Making a Transition to Become a Healthy Vegetarian

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For many years I had been an on again, off again vegetarian. That is until I became concerned about my heart health. Since I am one who believes that you should learn anything and everything about any given topic, I researched conventional medicines versus natural health care habits for improving my health. After much research, I decided that changing my diet would be the best option for improving my health.

The biggest thing I learned about changing my diet was to reduce fat consumption, and meat just happens to be a major factor in fat consumption. On average, most of us consume more meat than we really need. So even though simply reducing meat consumption to a few times a week would have a positive result, I decided that a vegetarian diet would be a healthier choice for me.

Cutting meat out of my cooking and meals became a tricky task. But this turned out to be just the beginning of my concerns. Here are some of the things that I learned over the course of many years that helped me in making the transition to become a healthy vegetarian.

It is very important to realize that when you cut meat out of your diet that you must begin to add a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to your meals in order to gain the full nutrition our bodies require. If you understand the nutritional value in the fruits and vegetables, this makes the task much easier. When I was a meat eater, vegetables held a small portion on the side of the dish. But now that I'm making healthy vegetarian meals, I make dishes that have several different varieties of vegetables in them which make them full of nutrition, color and flavor!

Understand that you can’t go from meat eater to salad eater and believe you’ve made your transition to being a vegetarian. This is how I tried to become vegetarian at first and I’ve heard many people relate vegetarianism to just eating salads. Believe me; salads, made with iceberg lettuce don’t provide much sustenance or nutrition to get you very far. Not only that, you'll get tired of only eating salads quite quickly. But when you do consume salad, keep in mind to use dark leafy greens along with a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Keep in mind that variety is the key here. Whether it’s fresh, frozen or even canned, the greater the variety of fruits and vegetables you have on hand, the greater the variety of vegetarian meals you will be able to make. You can find online recipe sites or vegetarian cook books to get ideas for vegetarian cooking using ideas specific to the items you have on hand.

There have been many cases of people who have incorporated a vegetarian diet into their lives only to end up nutritionally deprived and unhealthy. Becoming a vegetarian can be a very healthy existence, which includes a reduction in heart diseases, obesity, and certain cancers. But to get the healthy nutrition you need as a vegetarian, it is important to be knowledgeable about the different sources that contain these nutrients. Here is information for some nutritional food sources to help anyone who has wondered about, is considering trying, or is struggling with healthy nutrition, especially in a vegetarian diet.

PROTEIN
The greatest concern most people have about taking on a vegetarian diet is how you will fill your protein needs if you cut meat from your diet. As a general rule of education, we are not taught much about protein sources other than meat. But it’s a nice surprise to know that protein nutrition can be found in various foods and products that contain the following foods.

Protein rich Beans and Legumes
Many people realize that beans are a good alternative source of protein. With protein content that’s equivalent to the protein found in meat, beans and legumes include kidney beans, black beans, black eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), peas, lentils, peanuts, and soy beans.

Vegetables that contain protein
Asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower are each vegetables that easily matches the amount of protein found in meats. Other vegetables that contain protein are peas, green beans, baked potato with skin, celery, and carrots.

Grains with protein
Grains that are sources of protein include egg noodles, whole wheat bread, whole wheat spaghetti, macaroni, white bread, rice, wheat, oatmeal, millet, and pastas.

Protein rich Nuts and Seeds
Peanuts contain an amount of protein that’s equal to that found in meat. Other nuts and seeds that are good protein sources include walnuts, almonds, and sesame. Using Tahini (sesame seed butter) or almond butter offers a healthier, protein rich alternative to butter and margarine.

Fruits with protein
It may be surprising to many, as it was to me, to learn that fruits also contain protein. These protein fruits include, cantaloupe, fresh strawberries, naval oranges, watermelon, bananas, avocado, seedless raisins, peaches, blueberry, canned pineapple, apples and apple juice.

Convenient Vegetarian meat substitutes
There are also vegetarian meat substitutes available in supermarkets and health food stores. These mock hamburger, chicken, and hotdogs closely resemble the texture of meat, but are made from soy and/or vegetable proteins.

IRON
Meats are also well known for its iron content. Iron deficiency, or iron anemia can result in fatigue, a weakened immune systems and a reduced ability to concentrate. To ensure that a vegetarian gains the iron nutrition their body needs, add these foods that contain iron to your vegetarian diet: beans, lentils, peas, oatmeal, fortified dry cereals and cream of wheat, Quinoa, wheat germ, whole wheat bread, dark molasses, dried apricots and prunes, prune juice, breads and pasta, hummus, green vegetables (such as dark leafy lettuce, spinach, and broccoli), pistachios, seaweeds (such as Hijiki and Nori), and Tofu.

CALCIUM
If you desire to cut out dairy products due to your vegetarian diet, allergies or lactose intolerance. Here are some alternative food options to fill your calcium nutrition needs. Beans (black turtle, navy, pinto and white), instant oats, whole sesame seeds, Tahini (almond butter), dry roasted almonds and almond butter, cooked spinach, cooked broccoli, cooked soy beans, cooked bok choy, cooked okra, cooked Chinese cabbage, cooked collard greens, cooked turnip greens, cooked mustard greens, cooled kale, cooked rutabaga, dried figs, oranges, dried Hijiki and Wakame seaweeds, Hummus, Tempeh,

ZINC
Zinc is essential for growth, wound healing, a strong immune system, reproduction and sexual maturation, and protects our cells against destructive free radicals. To get good sources of zinc nutrition in your vegetarian diet add nuts and seeds (such as pumpkin, flax, tahini, cashews, sunflower seeds, pecans, almonds, and walnuts), grains (such as wheat germ, quinoa, millet, brown rice, and oatmeal, whole wheat and white breads), peas, potato with skin, avocado, adzuki beans, baked beans, garbanzo beans or hummus, Tempeh, Miso, legumes, lentils and peanut butter.

The more variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, grains, and nuts and seeds that you incorporate into your daily vegetarian diet, the better your chances are for gaining a good variety of the healthy nutrition you need for optimum health and well-being. It is very important to educate yourself about the healthy nutrition our bodies need for certain heath benefits and function, especially when you’re moving to a vegetarian diet.

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It’s also great to know that for those who are making the transition away from meat and towards a vegetarian diet that there are many meat substitutions available as vegetarian foods. In our home, we occasionally enjoy vegetarian foods such as bacon, chicken, corn dogs, hot dogs, and burgers that are made from veggie and soy proteins. You can find some vegetarian foods, such as veggie lunch meats, cheeses and tofu in the produce section or natural foods section while other products can be found in the frozen foods section. However, I only use these vegetarian foods occasionally and resort more to using beans and fresh vegetables as my meat substitutions.

Gain support from others who are vegetarian. I have a friend who really helped me go from a starving salad eater attempting to be vegetarian, to a healthy vegetarian eating a variety of vegetarian meals. Those who have already achieved being a healthy vegetarian can help you understand what else you can do to diversify your diet and to overcome any challenging areas you may have in making vegetarian meals. Books and online groups are another great way to gain information and support to be a healthy vegetarian.

Don’t feel that you have to be a perfect vegetarian instantly. I call myself a practicing vegetarian, because I’ve made many small steps to get this far. I figure that each thing I do to improve my eating habits makes me that much more of a healthy vegetarian. However, taking on too many vegetarian diet changes all at once can be quite overwhelming in many ways. So keep your changes simple and manageable with each step you take.

I must say that the benefits of being vegetarian have been very well worth all the changes and the learning curves that I have encountered. May you become a happy and healthy vegetarian as well!

Benefits of Vegetarian Diet

Have you tried vegetarian eating?

  • Yes. I purely or mostly consume vegetarian meals.
  • Yes. But only sometimes or I tried it for a short while.
  • No. But I have considered giving it a try.
  • No. I like consuming meat too much to give it up.
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Comments 3 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

I was a vegetarian for years...many years...and got away from it. I have begun to transition back to my vegetarian habits as I felt much better then. Thank you for sharing this; I needed the reminders.


Mary Merriment profile image

Mary Merriment 5 years ago from Boise area, Idaho Author

Thank you for your very kind comment. It's always nice to know when the information I provide based on research and experience is thorough!


LivingFood profile image

LivingFood 5 years ago

This is an excellent guide to eating vegetarian. It is a difficult diet to transition to because it is hard to know where to get the nutrients. But you just made it easy with the great lists of foods and their nutrients.

Great Hub!

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