More and more people are turning towards vegetarianism, whether it’s because of growing eco-consciousness, animal rights beliefs or for health reasons. Whether you’re a lacto-ovo-vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to have a balanced diet without deficiencies. Here are a few things to know before jumping into it.
Go at it gradually.
Completely changing your eating habits isn’t easy. Know that removing meat from your diet requires an increase in grain products and vegetable protein. It’s not enough to just munch on raw veggies, as they offer a sense of satiation but don’t offer enough energy. Why not start by eating meat or fish two to three times per week and reducing your consumption gradually?
Find good substitutes.
Replace meat with legumes like chick peas, beans or lentils. Keep in mind, however, that these sources of protein are less complete than meat so you will need to combine them with other protein-rich foods such as nuts, grains and cereal products. For example, cook whole wheat pasta with goat cheese and tomatoes, a salad with rice and nuts, or an almond butter spread with a glass of soy milk.
Watch out for deficiencies.
By excluding meat, fish and/or eggs and dairy from your diet, you present a high risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Make sure to take supplements and/or opt for foods chock-full of vitamins and minerals. For example, some soy, rice and almond drinks offer versions enriched in calcium; dried vegetables and cereals are good sources of protein and vitamins A and D; seaweed, sunflower seed and soy oils contain essential fatty-acids; lentils, parsley, ginger, dates and nuts are rich in iron, and easily absorbed by the intestines when combined with foods containing vitamin C such as citrus fruits.
Mix up your sources.
Vegetarians need to eat protein, cereal products, starchy foods, fruits and veggies at every meal. Be sure to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and three servings of low-fat and calcium-rich dairy products such as cottage cheese and plain yogurt. Discover some new veggies to add diversity to your meals! For example, go from seitan tofu to tempeh, chick peas to Lima beans, brown rice to quinoa, celery to spaghetti squash, and so on. Your body will get maximum benefits from the added flair to your diet.
This tip may sound obvious, but even vegetarians like to gorge on French fries, sodas and candy. Limit your consumption of fried and fatty foods, as well as sweets: your overall health will thank you and your newfound vegetarianism will be all the more efficient.