People choose to follow a vegetarian diet for many different reasons. If you’re just starting out, it can be confusing to know if you’re getting enough protein and variety in your diet.
Patti Ennis, manager of the clinical nutrition program at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, shares some do’s and don’ts when it comes to eating vegetarian. These tips can help you make delicious and healthy meat-free meals.
Do: Know what you need
Making meals that contain the right amount of nutrients can be challenging, but it helps to know what to look for when doing your shopping. Ennis suggests seeking out high-fiber whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. She also recommends meat substitutes for those busy nights when you need a quick, no-fuss dinner.
“Always try to eat the least-processed food possible. But sometimes in our busy lives, convenience foods are nice. Buy convenience foods such as instant flavored rice and grain mixes, vegetarian frozen meals and canned vegetarian soup,” she says.
Don’t: Get stuck in the same habits
When you think of eating vegetarian, many people think of salads and vegetables. While that is a big component of the diet, eating the same fruits and vegetables all the time can get boring. If you start to tire of the meals you usually eat, Ennis says, “Try new vegetables, go to vegetarian restaurants to see the large variety of dishes that are available, buy a vegetarian cookbook or find recipes online.”
Do: Make sure you get enough protein
There are many benefits to a plant-based diet, including reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. However, the key to sustaining a healthy vegetarian diet is ensuring you eat enough protein. As a rule of thumb, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein needed for the average adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. To calculate your RDA, multiply your body weight (in pounds) by 0.36.
To meet this goal, Ennis recommends consuming high-protein foods such as black beans, lentils, tofu, quinoa and chickpeas. Incorporate some of these into your cooking every day to ensure delicious, but also protein-rich dishes.
Don’t: Rush the transition
If you’re worried about making the transition to a meatless diet, take a go-slow approach.
“Start gradually with one or two vegetarian meals per week,” says Ennis. She also suggests swapping out meat in dishes you’re already used to making. For example, “You can modify a recipe, such as a chicken stir-fry, by trying it with tofu. You should also consider trying meatless chilies and soups,” she says.
Ennis says the best advice she can offer is be ready to make the change. “Going meatless can be easy, it just means moving vegetables and whole grains to the main dish,” she says. Consider adding new ingredients and trying new foods to keep your diet fresh and interesting.