The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Going Vegetarian

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 The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Going Vegetarian

If you're considering becoming a vegetarian or are simply interested in vegan cooking, including more plant-based meals in your diet has a slew of benefits for both you and the planet. Making the transition to plant-based eating is easier than ever, thanks to the fact that more than 16 million Americans identify as vegetarian.

There is not only a large plant-based community, but food establishments and restaurants are beginning to take notice and offer tasty vegan alternatives to traditional meat and dairy items. Everything you need to know about beginning a vegetarian diet can be found right here.
Selecting a Vegetarian Diet



There are several types of vegetarian diets to consider when deciding which is best for you. Some vegetarian diets allow for fish and dairy, while others are stricter. Here are some examples of plant-based diets to consider:

Vegan: This is the most strict approach, involving a completely plant-based diet that excludes meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and other animal-based products like honey and gelatin.
Vegetarian: This option, based on vegan principles, foregoes meat, poultry, and most animal-based products. This category is further divided into the following subcategories:
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that includes eggs and dairy products.
  • Lacto vegetarian diets include dairy products but do not include eggs.
  • Ovo vegetarian, containing eggs but no dairy products.
Pescatarian: This approach is based on a vegetarian diet but includes fish and seafood. Pescatarians avoid all other meats, though some consume dairy and eggs.


The benefits to going vegetarian



The benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle are numerous, ranging from lowering your grocery bill to providing significant health benefits. Here are a few reasons to keep you going on your journey:


Health Benefits

Heart health: Your ticker is in charge of pumping millions of gallons of blood to every part of your body, and it beats 2.5 billion times in a lifetime. Plant-based diets that are high in plant foods and low in animal foods can help keep it strong, as they have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol (particularly the bad "LDL" kind).


Reduce your risk of certain cancers: Eating too much red meat and processed meat (think bacon and sausage) has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers. However, by avoiding those foods and adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can significantly reduce your risk. That is why, year after year, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and pulses.

Immune support: Produce is high in antioxidants and other essential nutrients that we cannot get from other foods. These vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants all work together to keep your cells healthy and your immune system strong. Strawberries, red bell peppers, and oranges, which are high in vitamin C, are especially beneficial for immune support.


Improve your skin: Plants' high antioxidant content can help fight free radicals and reduce inflammation, promoting a better complexion and reducing fine lines and wrinkles over time.

Weight loss may be aided: Fiber-rich foods are nutrient-dense, so they keep you fuller for longer and often on fewer calories than low-fiber counterparts. You can promote healthy weight loss by eliminating high-calorie animal-based foods like fatty meats and cheese and replacing them with more filling plant-based options.


Environmental Impact


Plants are not only good for your health, but they are also good for the environment. Following a vegan diet could be the single most effective way for us to create a greener, more sustainable world. The reduction of your water footprint is one of the most compelling statistics available to support the shift to plant-based eating.

Meat consumes significantly more water than grains, vegetables, or beans. According to research, a pound of beef can require anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000 gallons of water to produce, whereas the same amount of tofu requires only 302 gallons of water and a pound of unprocessed oats requires 290 gallons of water. According to research, switching to a meat-free diet can reduce your water footprint by up to 55%. However, even a small reduction in your meat consumption can make a significant difference in the long run on this planet, providing you with consistency and peace of mind.

Economical


If you look at your grocery bill, you'll notice that meat and animal-based products are usually the most expensive items on the list. Choosing whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and more, especially when purchased in bulk, can help you save money. Frozen produce is also a good option because it lasts longer and is as nutritious (if not more) than fresh produce at a lower cost. Just make sure to check the ingredients on frozen vegetables for fillers, added sugar, and salt.


Tips for starting a vegetarian diet

You may be tempted to start a vegan diet right away, but completely eliminating meat and animal products can be difficult, especially if they already make up the majority of your diet. Your diet can be environmentally friendly, but it also has to be healthy for you. Furthermore, eating more produce increases the fiber in your diet, which may result in a few more bathroom visits. But don't worry; this is a normal part of the transition to a high fiber diet and shouldn't last long; just stay hydrated to help fiber digest properly in your body. Other important things to try are:


Going vegetarian in stages: Making a sudden shift to vegetarian eating can be difficult, so try cutting one thing at a time, such as eliminating red meat at first. Then, after two weeks, no poultry or fish. As you eliminate foods, make sure to replace them with nutritious options so that you have something to look forward to eating.

Try it part-time: Many people choose to avoid animal products for a few days per week, which may be ideal for you. You can also choose to make at least one meal a day completely plant-based by selecting the meal that is the easiest to change for your lifestyle. Remember that no one is perfect, so allow yourself to make mistakes! Simply put, do your best.

Be daring: You don't have to force-feed yourself tofu and broccoli, especially if you despise it. There is a world of naturally plant-based foods waiting for you, so don't be afraid to try a new vegetarian food each week. Nutritional yeast, cashew butter, edamame, jackfruit, and banana blossom are all excellent choices.

Incorporate plant-based substitutes: To make a vegetarian diet work, you should try to incorporate options that don't make you feel deprived. If you used to eat yogurt for breakfast, try coconut-milk yogurt as a nondairy alternative. If giving up red meat is difficult for you, meat alternatives may be ideal. Choose options with the fewest processed ingredients possible, and keep sodium and added sugar counts in mind as well.

Solicit assistance: Vegetarian does not always imply healthy; in fact, foods like potato chips, Skittles, and even Oreos are all vegan but will not promote good health if consumed on a regular basis. In addition, the diet in general may feel overwhelming, and you may be concerned that you are not getting enough nutrition. Consider contacting a plant-based Registered Dietitian for help with any specific issue you're having, from navigating take-out menus to figuring out how to create a balanced vegetarian plate.


On a vegetarian diet, pay attention to the following nutrients.

When you eliminate animal products from your diet, you should pay special attention to a few key nutrients that you should be getting on a daily basis. A few key nutrients to consider when transitioning to and maintaining a vegetarian diet are:


Protein


Because you are eliminating animal products from your diet, you may be concerned about meeting your protein requirements. After all, protein is a critical macronutrient that is required for a variety of bodily functions, including muscle building and repair. However, there are numerous plant-based protein sources to choose from, including beans, lentils, peas, nuts and nut butters, edamame, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, soy milk, and others. If you're still worried about not meeting your nutritional needs, vegan protein powders could help. Learn more!



Iron is required for red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. Plant-based iron sources, on the other hand, are not as easily absorbed in the body as animal-based foods. Vegetarians can significantly improve iron absorption by combining plant-based iron foods with vitamin C-rich foods. Lemon juice can be added to bean salad vinaigrette or sautéed spinach. Other vitamin C-rich foods can also be well-paired. Learn more!


Is essential for red blood cell production and nerve development, but it is commonly found in animal foods such as red meat. Foods like nutritional yeast and B12-fortified cereals and nondairy milks can help you meet your needs on a vegetarian diet. Learn more!

Vitamin D

Is a hormone in the body that is important for maintaining strong bones and supporting a healthy immune system. It can be synthesized by the sun, but if you get little sunlight, you'll have to get your vitamin D from your diet or a supplement. Pescetarians can include rainbow trout and salmon in their diets for healthy fats and vitamin D, but those who avoid fish can try sliced white mushrooms exposed to UV light, which is the only vegetable source of vitamin D. Learn more!

Calcium

If you avoid dairy products, you may be concerned about meeting your calcium requirements. Calcium is an important nutrient for bone building and bone strength. However, foods like soybeans and calcium-fortified plant-based milks are excellent choices. Dark leafy greens like bok choy and collard greens contain calcium as well, but they should not be used as a primary source. Learn more!



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