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Vegetarian Diets for Beginners

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a vegetarian diet “focuses on plants for food.” In general, vegetarians do not eat meat or meat byproducts, although they may eat other animal products. A balanced, varied vegetarian diet is a healthy way of eating that can help people maintain weight and get all the nutrients they need. It’s not complicated to follow, and it can be more economical than following a traditional omnivorous diet.

Types

Eating as a “vegetarian” means different things to different people. The basic term applies to someone who does not eat any meat, including chicken or fish. Lacto-ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat, either, but they do eat dairy products and eggs. Lacto vegetarians eat dairy but no eggs, and ovo vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy. Pescetarians eat fish, and semi-vegetarians or flexitarians occasionally but rarely eat meat. Vegans do not eat any animal products, including dairy, eggs, gelatin, honey and other items.

Starting Out

A person might choose to become a vegetarian for many reasons. According to KidsHealth.org, some of the most common reasons for going vegetarian are to save money, honor religious beliefs, improve health, support animal rights or support better environmental practices. Some vegetarians simply don't like meat. For those who do, starting out as a flexitarian or pescetarian can be a simple way to ease into vegetarianism. Reduce meat-based dishes gradually, use up the meats in your refrigerator and freezer, and let your friends and family members know that you're dabbling with vegetarianism.

Tips

Get used to the idea of vegetarianism by associating it with dishes that you find comforting or easy to make. For example, macaroni and cheese and veggie pizza are two common foods that plant-based eaters can enjoy. Crumbled tofu can be used to make "meatballs" or a textured sauce for spaghetti, and veggie burgers or veggie dogs can replace hamburgers and hot dogs for summer barbecues. Paging through vegetarian cookbooks is another way to get ideas for tasty main dishes that pique your excitement.

Meal Plans

A few basic foods often make up the foundation of a vegetarian meal plan. Salad is one of the most versatile. Try a fruit salad with breakfast, and use fresh greens as a base for lunch and dinner dishes. Add other fresh vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, crumbled tofu, homemade dressings, and beans or lentils for texture, variety and nutrients. Think of grains and plant-based proteins as jumping-off points for meals. Bulgur or rice can serve as casserole fillings or veggie burger bases. Beans can fill tacos or make dips when pureed. Breads, wraps and tortillas can hold any fillings, sweet or savory, and can be eaten at any meal.

Risks

Most beginning vegetarians are able to get all the nutrients they need if they include an adequate amount of variety in their diets. However, some nutrients are more concentrated in animal products than they are in plant-based products. The Vegetarian Resource Group encourages beginning vegetarians to make sure they get enough protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids from the foods they eat. Dairy products contain protein and calcium, and beans or legumes are also good protein sources. For iron, try dried fruits, spinach or iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin B12 can be found in soy milk and dairy products. For omega-3 fatty acids, eat flaxseed, tofu or walnuts.

Photo Credits:

  • Vegetarian soup image by Vlad Kononov from Fotolia.com

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.