No matter what your reason is for choosing to move to a vegetarian diet—health concerns, moral choices, religious beliefs or something else—one of the most important aspects of making the switch is ensuring you’re still maintaining proper nutrition.
Many people mistakenly believe that vegetarians aren’t able to get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy without meat in their diets. This simply isn’t true! However, as a new vegetarian, you do need to prepare in some capacity to build new types of dishes and get all your necessary nutrients.
Here are some tips on how to navigate your new nutritional journey.
Making the switch
After years of eating a meat-based diet, it can be a little intimidating to make a sudden switch to vegetarianism. However, it doesn’t have to be. In today’s world, it’s becoming easier and easier to seamlessly switch to a vegetarian (or even a vegan) diet. Meat substitutes can be found at most grocery stores, and, with so many people embracing a meatless lifestyle, unique vegetarian recipes abound.
Some basic preparation and adjustments to how you choose and prepare food can help you transition quite easily.
- Identify your favorite vegetarian ingredients: Nobody wants to eat the same foods every day. Unfortunately, when you remove a type of food from your diet, your menu options appear to become more limited. This doesn’t have to be the case, though. Identify some of the vegetarian ingredients you enjoy most. Treat these as a baseline for your new diet and find new ways to incorporate them into dishes to keep things fresh.
- Look up vegetarian recipes: There are tons of vegetarian recipes available online and in vegetarian cookbooks. Look up some new recipes to broaden your meal options and find new ways to prepare your favorite ingredients.
- Research meat substitutes: Meat substitutes are becoming increasingly popular and can be found and incorporated quite easily. Tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers and falafel are all great options that can look, feel and even taste like meat. This way, you can still incorporate meat-like products in traditionally meat-focused dishes.
- Read food labels for sneaky ingredients: Pre-packaged foods and other ingredients in stores might be made using meat or animal products like gelatin. In order to avoid these, you’ll want to become adept at scanning nutritional labels before purchasing food items to ensure no sneaky non-vegetarian ingredients are present.
- Balance is key: Many vegetarians make the switch to vegetarianism without preparing and end up eating processed foods in their efforts to avoid meat. These dietary choices can be bad for your health, which is why preparedness is extremely important when making a major dietary change. Aim to prepare balanced meals filled with grains, fruits and vegetables.
Pay attention to nutrients abundant in meat
If you’re used to eating a diet filled with meat, you may not have paid much attention to where you got certain nutrients like protein, iron and B12. These nutrients are abundant in meats and other animal products. When switching to a vegetarian diet, you’ll need to be more mindful of where you’re getting these nutrients. Fortunately, it’s easy to get your daily dose through other food items.
Eating a variety of plant-based protein sources, including quinoa, beans, seeds and tofu, as well as some animal-derived products like eggs and cheese, can provide you with enough protein and all the amino acids you need each day. Plant-based protein shakes can also be a good substitute if you have extra dietary restrictions. These same sources can provide adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Vegetarians also need to be mindful of their iron intake. Plant-based sources of iron are abundant: Beans, peas, lentils and leafy greens all have iron. However, the body has a harder time absorbing iron derived from plants, so it’s recommended that vegetarians get nearly double the normal amount of iron per day. Increasing your vitamin C intake can help the body absorb iron more effectively.
If you still eat dairy and eggs while on your vegetarian diet, you can get enough vitamin B12 by consuming these food items. If your dietary preferences steer closer to veganism, you may need to consider a B12 supplement to get the recommended daily intake of the vitamin.
Making the switch it easier than it seems
Deciding to eat a vegetarian diet is one thing, but actually making the dietary changes in a healthy way is a little more challenging. Thankfully, with abundant resources online, new veggie-based meat substitutes hitting store shelves and a growing number of people choosing plant-based diets every day, making the switch is not as complex as it may seem. By focusing on eating balanced meals and discussing your dietary choices with your healthcare provider, you can ensure you’re following your chosen diet while fueling your body with what it needs.