Perhaps you find the benefits of a vegetarian diet interesting but wonder if you’re ready to go completely meat free. Taking a gradual approach gives you room to plan for your nutritional needs and find strategies that work for you.
Reasons to Consider a Vegetarian Lifestyle:
- Reduce your environmental footprint. Raising animals for food consumes a lot more energy and other natural resources than growing plants for food. By eating vegetarian meals, you help cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.
- Enjoy cruelty free products. The cruelty-free movement is growing as many people become concerned with livestock rearing practices. A vegetarian diet is one way to express compassion for other creatures.
- Lower your risk for certain diseases. Studies show that going meatless can have impressive health benefits. Vegetarian diets have been associated with lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancers of the prostate and colon. Vegetarians also tend to have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- Lose weight. As a group, vegetarians are also less likely to be overweight and they carry less body fat. You may take off some unwanted pounds just by cutting back on meat.
Making Vegetarian Eating Nutritious
- Get the protein you need. Plant and dairy foods can provide you with all of the protein you require. You can even get this essential dietary element from plant foods alone. Most Americans actually consume more protein than they need. Eat a variety of foods, such as beans and rice for their complementary proteins. Contrary to the old conventional wisdom, complementary foods work equally well eaten separately or when combined in one meal.
- Learn about other key nutrients. There are a few nutrients which merit special attention for vegans and vegetarians. Supplements or fortified foods can help you get the iron, calcium, zinc and vitamins B12 and D that you need on a regular basis.
- Understand your child’s nutritional needs. Your doctor can advise you on supplements you may need if you’re raising an infant or child on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Keep in mind that children under two usually thrive best without any fat restrictions in their diets.
Gradual Steps Towards Vegetarian Eating
- Eat more vegetarian meals. Try scheduling meat-free days each week. Over time, you may drop meat all together. Alternatively, you could reserve meat for dinner only.
- Adjust your proportions. Start looking at meat as way to add flavor rather than as the centerpiece of a meal. Meat tends to be strongly flavored, so using it as a condiment is always a possibility.
- Experiment with new recipes. Browse online or visit your local library for vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. It’s easy to get scared by those tofu hot dogs that look like they’ve been in the supermarket freezer for decades. You’ll feel better when you see all the fresh and delicious alternatives like spicy red lentil soup or cauliflower roasted in olive oil and garlic.
- Reach out for support. Enlist the whole family in going vegetarian. Talk with your kids about why it’s important. Check around your community for local vegetarian groups that may offer restaurant suggestions and cooking classes.
- Integrate your diet into your lifestyle. You’ll have an easier time sticking to your new diet if you approach it as one element in a healthier and more compassionate way of living. Your motivation will remain strong and your new habits will take root more firmly.
Vegetarian eating can be healthy and delicious. Try these tips to start off gradually, and use your diet as part of a lifestyle focused on keeping your family healthy and making choices that are good for the whole planet.