Have you ever thought of going vegetarian?
I am not one myself but have definitely cut down on meat products in recent years. Many people are changing to this way of life while others may be thinking about it but don’t quite know the right way to go about it. The vegetarian lifestyle is one adopted by many people for a variety of reasons, including health and animal rights, but as with any kind of diet there is a right way and a wrong way to go about living life as a vegetarian.
The pros and cons of being a vegetarian
While eating a diet that consists mainly of vegetables and fruits would seem healthy on the surface, it can have its drawbacks as well.
There are different levels of vegetarianism, depending on whether you are going to include dairy products, eggs and fish.
What all types of vegetarians have in common is the avoidance of all meat.
But leaving meat out of your diet means you are eliminating a key source of protein and essential nutrients. Being a healthy vegetarian means making sure your body is getting all the things that it needs on a regular basis. As with any kind of diet, the key to a healthy vegetarian diet is ensuring that it is well balanced. Because of cutting out meat and some dairy products, vegetarian diets can be lacking in certain nutrients, including calcium, Iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
You can get these nutrients in a vegetarian diet with a little extra work
• Carbohydrates and Zinc, two essential building blocks for healthy body development and proper immune system function, can be found in grain products including cereals and legumes.
• Fat, which is necessary to help your body process vitamins, can be found in nuts, oils and avocados.
• Iron is very important to the blood and can be found in beans, seeds and dark leafy vegetables like spinach.
• Calcium, which is essential for bone growth, is found in dairy products. Even vegetarians who refrain from eating dairy products can get their calcium requirement through calcium fortified foods. It is extremely important to read labels so that you know exactly what you are getting in any food product.
• Vitamins D and B12 can be difficult to get in the proper amount in a diet which does not include animal products or dairy, but there are some alternatives such fortified foods for Vitamin B12.
You might need a daily supplement
The problem with cutting out animal products is depriving your body of the main source of natural protein. But protein can be found in other sources including peanut butter, beans, peas and lentils, as well as dairy products. Making sure your diet contains enough protein-rich food is the biggest challenge for most vegetarians.
The change to a new way of life
There are no set rules to becoming a vegetarian – you can reduce your meat consumption gradually, or limit yourself to fish-only or include the occasional piece of chicken. Becoming a vegetarian can be a process, not necessarily an overnight event! Some vegetarians would say that vegetarianism is more of a way of life, not simply what you put on your plate.
Many teenagers try to become vegetarians overnight. They think vegetarianism is cool, but sometimes they lack the patience to adapt their meat-eating-habits to vegetarian ones so they lose interest.
Taking things gradually
If you are thinking about becoming a vegetarian, here are some useful tips:
• Invest in a good vegetarian cookbook.
• Check out your local health food store – it’s bound to have vegetarian foods and products you haven’t seen before – and ask questions about vegetarian foods that are new to you.
• Buy vegetarian cheese. Some cheeses are still made with an ingredient from the stomachs of slaughtered calves, while vegetarian cheese uses vegetable-derived rennet. Many of the more unusual varieties such as Stilton and Brie are also now available in vegetarian versions.
• Buy free-range eggs instead of the factory/battery produced versions. They are much healthier and certainly much kinder to the chickens that lay them.
• Buy legumes/pulses and lentils. You can buy dried or tinned such as kidney beans, garbanzo-beans (chick peas), etc.
• Try TVP (textured vegetable protein) – buy the ‘flavored’ variety and use it instead of ground beef in vegetarian lasagna, and other recipes.
• Start reading food labels if you are really serious about become a vegetarian. You’ll be surprised how many non-meat foods contain meat-derivatives, like animal fats or gelatin.
A basic vegetarian eating plan
All the nutrients you need can quite easily be obtained from a vegetarian diet. And research shows that in many ways a vegetarian diet is healthier than that of a typical meat-eater. Nutrients are usually divided into macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats and oils), and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals). We also need regular fiber and a good 6 to 8 glasses of water per day.
Here is a rough guide as to what you should eat every day to ensure a balanced vegetarian diet and to help you plan your meals: 4 to 5 servings of fruit and vegetables; 3 to 4 servings of cereals/grains or potatoes; 2 to 3 servings of legumes/pulses, nuts and seeds; 2 servings of milk, cheese, eggs or fish; olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and butter (preferably from grassfed animals such as Kerrigold butter); and some yeast extract preferably fortified with vitamin B12
Living a vegetarian lifestyle can be an important choice for many people, but if you are going to go the meat-free route, make sure that you do it the right way.
It’s all about taking care of your body so that your body will take care of you long term.