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How to Eat a Balanced Vegetarian Diet

 

 

 

By Peter Reyes

 

The reason I became a vegetarian was because I was found to have high blood pressure, and being genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease, I was advised to cut down on meat consumption.

 

As an omnivore leaning towards carnivorism for all my 38 years, going cold turkey (no pun intended) or trying to wean myself off pot roasts, burger steaks, pork tenderloins, chilli dogs, and buffalo wings was daunting. But because I love my life too much to die too soon, I knew I have to do something about it and change my unhealthy red-meat-eating habits forever. That was why I became a vegetarian and there’s no looking back since.

 

I can very proudly say I have no major health issues and I never felt better in my life. I sleep well, I have more energy, mental clarity, healthier skin and hair. In fact, I feel and look younger than my actual age.

 

If you’re thinking of committing to a vegetarian diet for health reasons, I’ll be more than happy to share with you a few tips on how to have a healthy vegetarian diet.

 

Many people think that vegetarianism is just about eliminating meat completely off their plates. However, being a vegetarian is more than that. It involves knowing what to eat so that you don’t miss out on key nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy while going meatless.

 

In general, vegetarians falls into 4 (or more) groups – vegans, lacto-vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarian and flexitarian (semi-vegetarian). For the sake of simplicity, I won’t be going into details here. Just remember, the more restrictive the vegetarian diet, the more difficult it is to get all the nutrients your body requires.

 

 

How to Plan for a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

1. Protein

The first thing to go is obviously the meats. So, to replace protein from meat sources, stock up your pantry with protein-rich plant-based foods such as tofu, tempehs, milk, cheeses, eggs, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Also make sure to consume enough complete proteins (have all 8 of the essential amino acids), which can be found in a variety of food sources including quinoa, hemp, buck wheat, and hummus. Protein is needed for maintaining healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs.

 

 

2. Calcium

You need calcium for strong healthy bones and teeth. Dark colored veggies, such as kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, and turnips are very rich in calcium.

 

You can also get calcium from low-fat dairy foods, calcium-fortified tofu, soy milk and fruits juices.

 

 

 

3. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

Insufficient Vitamin B12  puts you at risk for anemia. Your body needs Vit B12 to produce red blood cells.

 

If you’re a vegan, you can find Vitamin B12 in enriched cereals, fortified soy products or consider using a supplement.

 

 

 

4. Iron

Iron promotes growth and provides resistance against many diseases. Black strap molasses, raisins, apricots, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ are rich sources of iron. Parsley, eggs, dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, as well as whole-grain products also have dietary iron in them.

 

To help your body better absorb iron, always eat with foods containing Vitamin C such as strawberries, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons), tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli at the same meal.

 

 

 

5. Zinc

Zinc boosts your immune system and aids in the healing process. It also keeps the skin healthy and helps maintain good eye health.

 

Get your zinc from dried seaweed, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower) and nuts (pine nuts, almonds), whole grains, wholemeal bread, brown rice, lentils, wheat germ and oats.

 

 

 

In summary, for a balanced vegetarian diet, eat  2 or more servings of legumes, 3 or more servings of fruits and veggies, 6 to 11 servings of whole grains daily. By doing that, you can be sure of getting the various nutrients neccessary for your best health.

 

My advice to all budding vegetarians is not to rush into vegetarianism. Do it slowly. Always allow yourself some time – say 3 days per week (for the first couple of weeks) – to being a vegetarian and then gradually progress to the next level. That way, your body won’t feel deprived and you’ll very soon notice that you don’t even have cravings for meat-based dishes any more.

 

However, if you find yourself not ready for a vegetarian diet, then I would highly suggest you look at a pescatarian diet which cuts out all meats except seafood, allowing you to reap the many health benefits of consuming fish (Omega 3 fatty acids for heart, brain and joint health). Go for fish with the lowest mercury content such as herring, mackerel, pollock, salmon and sardine. Trout, whitefish and tilapia are also excellent choices. Avoid tuna (ahi), swordfish and tilefish as they contain higher levels of mercury.

how to plan a healthy vegetarian diet

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