A vegetarian eating pattern can be a healthy option. The key is to consume a variety of foods and the right amount of foods to meet your calorie and nutrient needs. These ten tips will give you some ideas for navigating a vegetarian lifestyle.
1. Think about protein
Your protein needs can easily be met by eating a variety of plant foods. Sources of protein for vegetarians include beans and peas, nuts, nut butter, grains, vegetables, and soy products such as tofu, edamame, and tempeh. Lacto-ovo vegetarians also get protein from eggs and dairy foods.
2. Bone up on sources of calcium
Calcium is used for building bones and teeth. Some vegetarians consume dairy products, which are excellent sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium for vegetarians include calcium-fortified milk (ie: almond, soy, hemp), tofu made with calcium sulfate, calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice, and some dark-green leafy vegetables (collard, turnip, and mustard greens, bok choy).
3. Make simple changes
Many popular main dishes are or can be vegetarian — such as bean burritos, pasta primavera, veggie pizza, vegetable lasagna, tofu-vegetable stir-fry, and quinoa chili. That’s just lunch or dinner. For breakfast, oatmeal, sweet potato hash, cheesy avocado English muffin, and a smoothie are all nutritious, filling vegetarian options. You may find you enjoy more vegetarian meals than you thought you would.
4. Enjoy a cookout
For barbecues, try grilled veggie pizzas, Portobello mushrooms, veggie burgers, tofu dogs, grilled and marinated tofu, and fruit kabobs. There a ton of delicious options for grilled veggies, too! An easy side dish is always a good call too.
5. Include beans, peas, and legumes
Because of their high nutrient content, consuming beans and peas is recommended for everyone, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. In fact, if you're vegetarian, I recommend eating some type of beans, peas, or legumes everyday. Enjoy some vegetarian chili, three bean salad, or split pea soup. Make a hummus filled pita sandwich or a corn and black bean salad.
6. Try different veggie versions
A variety of vegetarian products look — and may taste — like their non-vegetarian counterparts but are usually lower in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. For breakfast, try soy-based sausage patties or links. For dinner, rather than hamburgers, try bean burgers or falafel (chickpea patties).
7. Make some small changes at restaurants
Most restaurants can make vegetarian modifications to menu items by substituting meatless sauces or nonmeat items, such as tofu and beans for meat, and adding vegetables or pasta in place of meat. Ask about available vegetarian options.
8. Nuts and seeds make great snacks
Choose unsalted nuts as a snack and use nuts and seeds in salads or main dishes. Add almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, pistachios, or pecans instead of cheese or meat to a green salad. Nuts are a great source of magnesium, which is a mineral needed to regulate more than 325 enzyme reactions.
9. Get your vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is needed to form and regenerate red blood cells, to maintain a healthy nervous system, and to improve concentration, memory, and balance. B12 also promotes growth in children, increases energy, and helps protect your brain from shrinking with age. It’s naturally found only in animal products, so vegetarians choose your food carefully to ensure you eat enough vitamin B12. Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals contain B12, along with some soy products and nutritional yeast. Check the Nutrition Facts label for vitamin B12 in fortified products. Taking a vitamin B12 supplement is another option if you don’t consume any animal products.
10. Check Your Vitamin D Levels
Vegetarian or not, this is one vitamin many people are low in, especially in the winter months. Vitamin D primarily comes from animal foods, but is also found in vitamin D fortified milk, egg yolks, and mushrooms. Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), rickets in children, and bone pain and muscle weakness in adults.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods