Eating a vegetarian diet may provide a number of potential health benefits, such as better heart health and reducing your risk of certain conditions. While adopting a meatless diet may seem daunting, it is possible—an estimated 7.3 million Americans have made the switch to a vegetarian diet, and an additional 22.8 million follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. Curious about trying a vegetarian diet? Read on for helpful tips, resources, and recipes!
Types of vegetarians
So what is a vegetarian exactly? A vegetarian is a person who abstains from meat consumption (red meat, poultry, seafood, and the meat of any other animal). That still leaves vegetarians with a lot of nutritious choices: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and even eggs and/or dairy products for some individuals. There are several variations of vegetarianism:
- Ovo-vegetarian: Includes eggs but no dairy products
- Lacto-vegetarian: Includes dairy products but no eggs
- Ovo-lacto vegetarian: Includes both eggs and dairy
- Vegan: Excludes all animal products including eggs, dairy, beeswax and honey
Reasons to go vegetarian
Many environmental, ethical, financial, and/or personal health-related reasons might motivate someone to make the switch to a meat-free lifestyle. Here are some of the potential health benefits of going meatless:
- You’ll be cutting back on saturated fat that tends to be found in higher fat dairy products and meat. Plant-based oils contain healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats that can improve your cholesterol ratio.
- Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are high in soluble fiber, which helps to promote heart health and regulate blood sugar.
- Following a plant-based diet can reduce your risk of developing various chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer.
Tips to help you get started
Thinking about ditching your steak knife and living the green life? Here are some tips to make the transition to vegetarianism more seamless:
- Make a list of the foods you like. Which ones are plant-based? Think about how to build meals around some of your favorite meatless food items.
- Before going full-on vegetarian, consider starting with Meatless Monday. Research some recipes to prepare one or more days per week and gradually build upon this as you feel comfortable. Listed below are some great resources for meatless recipes:
- Try incorporating more vegetarian snacks into your routine. Steamed edamame, veggies with hummus, or even fruit with low-fat yogurt are some healthy options. Click here to find some interesting vegetarian snack recipes you can prep in advance.
- Have some fun with meal prep! Go to a local grocer or farmer’s market and pick an interesting ingredient you’ve never tried before. Incorporate it into a meatless dish.
- Try out some veggie-based dishes at different restaurants if you aren’t comfortable preparing your own. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask your server if there are any meat-free dishes they’d suggest.
- Eat foods that are truly good for you! Eliminating meat or dairy doesn’t automatically equate to a healthy diet. Some store-bought veggie burgers and textured vegetable protein products can contain a lot of sodium and fat. Read labels and be aware of the ingredients in the foods you purchase—opt for mostly whole foods and limit refined or processed items.
- Make sure you eat a balanced diet and get your essential nutrients. Some important nutrients to look for in a vegetarian diet include:
- Proteins: Beans, nuts, seeds, peas, tofu, eggs and low-fat milk products
- Iron: Spinach, kidney beans, lentils, fortified cereals
- Calcium: Dark leafy greens, almonds, fortified soymilk or cereals
- Zinc: Beans, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ
- Vitamin B12: Milk products, eggs, fortified foods like soymilk, veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast
For more information on a meat-free lifestyle, click here to check out this vegetarian starter kit from Vegetarian Times.
Tasty vegetarian recipes
These simple recipes are easy for vegetarians to prepare—plus, they’re healthy and delicious!
For Health Advocate Members
If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our Wellness Coaching program, and you’re looking to start a vegetarian diet, call us! Your wellness coach can provide helpful tips, meatless meal ideas, and more.