There are as many reasons for going vegetarian as there are vegetarians. Whether you made the switch for ethical reasons or to get healthy, it is crucial to make sure the proper balance of vitamins and nutrients to make the transition safely and healthily. Simply giving up meat does not guarantee a healthy diet. After all, a diet consisting of only cookies and French fries is technically vegetarian.
One of the most important considerations for a vegetarian is protein. Most people get the protein they need from the meat they consume, so vegetarians must take special care that they get enough of this essential building block in their diet. Tofu is the most common and widely-known protein source for vegetarians, but there are many others to choose from. Seitan is a protein made from wheat gluten that has a surprisingly “meaty” texture. Tempeh, made from fermented soybeans, is another great source of protein. Nuts and legumes are also very healthy options.
Vegetarians also need to stay conscious of the sweets and empty calories that have a tendency to creep into even the best of diets. Unfortunately most junk food snacks are vegetarian, making them a tempting choice when the craving strikes. To help make it easier to resist these cravings, keep easy-to-prepare healthy snacks at the ready. Much of the appeal of junk food is not in its taste, but rather the convenience. It is much easier to grab a bag of chips than it is to prepare a healthy snack. Make sure you are ready for this by doing the prep work in advance. When your healthy snack is just as easy to grab as the package of cookies, it is much easier to make the right choice.
Another important aspect of vegetarianism is knowing the difference between complete and incomplete proteins. Protein is not a concrete substance; rather, it is a collection of all the essential amino acids that your body needs. Very few non-animal foods contain all these amino acids, and therefore are considered incomplete proteins. For a vegetarian to maintain a healthy diet, it becomes necessary to combine foods together. For example, many of the most popular staple dishes around the world are variations on the combination of beans and rice. This is because both beans and rice are incomplete proteins. However, when the two are eaten together, you get all the amino acids that are present in a complete protein – making it every bit as nutritious as protein from meat.
One of the greatest concerns to vegetarians, especially ones new to the diet, is whether or not to use supplements. Vegetarians are often thought of as being prone to deficiencies in both Iron and Vitamin B-12, however this is actually a myth. It is true that most people get their iron and B-12 from the meat they consume, however many vegetarian foods contain these nutrients as well. Most “mock” meats and many types of tofu are now fortified with B-12, making it even easier for vegetarians to get the amounts they need. Leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are all foods rich in iron. As long as a vegetarian is eating a healthy diet, there should be no reason to add in additional supplements.
While vegetarians are widely regarded as health-conscious individuals, it is still important for them to remain vigilant regarding nutrition. However, with the right information and the right combination of healthy foods rich in vitamins and minerals, a vegetarian diet can indeed be the healthy lifestyle it is reputed to be.