So you’re thinking about sharing with meat – and maybe even animal products altogether. Well, hey! There are many great reasons to become a vegetarian, and adopting a plant-based diet is easier than ever. (See vegan cheese and ice cream corridor.)
But if you are wondering how to start exactly, the prospect of adjusting your entire diet can be a bit overwhelming. The good news is that switching to a plant-based diet plan is not that difficult, especially when you take a slow and steady approach.
Here’s what you need to know to get started.
The common denominator is – duh – without meat. But beyond that, not every vegetarian diet is exactly the same. Here’s what all those labels really mean:
- Vegetarian. Your vegetarian garden type (heh) eats eggs and dairy products, but not meat, poultry or fish. People who identify as lactic vegetarians make milk, but not eggs. Ovo vegetarians make eggs, but not dairy.
- Vegan. Vegans eat only plants, points. They are completely avoided by animal products. This means that there is no meat, poultry, fish, eggs or milk. Some vegans also avoid honey.
- Plant-based. Aka flexible, is a looser frame that sticks mostly to plant foods, but occasionally includes small amounts of milk, eggs, poultry or fish.
- Peskatariane. Basically, just another name for a vegetarian who also eats fish.
Being a vegetarian can have its pros and cons. (See going to a barbecue where the only items on the menu are burgers.) But the potential benefits of eating mostly plants are far-reaching. Going vegetarian:
It can help you keep your weight under control
Plant-based foods are often fewer calories than animal-based ones, so the more you eat, the fewer calories you may tend to get each day. One study showed that plant-based foods can make it easier to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Does your tick do well
Plants naturally have little saturated fat and no cholesterol. One study showed that when plants make up a large part – or even all – of your diet, you are more likely to have healthier cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Nourishes your intestines
A research summary showed that following a plant-based diet can help fill your microbiome with healthy bacteria, which can help promote a healthier weight and better blood sugar levels.
All this thanks to the fiber found in plant foods, which is the key to keeping the good bacteria in your gut happy and well nourished.
Reduces the risk of disease
The more plants and fewer animal products you eat, the less likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and even some cancers.
And while any vegetable-based diet serves these benefits, in some cases, the more completely vegan you are, the greater the benefit it tends to be.
It can help you live longer
Will it help you live to see 100? There is no guarantee, but a 2013 study linked the vegetarian diet to a lower risk of death from any cause.
Better for the planet
According to the Earth Institute, Columbia University, plant-based diets have lighter carbon footprints. If you are looking for a way to eat that is more environmentally friendly, vegetables are definitely the way to go.
Of course, completely changing your diet and splitting with certain foods can seem a little daunting.
But going vegetarian is not as hard as you might think. The key is to make gradual changes, be easy on yourself and maybe be willing to move a little outside of your comfort zone. Some professional tips on how to make the switch:
Rethink your dish
A balanced and packed meal does not mean eating meat on several sides — experiment with using plant-based ingredients like the anchor of your plate instead.
Try using cereals as a base for a bowl of vegetables and tofu, make beans the star of a satisfying stew or turn vegetables into a taco filling that blows your mind.
Ease in it
No rule says you should switch from ubiquitous to 100 percent vegetarian or vegan overnight. Cold turkey approach is a great option if you want to make a quick shift. But gradually increasing the number of meatless meals each week is just as good.
Focusing on just a few new recipes at once can make the transition feel smooth rather than overwhelming.
Find recipes you like
Speaking of new recipes, now is the time to start assembling vegetable options that make you feel satisfied. Try choosing a plant-based cookbook (there are many good ones) or choose an ingredient you will focus on and find new ideas to use it.
Did you know that there are more than 40 ways to make tofu taste amazing?
Make friends with food preparation
As with any dietary change, preparation is key. When things get busy, knowing that you have the goods ready and waiting in the fridge means you are less likely to end up eating PB&J for dinner – or ordering pizza.
Expect fast speeds – and plan for them
Brutal truth? Being a vegetarian means, sometimes you will encounter situations when food options are scarce in none. The key is to know when they are likely to show up – and to be prepared.
Traveling? Pack food in case the food choices at the airport are all turkey and beef sandwiches. Meet people at a new restaurant? Look at the menu in advance to verify that there is at least one thing you can eat. (FYI, there will almost always be, but it’s good to know for sure.)
Do not think that you have to go all or nothing
Remember, the only person you are doing this for is yourself. It’s not the end of the world if you succumb to a hamburger craving or accidentally eat soup made with chicken broth. Just get back to business tomorrow.
Some friendly nutrition reminders
Let’s quickly point out that vegetarian and vegan diets can provide all the food you need, provided you eat a variety of healthy foods.
There are some vitamins and minerals that may be a little harder to get than others, however, so you will want to make sure you are getting enough from these guys:
- Calcium. If you are eating dairy foods regularly, you are ready. But if skim milk, yogurt or cheese are not on the menu or you only have them once in a while, make sure you get the bone builder from other sources. Think of fortified plant milk, juices, whole grains, tofu, almonds, broccoli and leafy greens.
- Vitamin D. It’s also difficult for some omnivores to get enough of it as vitamin D is not present in many foods. You can get it from eggs, fortified milk thistle, orange juice, vegetable milk and whole grains.
- Iron Iron in plant foods is more difficult for the body to absorb than iron in animal foods. So load up on beans, leafy greens, eggs and fortified cereals and always accompany them with a source of vitamin C to increase absorption.
- Vitamin B12. It occurs naturally only in animal-based foods, so if you are vegan, find some strong fortified options, such as fortified cereals, nutritious yeast or vegetable milk. You can also talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
Although a vegetarian diet can bring great health benefits, no food style is perfect. These downsides are not the violators of the agreements, but they are definitely worth being aware of.
You may need to work harder to get enough calories and nutrients
One study showed that, on average, you would get about 260 fewer calories a day on a vegetarian diet and about 600 fewer calories on a vegan diet compared to a comprehensive diet. This can be helpful if you are trying to lose weight.
If you are happy with what the rate is now, you may need to pay a little more attention to make sure you are getting the calories you need. Thankfully, a tablespoon of almond or shell butter comes down quite easily.
Things can get gaseous, especially in the beginning
Increasing plant intake means increasing fiber intake, which is a good thing, in terms of health! But you may notice some gas, bloating or even constipation as your digestive tract adjusts.
Your system should get back to feeling good within a few weeks, but drinking plenty of water and gradually increasing your fiber intake can help with the transition.
You may need to plan a little more
Without meat, it may take a little more work to figure out how to meet certain nutritional requirements. Same thing with dealing with situations like travel or social events when you are not sure what the food options will be like.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there is definitely some misinformation out there about plant-based diets that is worth clarifying. Some facts to be clear:
You do not need to be obsessed with protein
You will easily meet basic protein requirements as long as you get enough calories and eat a variety of foods. If you are a serious athlete or have extra protein needs, working with a registered dietitian can help make sure you are achieving all of your basics.
In terms of combining foods like rice + beans or bread + peanut butter to make complete protein? It is an initial mistake. As long as you eat a variety of foods during the day, your body will get what it needs.
Do not assume that vegetable foods automatically = healthier
Vegan cakes have as many empty calories as those made with butter and eggs, guys. So while it is good to treat yourself occasionally, do not fall into the trap of thinking that just because it is made with herbs, it is good for you or low in calories.
The same goes for meat substitutes. Delicious vegetarian dogs and slices definitely have a health halo, but they are highly processed and are not what you want to have every day.
Vegetarian diets have many health benefits, provided you get enough of certain nutrients and eat a large variety of healthy, minimally processed foods.
The key to success is easing into your new meal plan, finding new recipes that you really love, and ensuring you get the vitamins and minerals you need. And if he falls out of the gang one day, do not worry. There is always another chia pudding or fried tofu tomorrow.