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If the world went vegan, it could save 8 million human lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion. Source
Are you trying to decide if going meat free is the right path for you? Then, the best way to figure out if a vegetarian diet is the way to go is to get a full understanding of what it entails. Making a significant diet transition is never easy and choosing to go meat free is definitely a major change.
Also, ask yourself what are your reasons for going vegetarian?
- For example, are you doing it for ethical reasons such as being against the slaughter of animals for food?
- For me, at the beginning, it was health related (check out my story here). I wanted to feel better so much that it completely outweighed my desire for a nice, juicy steak or some chicken fingers.
Below is a breakdown of everything a vegetarian diet necessitates. Use this information to determine if this lifestyle is right for you.
Keep in mind that there will be a detox period where you will crave meat. Most everyone goes through it, and some have slip ups. I did. This is common and par for the course. Do not allow yourself to feel discouraged over it. Accept what happened and move on.
What Is A Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian diet is simply a plant-based diet. There are different types of vegetarians and diets can vary.
For the most part though, vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Some do eat eggs and dairy. (I eat eggs, cheese and sour cream but do so sparingly.)
Vegans consume absolutely no meat products or meat by-products, such as dairy, butter or eggs.
What Can You Eat On A Vegetarian Diet?
Even the strictest of vegetarians can enjoy an array of delicious foods. For instance, you can still eat nuts, whole grain breads, peanut butter, vegetables, rice, pasta, tofu and so much more. Your diet does NOT have to be boring!
When it comes to a vegetarian diet many people believe they can eat all they want since they aren’t eating meat. This is completely false. No matter what type of diet you are on, calories always count!
Additionally, your portion sizes will usually be larger since most of the foods are lower in calories. However, that doesn’t mean you should overdo it.
Definitely watch what you eat if you want to maintain a healthy weight. For example, chips, Snickers bars and Oreos are vegan, but I don’t necessarily recommend them as part of your daily meal plan. 😊
Are Vegetarian Diets Balanced?
Most people believe vegetarian diets aren’t balanced since they lack such a critical food group. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian diets really can be balanced. It’s all about proper planning. You just have to make sure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs through plant foods, and fortunately, there are many great choices.
If you aren’t getting all the nutrients you need, it can lead to you getting sick. Because of this, some vegetarians use dietary supplements to ensure they are getting all the nutrients their body needs. I take a B-Complex every morning to ensure I get that all important B12 in.
As I mentioned before, it takes planning to be a vegetarian. You need to plan and learn about the specific nutrients provided by plant foods to get enough protein, calcium and other nutrients that you would otherwise get from meat and dairy.
Don’t let this scare you though! With just a little bit of education and knowledge, this will all become second nature very quickly.
Nutrients To Watch Out For
There are many vegetarian protein sources that replace meat, including, soy products, eggs, Greek yogurt, nuts and nut butters, beans and legumes, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, and some fruits.
Amy’s Protein Food Tip: Tofurkey Italian Sausage is TheBomb! I put it in everything from spaghetti to Cajun beans and rice to vegan jambalaya.
2. Vitamin B12
Dairy and meat foods are the only dietary sources of B12. A lack of B12 can lead to anemia; luckily there are many B12 fortified foods, including non-dairy milks, meat substitutes, breakfast cereals, and some nutritional yeast. Supplements are also available.
3. Iron and Zinc
As a vegetarian, your risk for iron deficiency is greatly increased. This is especially true for women who are menstruating. Dried fruit, broccoli, soybeans, and legumes are all great sources of iron. Zinc, like iron, is not as easily absorbed from plant sources as it is from animal products.
Cheese is a good source if you choose to include that in your vegetarian plan, along with whole grains, beans, mushrooms, nuts, soy products, and wheat germ. You can also get iron and zinc from supplements, check with your doctor.
Make sure that the supplements you take are safe for you though. Iron deficiency affects women more than men. If you are a woman, take extra care to ensure you are getting the right amount of iron in your diet.
Dairy products such as milk and cheese contain plenty of calcium. Vegan sources include fortified orange juice, almonds, broccoli, edamame, artichoke, tofu, blackberries, soymilk, beans, and kale. Calcium supplements are also available.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body process calcium and plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D enriched foods are available, including soy and rice milk, and some cereals and margarines.
Spending 10 minutes or so in the sun daily helps the body produce vitamin D naturally.
Food Choices For Vegetarians
There are plenty of food choices for vegetarians to enjoy such as tofu, tempeh, beans, seeds, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, rice, pasta, cereals, fruits, and dairy products.
Amy’s Food Tip: We eat veggie burgers weekly. The fun part of this is there are approx. 750,000 veggie burger recipes out there (there are even Veggie Burger cookbooks) and each one has a different flavor. So, one day you can have a black bean veggie burger. The next day, it could be a lentil burger.
They taste amazing and you get a lot of variety in your meal plan.
There are also many vegetarian soy products, like hot dogs, veggie burgers, and chicken nuggets. All these great meat substitutes can still allow you to enjoy your favorite dishes.
Before You Start A Vegetarian Diet
If after reading this information you decide a vegetarian diet is right for you, it might not hurt to speak with your primary health care provider before getting started.
Additionally, seeing a registered dietician might be helpful as well. They will be able to help you come up with a well-balanced eating plan.
Your plan will ensure you don’t deprive yourself of some of the most important nutrients your body needs to survive.
As you see, going vegetarian is a major transition but possible. The most important thing to remember is that you need this diet (as like any other diet) to be well rounded so that you can get all of the nutrients your body needs in order to stay healthy.
It’s not difficult. It just requires diligence in making sure that you’re eating a well-rounded variety of foods. Soooo, are you in?!?