If you’re thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet for moral, religious or health reasons, there are a few things you ought to know before you make the change. First, you can do it! Second, there are a few healthy eating tips for vegetarians you need to keep in mind as you go meat-free. All of them are important to know ahead of time, and all of them are listed here, for your veggie-loving convenience. Here are 17 healthy eating tips for vegetarians… or vegetarians-to-be.
What sort of vegetarian are you, or will you become? It’s important to know, so here are some loose definitions: vegan, which is meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy-free; lacto-vegetarian, which excludes meat, fish, eggs and poultry but allows dairy; and last lacto-ovo, which excludes meat, fish and poultry but includes eggs and dairy.
Just like their meat-eating friends, vegetarians have a food pyramid loaded with healthy eating tips for vegetarians, and guide, if you will, for what they should consume. As found on the Mayo Clinic website, this new pyramid suggests 6 servings of grains, 5 of legumes and nuts, 4 servings of vegetables, and 2 servings of fruits per day.
It’s completely possible for vegetarians to be overweight or obese, if they only fill up on empty calories; technically, after all, a French fries qualify as a vegetarian diet. Be conscious that your meat-free diet doesn’t necessarily add up to a healthy diet… refer back to item 2, with the new pyramid…
Changing to a meat-free diet is a big deal, and it’s pretty involved, as you can see by this long (but lively!) list of healthy eating tips for vegetarians. Like all other new habits, this huge lifestyle change will take getting used to, and some time. Be prepared to spend about 6 months to make a complete meat-free diet change… and start slow. How? By going meat-free at supper once a week, then gradually add meals, and days, to your meat-free menu.
Another way to start slow is to make simple changes. Rather than give up BBQs and the burgers that go with them, revel in summer and enjoy a tasty meat-free alternative (I love Morningstar faux-burgers). Replace hot dogs with Smart Dogs… chili with burger for chili without… you get the idea.
With more and more people switching to a vegetarian diet, there are a lot of companies offering ready-to-eat vegetarian meals, some of which are just as unhealthy (read: loaded with saturated fat and sodium) as their meat-filled counterparts. It’s still important to check nutrition labels, even on foods that are labeled “vegetarian.”
Did you know some condiments and dressings contain animal products? Depending on which sort of vegetarian you hope to become, be aware that meat and eggs and other animal products may be lurking in your favorite salad dressing or even in what you thought were vegetarian-friendly refried beans. Again, check labels to be sure.
Did you know that a half-cup of beans contains roughly the same amount of protein as a serving of meat? And that the proteins in soy and quinoa (a grain) are “complete” proteins, offering the range of proteins in meats? Contrary to popular belief, then, be aware of this healthy eating tip for vegetarians, and don’t worry about getting enough protein. You ought to be fine.
Here’s a healthy eating tip for vegetarians most of us don’t think about: you need your zinc! Now that you’ve given up meat, consider getting your zinc from vegetarian staples like soy, grains, nuts, and if you’re eating dairy, cheese.
Why should you make sure to include leafy greens, like kale? Because they’re a great source of calcium, something that may be missing from your diet if you give up dairy. Supplements may contain more calcium than leafy greens, but your body can better use the “natural” calcium than the “supplement” kind.
Like calcium, your diet may be lacking in vitamin D if you eliminate dairy. Some vegetarian breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D, and another good source is fortified orange juices. Don’t spend extra time in the sun without a form of SPF protection, as the damage from the UVA and UVB rays isn’t worth the small amount of vitamin D.
Sadly, there aren’t really good vegetarian-friendly sources for vitamin B12, but your body still needs it, so look for a vegetarian supplement to make sure you get your daily dose. Another alternative, of course, is a fortified breakfast cereal.
Because the iron in vegetable-based sources isn’t as easily absorbed by our bodies as the iron in animal products, here’s another healthy eating tip for vegetarians: eat iron-rich leafy greens, beans, peas and lentils with a vitamin C-rich food, like citrus or strawberries. The vitamin C helps iron absorption, helping vegetarians avoid having to take a dreaded iron supplement.
Here’s yet another nutrient some vegetarians don’t get enough of: iodine. This potential deficiency is easy to address, though: simply add a pinch of salt to your home-cooked vegetarian foods, since most table salt is fortified with iodine. Easy peasy!
Once you’re off and running with your meat-free diet, it’s time to start swapping recipes with friends and family! You’ll be surprised how many of them have vegetarian-friendly dishes and desserts in their repertoires, and how many of them will welcome something new! If all else fails, too, there’s always Pinterest, another valuable and fun recipe resource.
I’ll bet your favorite local restaurant has a few dishes that are vegetarian-friendly… scrutinize their menu and chat with staff to see which dishes pass muster, and which might need a little adapting. There’s no reason you can’t dine out, with a little digging before you order!
As with any other dietary change, here’s a healthy eating tip for vegetarians that can be applied across the board: if you notice anything unusual in your appetite, digestion, or anything else, for that matter, see your doctor right away. You could have a food allergy you didn’t know about before or a vitamin or mineral deficiency brought on by your new diet. Stay healthy, sweetie… see your doctor!
Now that you’ve read my list of healthy eating tips for vegetarians, are you ready to take the meat-free plunge? Which sort of vegetarian will you be, and when will you start? And do you have any good quinoa recipes to share?
Top Image Source: The Urban Class Boutique
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