The *vegetarian lifestyle is a growing trend in the United States, with interest in the **vegan diet especially increasing this year. Maybe it’s due to public figures like former President Bill Clinton, Justin Timberlake, Ellen Degeneres and Natalie Portman endorsing the plant-based lifestyle. But reports that the many health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets include reduced risk of cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease is far more compelling. If you are jumping on the bandwagon (I did!) but are not quite sure where to start, these tips are for you.
1. Learn about plant-based nutrition—If you are worried about getting enough iron or protein into your diet, then it’s time to educate yourself on plant-based nutrition. I really like this veggie version of the “My Plate” dietary guidelines, which outlines sources of essential nutrients like calcium and protein.
2. Make vegetarian versions of your favorite meals—Are you committed to making a healthy transition, but sometimes crave comfort foods like Spaghetti Bolognese, chili, macaroni and cheese or an All-American cheeseburger? Then experiment with vegetarian versions of your favorites to help ease the transition. For example, swap the meat in your Spaghetti with fresh, seasonal vegetables or try a soy or black bean burger instead of beef.
3. Try new recipes—One of the great aspects of changing your lifestyle is embracing the new flavors and textures of vegetarian food. Subscribe to vegetarian resources like VegNews and Vegetarian Times, which offer informative blogs, websites and newsletters full of fun recipes and creative ideas for living a vegetarian lifestyle.
4. Explore ethnic foods—Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines all offer flavorful and healthy vegetarian options. My favorite is Mexican, and my go to meal when eating out is a burrito with black beans, salsa, extra veggies and guacamole. Yum! Check out the Vegetarian Resource Group's national restaurant guide the next time you eat out.
5. Try faux meats and dairy alternatives—If you’re not ready to go cold turkey, there are meat and dairy alternatives that may be a great option. Daiya offers a variety of cheese substitutes that have great flavor and melt well, which is a great alternative for all recovering cheese-a-holics craving pizza or grilled cheese.
There are many great reasons to try a vegetarian diet, particularly because it boasts several health benefits. There is a plethora of healthful, colorful options at the grocery store, and more restaurants are adding tasty vegetarian options to their menus. However, vegetarianism can be a huge shift from the standard beef-based American diet so you’ll need some help. Get support from your family and friends by letting them know about your new lifestyle. It’s also a good idea to consult your doctor or visit a dietician if you have any existing health problems or need some extra guidance. Have more questions? Our friends at Every Day Health provided the infographic below. Happy eating!
*Vegetarians do not eat meat. This includes pork, chicken, beef and fish.
**Vegans (strict vegetarians) do not eat any meat. Additionally, a vegan does not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other animal products. Vegans also avoid using products that have been tested on animals or made from animal skins.