So you’ve made the decision to adopt a vegetarian diet. Congratulations! A vegetarian diet has a variety of health benefits. Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of a variety of diseases including diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, macular degeneration of the eye, and may even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Even though there are many health advantages to a non-meat based diet, you may need to plan your meals more carefully to get the recommended amounts of certain nutrients. In other words being a healthy vegetarian takes a little more planning.
One of the biggest impediments to being a healthy vegetarian for some people is getting adequate protein. Although the daily recommended protein intake is actually lower than most people consume on a daily basis, if you don’t eat the many meat substitutes on the market, you run the risk of being deficient in protein. There are such a variety of meat substitutes available these days that it’s likely you’ll find something you enjoy. Meat substitutes run the gamut from soy based sources such as tofu and tempeh to wheat based substitutes commonly known as “wheat meat”. Another option is texturized vegetable protein which comes in dry form and can be rehydrated and flavored at home to make meatless chili and veggie burgers. Check your local library for a vegetarian recipe book and you’ll discover the many ways to prepare meat substitutes that are both tasty and nutritious.
What are some quick snacks for vegetarians who work out 4-5 times a week? #LetsDish
— Shape Magazine (@Shape_Magazine) January 9, 2014
If you still find that meat substitutes don’t appeal to you, there are other healthy vegetarian foods that are high in protein including beans and eggs. These foods can be prepared in such a variety of ways that it’s unlikely you’ll become bored if you use a little creativity. These simple, inexpensive forms of protein can be the key to a healthy vegetarian diet that’s also tasty.
Another problem with consuming a healthy vegetarian diet is the challenge of getting enough iron. To prevent iron deficiency without eating meat, supplement your diet with fortified whole grain breakfast cereals as well as iron rich sources as chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans. Despite popular belief, spinach is not a good iron source since it contains oxalic acid which blocks iron absorption. Be sure to add fruits to your diet since they’re a rich source of vitamin C which helps your body absorb iron.
To be a healthy vegetarian, avoid overindulging in pasta, white bread, and potatoes which are carbohydrate rich and high in calories which can lead to weight gain. Although vegetarians tend to weight less than their meat eating counterparts, some vegetarians develop weight problems due to overconsumption of foods high in simple carbohydrates. Try substituting yams or sweet potatoes for white potatoes and whole grain bread for white bread. Instead of adding pasta toppings to pasta, pour it over beans instead. There are so many healthy vegetarian foods; you won’t miss starch foods such as pasta after awhile.
A final way you can increase your chances of being a healthy vegetarian is to add ground flaxseed to your cereal in the morning. Ground flaxseed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to low cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and help to prevent heart disease. Since you won’t be eating fish, ground flaxseed is a good alternative.
By taking advantage of the wealth of healthy vegetarian foods available, you, too, can be a healthy vegetarian and reap the many health rewards of a meatless diet.