians during Lent, others are Halal or Kosher for their whole lives. Many Buddhists and Hindus choose to follow a vegetarian diet and many other religions restrict or don’t recommend the consumption of meat, dairy, shellfish or alcohol.

Last Thanksgiving, with a vegan, two vegetarians, a soy-free uncle and another uncle whose diet consists solely of quinoa and avocado, my family was at a loss. Could Thanksgiving dinner really be Thanksgiving if everyone was eating their own soy-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, meat-free, raw, sustainable turkey alternative?


What is it?

Veganism is the practice of not eating any animal products including products that animals naturally produce like eggs and milk. This also includes products like honey. Eating a vegan diet eliminates many unhealthy processed foods and can limit carbs depending on substitutions. It also has considerable environmental benefits because meat production requires large amounts of water.  

Student Opinion!

Ella Rosenblatt ’17, vegan for almost three years

Favorite vegan meal!

Veggie burger!

Something vegan we might not expect!


Why did you become a vegan and why do you continue to have your diet?

After attending the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) camp and learning about many of the issues and dangers of factory farming, Rosenblatt took it upon herself to attempt to raise awareness not only about the treatment of animals but also many of the health benefits and environmental benefits of being vegan.


What is it?

According to The New Hope Network, the gluten-free food movement has grown by 17 percent since it skyrocketed in 2012. Gluten is a protein and binding agent that is used in baking and can be found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten protein can stay in the body weeks after ingestion. Again, there are two very different groups that both exclude products containing gluten from their diets. Some people chose to cut out gluten simply because of its health benefits or others do because of an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. Cutting out gluten might limit the amount of bread or starchy products that someone is eating, which can be beneficial to one’s health.

Student Opinion!

Alyssa Romo ‘17, gluten-free for five years

Why did you become gluten-free?

Though Romo doesn’t have celiac disease, in an effort to stop her asthma, she decided to try a gluten-free diet which proved successful.

Should others be gluten-free?

It helped Romo’s medical issues drastically, but she stated that unless someone has a condition that prompts the choice, it’s not a necessary one.

How do you stay healthy while being gluten-free?

The most important way to stay healthy on her diet is to avoid substitutions. Just because something says gluten-free on the label doesn’t mean that it is healthier.



What is it?

There are two sides to the large population of Americans that are living a dairy and lactose-free life; those who are lactose-intolerant and have a medical condition where they can’t eat lactose, and those who go lactose-free by choice for various reasons. Lactose-intolerance is a medical condition describing someone who does not have the enzymes in their body to break down lactose, a protein found in dairy products. Lactose-free means that someone has made the choice to cut out products that contain lactose from their diet, including milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products. This is typically done to have a healthier diet because of the large amounts of sugars and fats that many lactose products have. However, calcium is a vital element for our bones and is hard to find outside of milk products.

Student Opinion!

Tara Kamali ’17, lactose-intolerant for whole life, but only recently discovered

Favorite milk substitution!

Coconut milk!

How do you stay healthy on your diet?

Kamali mostly drinks lactose-free milk but also has almond milk and coconut milk often. Being lactose-intolerant has forced her to cut foods like milk, cheese and ice cream from her diet which has forced her to make healthier choices.



What is it?

Some dietary restrictions are due to religious beliefs. For instance, many Jewish students choose to eat kosher with their families, a diet that excludes pig products and shellfish and prevents the mixing of dairy products with meat, among other guidelines. Other students choose to practice lent, a Christian tradition that involves limiting the consumption of certain foods between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Muslim students may choose to follow a halal diet. Halal is an Islamic diet that cuts out certain food groups and encourages fasting during the month of Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and introspection. Those who choose to fast refrain from eating or drinking anything (including water) from sunrise to sunset.

Student Opinion!   

Sophia Vahanvaty ‘17, halal since birth

What motivated you to eat a Halal diet and what are your religious beliefs around food?

Vahanvaty decided to follow in her family’s footsteps of eating Halal because of her belief that, “you are what you eat.” She does not eat pig or ground feeders like catfish because of her religion’s practices.

What are some of the things involved in eating Halal?

The main part of eating Halal is that the animals being eaten must have been killed in a very specific, humane and respectful way. Even within Islam, many Muslims choose to follow certain parts of the Halal diet and ignore others.

Other diets

The Baby Food Diet: With weight loss as the goal, this diet entails eating more than 16 jars of baby food a day and one full meal.

Fruitarianism: A rare diet practiced by those who eat 75%-100% of their meals as fruit. According to registered dietician Laura Jeffers, a fruitarian diet can cause deficiencies in calcium, protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D, most B vitamins (especially B-12), and essential fatty acids.

The Paleo Diet: Popularized as the caveman diet, this diet includes foods that could be hunted or gathered during Paleolithic times – meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, and seeds. According to Loren Cordain, a professor of health at Colorado State University, the paleo diet has a “healthy ratio of saturated-to-unsaturated fatty acids, increases vitamin and nutrient consumption, and contains an optimal balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.”

The Vinegar Diet: Popularized by Lord Byron, an 18th-century British poet and politician, this diet encourages people to drink vinegar, one cup of tea, and one raw egg daily. According to Vanessa Rodriguez, R.H.N., side effects often included vomiting and diarrhea.

The Alkaline Diet: This diet is based on the idea that “meat, wheat, refined sugar, and processed foods cause your body to produce unhealthy acid,” said Sonya Collins, an independent health journalist. It promotes eating foods high in alkaline (having a pH higher than 7) such as most fruits and vegetables, soybeans and tofu, and some nuts and seeds.