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The Vegetarian Starter Guide

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Following a vegetarian diet can be a healthy way to eat clean, fuel your body, and maintain a healthy weight. But vegetarianism can be more challenging than simply eating veggies. Understanding the different types of vegetarians and the possible deficiencies of this type of diet will help you make informed choices.

These days there are many different types of vegetarians, and it’s more complicated than just choosing veggies. Two of the most popular types of vegetarians are: (1) pescatarians who don't eat meat, but do eat fish and (2) lacto-ovo vegetarians who don't eat meat or fish, but do eat eggs and other dairy products. Many people are also drawn to vegan diets, which means they don’t eat any animal products. Once you know which type of vegetarian diet fits your lifestyle, you'll be better able to plan your meals. Use the tips below to make a smooth transition from being a meat-eater to being an herbivore.

1. Check out the local farmer's market.

Farmer's markets often offer more of a variety of organic, in-season foods than your neighborhood grocery store. Each time you visit the market, stock up on your favorite fruits and veggies and challenge yourself to add one new item to your bag. Ask the farmer what their favorite veggie or fruit is at the moment. You may be surprised by what you'll discover! Plus, shopping at farmer's markets supports local growers and helps the environment. Read "How to Store Fresh Foods" for tips to keep your farmer's market finds fresh.

2. Re-think your protein sources.

When you commit to vegetarian diet, you lose out on the high amounts of protein found in meat. For a healthy diet, you need 1/2 - 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Aim to include a good source of protein at each meal and snacks to meet your protein needs. Excellent protein sources include Greek yogurt (18 g in a 6-ounce serving), tofu (20 g per 1/2 cup), eggs (6 g per large egg), and black beans (10 g per cup).

3. Know what's in your meat substitute.

Be aware of what you're eating. Grocery stores are loaded with fake and substitute food products, especially in the frozen food section. Meat substitutes can be a great way to add variety to your diet, but just because something is marketed as vegetarian doesn't mean it's healthy. Plus, these products are processed and often high in calories and sodium. Read the nutrition label carefully and eat them in moderation.

4. Watch out for too many carbs.

Go-to foods for many new vegetarians often include pasta and rice. While they're both good sources of carbohydrates to have in your diet, eating them every day for a meat replacement can leave you feeling sluggish and can pack on the pounds. Instead, fill your meals with the proteins mentioned above and get creative with your veggies. Serve up spaghetti squash. It provides you with protein and nutrients and gives you the feel of pasta.

5. Take it easy on the junk food.

With less food options to choose from on a vegetarian diet, many people fall into a habit of filling up on junk food to satisfy themselves. Remember to follow the 80/20 rule. Choose the best foods 80 percent of the time, and splurge 20 percent of the time. This will allow you to indulge your cravings without going overboard. 

6. Choose your supplements wisely.

While a vegetarian diet can have a positive impact on your health, it can also lead to some nutrient deficiencies. Be sure you're getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and vitamin B12 in your diet. You can either find new ways to get these nutrients from food or talk with your doctor about taking supplements.

Tags: Health, Food