A vegetarian diet consists of various plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. While there are several types of vegetarianism, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to not eat meat, fish, poultry, and sometimes dairy and eggs. No matter your choice of vegetarian lifestyle, it’s important to consume a variety of plant-based foods to meet your daily nutritional needs.
Listed below are tips for individuals who are considering adding vegetarian meals to their weekly routine, as well as, those beginning to eat a vegetarian diet.
- Vary your proteins. Instead of relying on heavily processed foods, which are typically higher in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium, build your meals around protein sources that are low in fat such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, quinoa, nut butters, and nuts. Be creative in planning your meals and trying new foods! Here is a list of vegetarian meal ideas from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Remember your essential vitamins and minerals. Some vegetarians may have a difficult time consuming nutrients such as Vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and zinc in an adequate amount. Help meet your nutrient needs with foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, soymilk, green, leafy vegetables, and beans. Some might need additional supplements to get all the nutrients they need, but remember to check with your healthcare provider first before adding supplements to your diet.
- Rethink old favorites and explore new ideas. Review your current favorite and go-to dishes to see if there are easy changes to make the dish vegetarian-friendly. Many dishes containing meat can be made vegetarian! Go meatless with pastas, pizzas, and stir-fries by increasing the vegetables and substituting meat for beans, tofu, or tempeh. In addition, many cuisines, such as Indian, Thai, and Mexican, have several delicious vegetarian recipes. For example, yellow chickpea curry, pad Thai noodles with tofu, and black bean and vegetable burritos are just a few recipes to try! Gain inspiration for new meal ideas and cooking approaches from cookbooks and online recipes.
- Try the vegetarian version! There are several vegetarian products that look and sometimes even taste like the non-vegetarian version. Some examples include soy-based sausage patties, veggie or bean burgers, and soy cheese. These options are lower in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol.
Regardless if you are a vegetarian or not, eating a plant-based meal every now and then can still make a small positive change in improving your health. Start by making small changes, such as reducing the amount of meat you consume, choosing more lean proteins, legumes, or nuts, or making fruits and vegetables the focal point of your dish!
For more information on the potential health benefits of a vegetarian diet and how to meet your nutrient needs when going plant-based, please read the Center for Nutrition in Schools’ Nutrition Fact Sheet on Vegetarian Diets.
For meatless meal ideas, check out the American Heart Association’s collection of vegetarian recipes.