What is Vegetarianism anyways?
The plant-based movement is growing worldwide with more vegetarian options in stores and at restaurants; many are exploring vegetarianism and even switching to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.
There are many takes and versions of being a vegetarian; however, the most frequent definition is a person who does not eat animal meat, including fish, shellfish, poultry, and beef. Many vegetarians consume animal by-products such as dairy, eggs, whey protein, and more. Still, you can also leave out certain foods depending on what you enjoy consuming or what is beneficial for your health.
Suppose you’re considering adopting a vegetarian diet. In that case, it’s essential to consider what foods you will leave out of your diet so you can plan what vitamins and minerals you’ll need to substitute into your diet to ensure you are getting all the proper nutrients.
Right & Wrong Way To Do Vegetarian
While the vegetarian lifestyle sounds like a healthier approach to eating (might have to do with veg being in the name), believe it or not, there is an unhealthy approach to being a vegetarian. While meat is off the menu for vegetarians, many other foods are still available, like cheese pizza, doughnuts, waffles, cake, french fries, chips, cookies, and the list goes on and on. Many might feel they are eating more clean because they are no longer consuming meat; however, they might not be making the most balanced decisions when filling their plates.
It’s essential to keep in mind just because a food product is labeled vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s wholesome and healthier than the alternative. Sadly, lots of faux meat products are over-processed and don’t have proper nutrients in them, so it’s essential to read labels and ingredients to ensure you are getting high-quality products. Taking the plunge to be vegetarian is a great opportunity to limit processed foods and increase your intake of nutrient-dense, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Getting more wholesome foods in your diet will help prevent nutrient deficiencies and might increase your metabolism.
Benefits Of Becoming A Vegetarian
When done right, a vegetarian diet has lots of health benefits. If you’re avoiding meat, limiting processed foods, and excess sugar, you’ll feel these incredible benefits.
1.) Decreased cholesterol: One of the many benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet is lowering your LDL or bad cholesterol. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, by eliminating meat from your diet, you decrease your chances of heart disease by 35%.
2.) Decreased risk for diabetes: If you are at risk for diabetes, eating a vegetarian diet can reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 50% versus those who consume meat according to PLoS Medicine.
3.) Easier to maintain a healthy weight: According to the Mayo Clinic, vegetarians tend to have lower body fat percentages, on average compared with non-vegetarians. This is primarily due to the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
4.) Improved digestion: Fruits, veggies, and whole grains are full of fiber which is known to help with regularity. Additionally, studies show meat can be harder to digest than plants, so your digestion can improve by eliminating meat from your diet.
5.) Stronger bones: According to the Physicians Committee, osteoporosis rates are lower in vegetarians versus those who consume meat. Animal products force calcium out of the body, creating bone loss and osteoporosis with age.
So How Do I Jump On the Bandwagon?
Ease Into It
Some wake up ready to start a new lifestyle and cut off their old habits with no problem; however, many need time to adjust to their new diet.
Take small steps like dedicating one day a week to eating vegetarian, then gradually increasing the days or completely cutting out certain meats. Remember, there is no deadline for eating vegetarian, and by decreasing your meat consumption, you are already well on your way. Getting started is always the most challenging part.
Expand Your Options
Living in 2021, there are TONS of vegetarian alternatives out there today. Not sure how many options are out there? Take a trip to your local Whole Foods, Sprouts, or other local grocery store and browse the aisles to find some new finds to substitutes for things you miss with your new diet.
Another approach is to try new vegetarian foods when you’re out to at restaurants or even in your own home. Try preparing veggies differently, try new spices, and experiment with foods you haven’t tried. You may surprise yourself and discover new flavors you didn’t know you liked.
Love a recipe or particular food? Did you know there’s a good chance you will still be able to cook many of your favorite recipes? Often you can replace the main protein with a vegetarian source, like tofu or mushrooms, or adding in more veggies and skipping the protein entirely. If you plan on avoiding other animal by-products like eggs or dairy, there are tons of different options such as nut-based milks and cheeses, soy products, and more to help you stay on your vegetarian journey.
Get Your Vitamins In
Meat generally contains iron, omega-3s, and B-12, so when switching to a vegetarian diet, some become deficient in these particular vitamins, so it’s essential to learn how to substitute for them.
Iron: Plants do contain iron, but it’s not the same as meat sources. Plants have non-heme iron, which the human body can’t absorb as easily. However, a well-planned vegetarian diet filled with iron-rich plant foods can meet your daily needs. Foods like lentils, beans, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, oats, and leafy greens are all high in iron and, when paired with vitamin C, can help increase iron absorption of non-heme iron.
Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of the diet. Plants contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that your body must work to convert to DHA and EPA to use. Sadly, the human body can only convert about 5% of ALA to EPA and less than 0.5% to DHA, which means it’s hard for those following a vegetarian diet to get all the benefits of omega-3s. To meet your omega-3 needs while following a vegetarian diet, it’s a good idea to add flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds that have omega-3s; however, it might also be wise to keep an omega-3 supplement handy.
Vitamin B-12: Vitamin B-12 plays several crucial roles in the body by creating new red blood cells and DNA. Meat is high in B-12; however, when going vegetarian, you increase the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Many vegetarians take a B-12 supplement or go for regular B-12 injections at wellness clinics to ensure they get proper amounts of B-12.
Additionally, more and more vegetarian foods are coming out that are B-12 fortified to help vegetarians keep their B-12 levels in a healthy range.
A New Vegetarian Is Born
No matter the reason, if you are ready to improve your health, a vegetarian diet may be worth trying. While adopting a vegetarian lifestyle is generally safe, it still might be a good idea to have bloodwork done to ensure you aren’t vitamin deficient and chatting with your health care professional to ensure it’s safe to make the switch.
If you ever need support on this journey, be sure to check back in with us!
Our team is always here if you have any questions, and we will continue to sprinkle in vegetarian-friendly content to keep you inspired along your journey.