Everything you need to know before becoming a vegetarian

The vegan diet is still considered one of the healthiest for humans. Nor is it news that a vegetarian diet has been associated with a reduced risk of breast and colon and rectal cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease, which affects many American adults.

Vegetarian foods are often rich in fiber and certain nutrients such as vitamin C, and are also low in fat, all of which give them advantages over a conventional diet of meat and potatoes. And if the health benefits aren’t enough for you, environmental chemist Dr. Dorea Reeser, in her “Science Behind Vegetarianism” speech at the Philadelphia Science Festival, said that eating vegetarian food helps lower your carbon footprint.

This got me thinking: is it possible in our “meat” society to become a vegetarian for one person, not to mention the whole family? Let’s see!

What is vegetarianism?  

The term “vegetarianism” can have many meanings and refer to different people. In a broad sense, a vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat, fish or poultry. Although this is the most common meaning, there are several subtypes of vegetarians:

  • Vegan: Vegetarians who avoid any animal products, including dairy, eggs, and sometimes honey.
  • Lactovegetarians: Exclude meat, fish, poultry and eggs, but consume dairy products.  
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Exclude meat, fish and poultry, but consume dairy products and eggs. 


Is there a health risk?  

The health risks for vegetarians are small, but vegans, for example, should be careful about their intake of vitamins B12 and D, calcium and zinc. To make sure you’re getting enough, eat more green leafy vegetables, drink more fortified juices, and soy milk—they provide calcium and vitamin D. Nuts, seeds, lentils, and tofu are excellent plant-based sources of zinc. Vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 are a bit harder to find. Yeast and fortified soy milk are the best options, but consider taking a multivitamin or supplement to get the B12 you need.

Is it expensive to be a vegetarian?

Many people think that after giving up meat they will spend more on food. Vegetarianism doesn’t necessarily have a big impact on your grocery store check. Kathy Green, Associate Produce Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic region at Whole Food Markets, gives tips on how to cut costs on vegetables, fruits and other vegetarian foods:

Buy food in season. Prices for vegetables and fruits are significantly lower in season, and also at this time they are most rich in nutrients. 

Try before you buy. So many times I wanted to try something new, but left because I didn’t want to lose money if I didn’t like it. Cathy suggests asking the salesperson for a sample. Most sellers will not refuse you. Vegetable and fruit vendors are usually very experienced and can help you choose ripe produce (and even suggest a cooking method).

Buy wholesale. You will save a lot if you buy fruits and vegetables in bulk. Stock up on high protein grains like quinoa and farro, and experiment with dried beans and nuts as they are high in protein. When you see a big seasonal sale of vegetables and fruits, stock up, peel them and freeze them for future use. When frozen, almost no nutrients are lost.

What is the best way to switch to a vegetarian diet?  

Start gradually. Like any type of diet, vegetarianism should not be all-or-nothing. Start by making one of your meals a day vegetarian. It is better to start the transition with breakfast or lunch. Another way is to join the legions (myself included) of Meat Free Monday participants by making a commitment not to eat meat one day a week.

Need some inspiration? There are a huge number of meat-free recipes on Pinterest, and useful information can be found in the Vegetarian Resource Group or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Vegetarianism can be easy and inexpensive. Try one day a week to start and consider it an investment in your long-term health.


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