A vegetarian diet, when done right, can provide you with all the required nutrients that the body needs. The general key is to focus on eating a variety of foods that are as minimally processed as possible.
Even still, starting a vegetarian diet can be fairly intimidating, especially if you don’t know all the basics. To help you fully enjoy your diet, let’s discuss nine practical tips for healthy vegetarian eating.
Tip #1: Focus on nutrients that are often lacking in a vegetarian diet.
Simply put, certain nutrients are harder to get as a vegetarian. With a little effort though you can get everything you need.
A good rule of thumb is to ensure that you get enough of the following nutrients, which are more prevalent in a standard diet:
- Protein is essential to any diet. Rich sources include:
- soy products (such as tofu)
- legumes (beans, lentils)
- seitan (cooking tips)
- green peas
- Calcium has several important functions (including helping build strong bones/teeth), rich sources include:
- soya beans
- green leafy vegetables
- bread made with fortified flour
- Iron is important to the transport of blood, rich sources include:
- dried fruit
- Omega3. Rich sources include:
- seaweed and algae
- chia seeds
- Vitamin B12 has several important functions (including helping the body release energy from food), rich sources include:
- Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, rich sources include:
- Fortified soy and almond milk
Tip #2: Eat the rainbow.
While all fruits and vegetables are healthy and provide a long list of nutrients each provides its own unique list of nutrients.
Rather than looking up nutrition facts for each fruit or veggie, a good rule of thumb is to vary the colors of the foods you eat.
Eat a mix of leafy greens, red apples, yellow squash, purple cabbage, and orange… oranges. It tastes great, too!
Tip #3: Expect unwanted criticism and questioning from others.
As you adopt a vegetarian diet, you hope– and kind of expect– for your friends and family to support you all the way. However and unfortunately, this is not always true.
The truth is, a lot of people are not comfortable with change or things that are different. If your loved ones still eat meat, they may have a hard time simply accepting your vegetarian diet.
They’ll ask you questions, and some may even provide you with criticism. However, don’t make this reality stop you from enjoying a vegetarian diet.
As long as you have realistic expectations, nothing will come as a surprise to you. At the end of the day, you’re enjoying a vegetarian diet to satisfy your personal needs and preferences, not others.
Tip #4: Stock your cabinets with herbs and spices.
Sure, a lettuce-and-tomato salad is vegetarian, but it isn’t going to get you through the week, in regards to both taste or flavor. Since much of the flavor in a traditional omnivorous diet comes from meat, it may be challenging to find tasty vegetarian foods that satisfy your taste buds. To help you have an easier time transitioning, be sure to stock your kitchen with spices galore, such as black pepper, salt, chili powder, parsley, and other herbs and spices. This will help you with making delicious vegetarian meals at home. The truth is, there are many deliciously vegetarian foods available. However, seasonings will simply help you have an easier time transitioning.
Tip #5: A vegetarian diet is not automatically healthy.
Just because you eat a diet consisting of vegetarian foods does not mean that you’re eating healthy. There are countless foods that are not healthy whatsoever, yet are vegetarian in nature. For example, potato chips, french fries, fruit gummies, and even imitation meats are all generally unhealthy foods that beginners tend to add to their diet in excessive amounts. Instead, focus on eating foods that are organic and as unprocessed as possible.
Tip #6: Check the label for hidden meat-based ingredients.
You might be surprised to learn that there are a good number of foods available that seem to be vegetarian but in fact, contain meat-derived ingredients. For example, you might’ve heard of the ingredient gelatin, which is commonly used in many foods, especially desserts and baking recipes. But did you know that gelatin is made by prolonged boiling of the skin, cartilage, and bones of animals? Before you put a food item in your shopping cart, check the ingredients list to make sure.
Tip #7: Find Staple Foods You Enjoy.
There are so many foods to enjoy on a vegetarian diet. From fruits to vegetables and nuts to seeds, the list of healthy vegetarian options is long and varying. While you can and should try new foods often, it might be a bit impractical to buy new foods every time you visit the grocery store. To help you in meal preparation and sticking to a general diet routine, find a few staple foods that you really enjoy and make them the basis of your meals. For example, if you really enjoy eating rice, you can make that one of your staple foods at each meal. From there, all you would have to do is add vegetables, a fat source, and a protein source.
Tip #8: All fast food joints and restaurants have vegetarian options.
One of the great things about adopting a vegetarian diet is that you can always find food to eat, even when you’re dining out or getting fast food to go. Since traditional vegetarianism simply calls for the avoidance of meat, you can eat most other foods that are available when eating out. Again, remember that although a certain food is vegetarian, that doesn’t mean it is healthy (e.g. french fries). Instead, try to opt for leafy menu items, such as salads.
Tip #9: Find and connect with other vegetarians.
There is power in being surrounded by people with the same lifestyles and goals. Although you might sometimes feel like you’re the only vegetarian in your city, chances are that there are many vegetarians and vegans in your local community that would love to connect with you as well. To find these people, a great place to start your search is on the web. You can find local groups through Facebook, connect with local vegetarian individuals through Instagram, or even join a vegetarian interest group through MeetUp.com. By having people around you with similar interests and aspirations, you’ll have all the support and motivation you need to keep going.