Should I go vegetarian?

9 Things You Should Know Before You Go Vegetarian

Thinking of becoming a vegetarian? If so, you have a good chance of doing your body — not to mention the environment and animal rights efforts — some good.

“A plant-based diet can reduce your risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, and may lower the risks of colon, breast, prostate, and other cancers,” says Rajiv Misquitta, MD, a doctor of internal medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, California, and coauthor of Healthy Heart, Healthy Planet: Delicious Plant-Based Recipes and Tips to Reduce Heart Disease, Lose Weight, and Preserve the Environment.

But it can also be a tough and confusing switch to make. You’re not going to get the health benefits of going all-veg if you replace chicken and beef with sugary desserts, French fries, and extra cheese. It’s the higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and soy products — which tend to be higher in fiber and phytochemicals — that do your body good, according to the American Dietetic Association.

So how do you do it the right way? Here’s what Dr. Misquitta — who himself has cut all animal products from his diet — and other experts say:

1. Don’t Go Cold Tofurky

Giving up meat is more easily achieved if you take it slow, Misquitta says. He suggests starting by preparing one meal per day without meat, then up that to eating vegetarian for a full day each week, in addition to eating vegetarian for at least one meal on the other days. Once you’re comfortable with those changes, increase the number of meals per week you’re cutting out meat. “The first few weeks will be the most challenging. But after a couple of months without meat, many of those cravings disappear,” Misquitta says.

2. Pump (Up) Some Iron

Getting iron that is easy for our bodies to absorb is harder for vegetarians, since a lot of that iron is found in meat (“heme iron”), says Debbie Petitpain, RDN, of Sodexo at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Non-meat sources of iron (“non-heme iron”) include legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds, plus fortified foods and some grains.

But because the body doesn’t absorb non-heme iron (the only type veggie-only eaters are getting) as well, vegetarians need to get even more of it than the typical recommendation for people eating meat. Men who are vegetarians should get at least 14.4 milligrams (mg) of iron a day and women should get 32.4 mg.

“You can also increase how much iron you’re getting by cooking with cast-iron pans, and adding sources of vitamin C, which aids in iron uptake,” Petipain says.

3. Don’t Forget About Omega-3s

If you’re cutting out fish, along with poultry and meat, you may also be missing out on essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health. Turn to plant sources of omega-3s, Petitpain says, which include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, hemp, soy, and seaweed. Men need 1.6 grams (g) of omega-3s a day and women need 1.1 g.

Also, the more you can vary your sources of omega-3s the better, since different foods have different fatty acid chains that are all good for health. Keep in mind that, just like iron, plant sources of omega-3s are less potent than the marine sources because they have to go through an extra conversion step before your body can reap the benefits. So, the more you can get, the better!

4. Skip the Junk Food

A study published in July 2017 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that overall a vegetarian diet is better for your heart than a diet that includes meat — but the opposite is true if your non-meat meals still rely too heavily on less-healthy foods, including juices, sugary drinks, refined grains (white bread, rice, and pasta), potatoes, and sweets.

“Refined grains quickly boost your blood sugar levels, which can increase insulin resistance and put you at risk for diabetes,” Misquitta says. He suggests turning instead to whole grains whenever possible, like steel-cut oats, brown rice, whole wheat, berries, and spelt. Also be mindful not to fill up on sweets and sugary drinks.

5. Don’t Panic About Protein

“But you need protein!” If you’re hearing this from naysaying friends and family, you can likely dismiss the concern if you’re eating a well-rounded roster of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, dairy, and whole grains. “Protein is present in all whole plant-based foods, particularly in lentils, beans, eggs, seeds, nuts, soy products (including soy milk, edamame, and tofu), quinoa, broccoli, oats, and grains,” Misquitta says.

Daily protein requirements vary by age and weight, but for most adults, men need approximately 56 g of protein every day and women need 46 g. Want to know your personalized recommendation? For a healthy adult, the DRI (dietary reference intake) for protein is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 g per pound) each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, this would be 54 g of protein each day.

6. Experiment With Different Cuisines

If you’re afraid to branch out, you’ll get bored, Petitpain says. “There’s a variety of world cuisines that are plant-based. Ethiopian wat (chickpeas and peas), Indian aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato), and Thai kaeng kari (yellow curry) all combine earthy flavors, creamy textures, or bright colors to spice up dinner.”

7. Don’t Overdo It on Faux Meat

Supermarkets are filled with meat-free substitutes, like veggie burgers and faux bacon. But not all foods labeled “vegetarian” are nutritious, says Neal Malik, MPH, RDN, doctor of public health and leader of the master of science in nutrition for wellness program at Bastyr University in San Diego. “Many are highly processed and contain a laundry list of additives and preservatives.”

Check labels and choose foods with five ingredients or less, or at least be sure the majority of items on the list are foods, not chemicals, Malik recommends.

8. Say Yes to Soy

Heard something negative about soy and soy products? Most people have nothing to fear about consuming soy, Malik says. “Soy is one of the few plant-based proteins that are readily absorbed and utilized by the body. It’s also a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids — the building blocks of protein — to support the body’s functions. Soy is also naturally lean — low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat.” Bring on the tofu!

9. Ask Questions

There’s no one-size-fits-all vegetarian diet, says Lauren Cohely, RDN, CDE, a PhD candidate and researcher in nutrition and cardiometabolic health at the University of Georgia in Athens. When you have questions, don’t be afraid to seek advice from your doctor, an RD, or other reputable sources, like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the USDA, or The Vegetarian Resource Group.

It’s critical that no matter what your diet looks like, it fits your body’s needs — which vary for everyone based on things like height, weight, sex, activity level, and lifestyle.

Top 10 Reasons for Going Veggie

The single most important thing an individual can do for their health, for the environment, and for the sake of the innocent animals is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

1. Reduce risk of the No. 1 killer – Heart Disease.

Vegetarian diets tend to be naturally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have a higher intake of plant nutrients than most meat-based diets.1 Vegetarians have been shown to have a 24% lower risk of dying of heart disease than non-vegetarians.2 Furthermore, world-renowned physician Dr. Dean Ornish found that patients on a low-fat vegetarian diet actually reversed coronary heart disease.3

2. Cancer prevention.

Regularly consuming a diet that contains fruits and vegetables is strongly associated with a reduced risk of some cancers. There is evidence that vegetarians tend to have a lower overall rate of cancer compared to the general population. “Red meat and processed meat consumption is consistently associated with an increase in the risk of colorectal cancer.”4 Reducing your risk of cancer is a great reason to eat your fruits and veggies!

3. Lose excess weight and keep it off.

On average, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (a measure of body fat) than meat eaters. More than two-thirds (68.8%) of the general public are obese5. The Oxford Vegetarian Study found that BMI levels are lower in vegetarians of all age groups and for both men and women6
Vegetarians may have lower BMI due to consumption of a diet that is high in fiber-rich and low-energy foods such as fruits and vegetables

4. Live longer, slow the aging process.

A 12-year Oxford study published in the British Medical Journal found that vegetarians outlive meat eaters by six years.7 Plant-based diets are generally rich in fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which in turn strengthens the immune system and slows down the aging process. Additionally, a vegetarian diet can prevent and reverse certain chronic diseases so it makes sense that vegetarians have a longer life span!

5. Avoid toxic food contaminants.

Flesh foods can harbor contaminants such as hormones, herbicides and pesticides, and antibiotics. As these toxins are all fat-soluble, they concentrate in the fatty flesh of the animals. Not to mention the viruses, bacteria and parasites such as salmonella, trichinella and other worms, and toxoplasmosis parasites.

6. Reduce Global Warming.

The United Nations said in its 2006 report that livestock generate more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.8 Most of it comes from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide gases generated by manure. Therefore, the single most important step an individual can take to reduce global warming is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

7. It Makes Economic Sense.

A vegetarian diet is not only good for one’s personal health; it’s also good for the nation’s economy. Five diet-related chronic diseases cost the U.S. economy a staggering $1 trillion each year!9 This is an estimate of direct medical costs and the indirect impact of productivity losses due to illness and premature death associated with chronic heart disease and stroke, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. According to an annual estimate by Fidelity Investments, which has been tracking healthcare costs for decades, the average couple retiring in 2016 at age 65 will need $260,000 to cover medical costs in retirement. This holds whether the couple has bought Medicare supplemental insurance or not, Fidelity says.10 Diet-related diseases are costly and preventable, so the message is clear. Eat healthier now or pay later for increased health care costs.

8. Help end world hunger.

Every 3.6 seconds a person dies from starvation, unfortunately children under the age of 5 are most often the victims.11 On average, 40% of global grain production is used to feed livestock, although in richer countries the proportion of grain used for animal feed is around 70%12 13 “If all food crops grown globally were fed directly to humans instead of animals, around 70% more food would be added to the world’s supply, which would be enough to feed 4 billion additional people.14 Rather than cycle crops through livestock, that sudden surplus alone would be enough food to feed over half the humans on earth, let alone the 795 million who face hunger every day.”15

9. Have compassion for animals.

Animals on today’s factory farms have no legal protection from cruelty that would be illegal if it were inflicted on dogs or cats. Yet farmed animals are no less intelligent or capable of feeling pain than are the dogs and cats we cherish as companions. A vegetarian lifestyle awakens our spirit of compassion and guides us towards a kinder, gentler society in which we exercise a moral choice to protect animals—not exploit them.

10. Enjoy the diverse, colorful, and delicious world of vegetarian cuisine.

Vegetarian meals can be tasty, fast, and easy. Plus, you can make any of your favorite non-vegetarian dishes by substituting with ready-made meat alternatives. There are lots of vegetarian cook books available as well. The Down to Earth all-vegetarian Deli is perfect when you don’t have time to cook but don’t want to compromise on taste and quality.

It’s easy to go veggie with Down to Earth. Come to our free Vegetarian Cooking Classes and Vegetarian Nutrition Seminars. For more info call 947-3249

Photo by Dezajny via .com

Why are people drawn to vegetarianism? Some just want to live longer, healthier lives. Others have made the switch to preserve Earth’’s natural resources or from a love of animals and an ethical opposition to eating them.

Thanks to an abundance of scientific research that demonstrates the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, even the federal government recommends that we consume most of our calories from grain products, vegetables and fruits.

And no wonder: An estimated 70 percent of all diseases, including one-third of all cancers, are related to diet. A vegetarian diet reduces the risk for chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer including colon, breast, prostate, stomach, lung and esophageal cancer.

Why go vegetarian? Chew on these reasons:

You’ll ward off disease. Vegetarian diets are more healthful than the average American diet, particularly in preventing, treating or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer. A low-fat vegetarian diet is the single most effective way to stop the progression of coronary artery disease or prevent it entirely. Cardiovascular disease kills 1 million Americans annually and is the leading cause of death in the United States.

But the mortality rate for cardiovascular disease is lower in vegetarians than in nonvegetarians, says Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. A vegetarian diet is inherently healthful because vegetarians consume less animal fat and cholesterol (vegans consume no animal fat or cholesterol) and instead consume more fiber and more antioxidant-rich produce——another great reason to listen to Mom and eat your veggies!

You’ll keep your weight down. The standard American diet—high in saturated fats and processed foods and low in plant-based foods and complex carbohydrates——is making us fat and killing us slowly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a division of the CDC, the National Center for Health Statistics, 64 percent of adults and 15 percent of children aged 6 to 19 are overweight and are at risk of weight-related ailments including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

A study conducted from 1986 to 1992 by Dean Ornish, MD, president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, found that overweight people who followed a low-fat, vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year and kept off that weight 5 years later. They lost the weight without counting calories or carbs and without measuring portions or feeling hungry.

You’ll live longer. If you switch from the standard American diet to a vegetarian diet, you can add about 13 healthy years to your life, says Michael F. Roizen, MD, author of The RealAge Diet: Make Yourself Younger with What You Eat. “People who consume saturated, four-legged fat have a shorter life span and more disability at the end of their lives. Animal products clog your arteries, zap your energy and slow down your immune system. Meat eaters also experience accelerated cognitive and sexual dysfunction at a younger age.”

Want more proof of longevity? Residents of Okinawa, Japan, have the longest life expectancy of any Japanese and likely the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world, according to a 30-year study of more than 600 Okinawan centenarians. Their secret: a low-calorie diet of unrefined complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and soy.

You’ll build strong bones. When there isn’’t enough calcium in the bloodstream, our bodies will leach it from existing bone. The metabolic result is that our skeletons will become porous and lose strength over time. Most health care practitioners recommend that we increase our intake of calcium the way nature intended——through foods. Foods also supply other nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D that are necessary for the body to absorb and use calcium.

People who are mildly lactose-intolerant can often enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and lactose-free milk. But if you avoid dairy altogether, you can still get a healthful dose of calcium from dry beans, tofu, soymilk and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens.

You’ll reduce your risk of food-borne illnesses. The CDC reports that food-borne illnesses of all kinds account for 76 million illnesses a year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods rich in protein such as meat, poultry, fish and seafood are frequently involved in food-borne illness outbreaks.

You’ll ease the symptoms of menopause. Many foods contain nutrients beneficial to perimenopausal and menopausal women. Certain foods are rich in phytoestrogens, the plant-based chemical compounds that mimic the behavior of estrogen. Since phytoestrogens can increase and decrease estrogen and progesterone levels, maintaining a balance of them in your diet helps ensure a more comfortable passage through menopause. Soy is by far the most abundant natural source of phytoestrogens, but these compounds also can be found in hundreds of other foods such as apples, beets, cherries, dates, garlic, olives, plums, raspberries, squash and yams. Because menopause is also associated with weight gain and a slowed metabolism, a low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian diet can help ward off extra pounds.

You’ll have more energy. Good nutrition generates more usable energy——energy to keep pace with the kids, tackle that home improvement project or have better sex more often, Michael F. Roizen, MD, says in The RealAge Diet. Too much fat in your bloodstream means that arteries won’’t open properly and that your muscles won’’t get enough oxygen.

The result? You feel zapped. Balanced vegetarian diets are naturally free of cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging animal products that physically slow us down and keep us hitting the snooze button morning after morning. And because whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables are so high in complex carbohydrates, they supply the body with plenty of energizing fuel.

You’ll be more ‘regular.’ Eating a lot of vegetables necessarily means consuming more fiber, which pushes waste out of the body. Meat contains no fiber. People who eat lower on the food chain tend to have fewer instances of constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.

You’ll help reduce pollution. Some people become vegetarians after realizing the devastation that the meat industry is having on the environment. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), chemical and animal waste runoff from factory farms is responsible for more than 173,000 miles of polluted rivers and streams. Runoff from farmlands is one of the greatest threats to water quality today. Agricultural activities that cause pollution include confined animal facilities, plowing, pesticide spraying, irrigation, fertilizing and harvesting.

You’ll avoid toxic chemicals. The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of the pesticide residue in the typical American diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens (PCBs, DDT) and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium) that can’’t be removed through cooking or freezing.

Meat and dairy products can also be laced with steroids and hormones, so be sure to read the labels on the dairy products you purchase.

You’ll help reduce famine. About 70 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. The 7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the American population. “If all the grain currently fed to livestock were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” says David Pimentel, professor of ecology at Cornell University. If the grain were exported, it would boost the US trade balance by $80 billion a year.

You’ll spare animals. Many vegetarians give up meat because of their concern for animals. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year. And, unlike the farms of yesteryear where animals roamed freely, today most animals are factory farmed: —crammed into cages where they can barely move and fed a diet tainted with pesticides and antibiotics.

These animals spend their entire lives in crates or stalls so small that they can’’t even turn around. Farmed animals are not protected from cruelty under the law——in fact, the majority of state anticruelty laws specifically exempt farm animals from basic humane protection.

You’ll save money. Meat accounts for 10 percent of Americans’’ food spending. Eating vegetables, grains and fruits in place of the 200 pounds of beef, chicken and fish each nonvegetarian eats annually would cut individual food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.

Your dinner plate will be full of color. Disease-fighting phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their rich, varied hues. They come in two main classes: carotenoids and anthocyanins. All rich yellow and orange fruits and vegetables——carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkins, corn—owe their color to carotenoids. Leafy green vegetables also are rich in carotenoids but get their green color from chlorophyll. Red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables——plums, cherries, red bell peppers——contain anthocyanins. Cooking by color is a good way to ensure you’re eating a variety of naturally occurring substances that boost immunity and prevent a range of illnesses.

It’’s a breeze. It’’s almost effortless these days to find great-tasting and good-for-you vegetarian foods, whether you’re strolling the aisles of your local supermarket or walking down the street at lunchtime. If you need inspiration in the kitchen, look no further than the internet, your favorite bookseller or your local vegetarian society’’s newsletter for culinary tips and great recipes. And if you’’re eating out, almost any ethnic restaurant will offer vegetarian selections. In a hurry? Most fast food and fast casual restaurants now include healthful and inventive salads, sandwiches and entrees on their menus. So rather than asking yourself why go vegetarian, the real question is: Why haven’’t you gone vegetarian?

There are as many reasons for going veggie as there are veggie chefs and writers. I’ve been vegetarian for a long time. So long, that the taste of a turkey twizzler is now a distant memory. I’ve never been a big meat eater and at about eight years of age, as I gradually went off an increasing number of meat dishes, my family had to widen our vegetarian recipe repertoire.

In many ways, going veggie was the start of my interest in food; where it comes from, how it’s cooked and what other cuisines have to offer. The more you explore, the more you discover that there’s a whole host of delicious dishes where vegetables are the star.

Here are a few things to think about if you’re considering becoming a ‘veggievore’…

1. Protein power

If you’re worried about protein and iron, don’t be. You can get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a vegetarian diet, you just have to know what to eat. Non-meaty sources of protein and iron are nuts, pulses, tofu and leafy greens. Almonds, pistachios and cashews contain healthy fats too, and are perfect for snacking. Dairy is a good source of protein, as is quinoa which is ideal for a filling salad. Above all, embrace the egg, the easiest source of protein out there! Dried fruits, particularly raisins, apricots and dates are good iron sources. Vitamin C helps iron absoption so opt for foods that combine both, or have a glass of fruit juice with your meal to maximise benefits.

Before you kick meat to the kerb, read our guide to eating a balanced diet for vegetarians, plus try these iron-rich vegetarian recipes.

2. Added extras

Meat or fish can be a hidden ingredient in foods you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Worcestershire sauce, for instance. Who knew?! Mousses, jellies, sauces, yogurts and cheeses can have gelatin or other animal fats in them to change the consistency and add different flavours. Make sure to check the packaging of any product you’re not sure about.

3. Prepare to be quizzed

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, people love a debate. As soon as you say you’ve decided to go veggie just be prepared for a barage of questions, exclamations of disbelief and cries of, ‘Even bacon?!’ My grandparents still don’t quite understand the concept and are eternally confused as to why I’d deprive myself of what they see as the best bit of the meal. Rejecting Irish stew in an Irish household is a risky business but if I can do it, so can you.

4. Happy holidays

Being veggie often takes just a little bit of planning ahead. If you’re going on holiday somewhere new, it’s always worth checking if there are local vegetarian delicacies, restaurants or key phrases that might come in handy. Knowing the word for vegetarian is a good place to start!

5. Something fishy

It’s worth considering whether you’re ready to go full-vegetarian or whether pescatarianism is for you. The latter gives you a little more flexibility in your diet. Remember, there are still dietary aspects to consider if you’re giving up meat and only eating some seafood. Protein and iron may still be an issue. If you’re fine with fish, try out new seafood recipes to tantalise your tastebuds. Being a pescatarian for a while can also be a great stepping stone to going vegetarian.

6. Learn to love substitutes

Lentils for mince meat, quorn fillets for chicken fillets, beans for burger mince – once you start branching out in your veggie cooking you’ll get used to using new ingredients and trying new veggie substitutes for everyday meat dishes. Not only are they handy for getting extra nutrients into your meals but they’re ideal for feeding a mixed crowd of veggies and meat-eaters. Good quorn bolognese or spicy bean burgers are always crowd-pleasers.

7. Equip your kitchen

I’m not saying you need to buy out Lakeland but having extra storage jars for pulses, grains and other veggie staples, plus a decent blender for veggie soups and dips, won’t go amiss. Depending on how adventurous your cooking is getting, a spiraliser is a fun gadget to play with for modern vegetarian health-conscious cooking with minimal effort. Good knives and chopping boards are essential to any kitchen but when you’re chopping serious veg, you want the right tools for the job.

8. Branch out

Seek out veggie and vegan cafés and restaurants in your community that perhaps you’ve never before considered. Explore different cuisines for vegetarian options. Who knows? You might discover a new favourite!

9. Snack happy

I’m a serial snacker. I have to have something to nibble on throughout the day or I get grumpy and/or tired. When an apple or a banana just won’t do, I have a stash of natural fruit rolls, boxes of cashews and packets of popcorn that keep me going. You could also experiment with blitzing together some energy balls, they take minutes to make and can be packed up and whisked away with you.

10. Eating out

Going out with friends doesn’t have to change, it simply involves a bit of research. In the UK, we take it for granted that restaurants have a vegetarian alternative. Some places have more choice than others, so to avoid snacking on sides all night while everyone else tucks in, I suggest scoping out the menu online beforehand.

Do you have a child who wants to be or already is vegetarian. Find out what you need to know in our Top 10 tips for veggie kids.

Tempted to go veggie? Visit our vegetarian recipe collections.

Are you a vegetarian with tips to share? Or are you thinking of going vegetarian and have questions to ask? Let us know in the comments below…

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