Even if you're not planning to go completely vegetarian, eating a more plant-based diet offers many health benefits.
Saying goodbye to meat.
Ben Franklin was one.
So was Greek philosopher Plato.
All the Beatles were, too.
We're talking about vegetarians. Throughout history a number of noted individuals eliminated meat from their diets.
Today's vegetarians do so for various reasons, including animal welfare, health, religious, economic and environmental considerations.
There are different types of vegetarians, including vegans who do not eat any meat or animal products; lacto vegetarians, who eat plant foods and dairy products; lacto-ovo vegetarians who include dairy products and eggs in their diet, and pescatarians who eat fish and seafood.
Estimates put the number of adult Americans who eat a vegetarian diet between two and five percent of the population. Whatever the number, many Americans are cutting back on meat consumption and looking more toward plant-based food sources.
More restaurants and supermarkets are offering vegetarian options. You may have heard of Meatless Monday, a popular public health awareness campaign launched in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. People around the globe are skipping meat on Mondays.
Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Experts agree that a well-planned vegetarian diet may help individuals:
- Reduce the chance of obesity
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower the risk of type 2 diabetes
A Veg Diet the Smart Way
It is important to remember that eliminating meat doesn't automatically make for a healthier diet. As always, it is important to eat a good balance of healthy foods and reduce your intake of unhealthy foods. Nutrition experts agree that vegetarians who eat a variety of healthy foods can meet all their body's nutritional needs.
Nutritionist Audrey Fleck of Healthy Directions Nutrition Therapy and Counseling offers this guidance. "When some people go vegetarian, they can also become a "carb-etarian" (consuming too much carbohydrate food and not enough protein food). Since many snack-type and packaged foods are already vegetarian, it makes it easy to fill up on these types of foods.
"To avoid becoming a carbetarian, I would recommend trying to focus the meal around a plant-based protein food such as nuts or beans and lentils, or try to include cheese, eggs, and fish if the person still consumes these animal foods," says Audrey.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many meat substitutes are processed with many different additives and sodium. "Just like any healthy diet, it's best to stick to whole-based food options and try to avoid packaged and processed foods," says Audrey.
Ten Tips For a Vegetarian Diet
Even if you don't go completely vegetarian you can benefit from eating high-fiber, low-fat and nutrient-rich foods found in the vegetarian diet.
- Eat different kinds of foods including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains
- Try switching to a vegetarian diet in steps or through gradual changes
- Plan your protein and incorporate sources of proteins (beans, nuts, soy products) into meals. Build meals around protein sources that are naturally low in fat, such as beans, lentils, and rice.
- Get enough calcium through dairy products, or calcium-fortified items (soymilk, breakfast cereal and orange juice) or leafy greens (collard, mustard, bok choy)
- Get enough vitamin B12 (nutritional yeast, soymilk, and ready-to-eat cereals) or try a supplement (B12 is naturally only found in animal products)
- Do not overeat certain foods to make up for a missing nutrient (ie: don't eat a lot of high-fat cheese to replace meat)
- Make simple changes by making popular dishes vegetarian (veggie pizza, tofu and vegetable stir fry, bean burritos)
- Ask about vegetarian options at restaurants
- Get a vegetarian cookbook or go online to look for healthy and tasty vegetarian recipes
- If you follow a more restrictive diet, you may want to work with a dietitian to make sure you are getting enough important nutrients
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