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Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Eating Veggie: Tips to Get You Started

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Curious about vegan and vegetarian eating? You’re not alone! The percentage of individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet has been increasing each year, presumably due to its health benefits and the concerns many people have about the ethical treatment of animals. Vegetarian eating has been shown to have many health benefits, and as the popularity of this eating practice continues to grow, so does the number of vegetarian products available in stores.

Benefits of Vegan and Vegetarian Eating

  • Reduces risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
  • May lower calorie and cholesterol intake.
  • Increases fiber intake which may help in reducing coronary heart disease.
  • Has shown to reduce prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • It has also been shown that vegetarian diets are linked to lower body mass index (BMI) and better overall health
  • Vegan and vegetarian eating promotes the wellbeing and ethical treatment of animals.

What Does a Vegetarian Diet Consist Of?

Vegetarian diets include grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, dairy, and meat substitutes. There are different types of vegetarians, some that don’t eat dairy, fish and/or eggs, and some that do. Whatever you prefer to eat is up to you!

For vegans, all meat and animal byproducts are eliminated from the diet, including dairy, eggs, fish, butter, etc. This diet focuses on grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and meat substitutes.

Many vegetarians rely on meat substitutes to get adequate protein into their diets. Common vegetarian substitutes include tofu, tempeh, and seitan—which can be found in these common brands:

  • Morning Star
  • Boca Burgers
  • Quorn
  • Dr. Praegers
  • Tofurky
  • Garden Burger
  • Amazing Foods

But What About Protein?

One of the most common myths about vegan and vegetarian eating is that you don’t get enough protein, but this is far from true! There are many foods that vegetarians eat that have ample amounts of protein including beans, nuts, dairy, fish, eggs and meat substitutes. Many cereals or breakfast and protein bars also have protein to supplement a vegetarian diet.

For vegans there are vitamins and minerals that do need to be watched, including calcium, iron, and Vitamin B12. For most people, these vitamins come from meat and dairy products. To get adequate amounts in the diet, vegans should choose calcium- and iron-fortified foods, and consider taking vitamin B12 supplements.

Simple Tips

Vegetarian eating is a big lifestyle change, so if you’re dabbling with the idea, make small changes to start. Start by substituting meat with extra vegetables, nuts, beans or tofu, and look around to get an idea of which vegetarian items are available for purchase. Try out different recipes and see what works best for you!

Vegetarian eating is healthy and fun, and can fit in to any lifestyle!

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Tags: Vegetarian

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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