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How to Start a Vegetarian Diet

By Debra Rodzinak

Jumping head first into a new type of diet can be exciting, but many times a drastic change all at once will not last.  Instead, gradually reducing meat in a diet while increasing vegetables and fruits has been found to have more success in helping those who want to switch to eating a vegetarian diet.


Slowly increase the number of meatless meals by substituting vegetables or legumes for meat in foods you already enjoy.  For example, omit the meat in your chili in favor of black beans or switch the chicken in your fajitas with tofu.  Many people are surprised that they don’t feel deprived making the switch because they still get to eat their favorite meals.

Ramp Up

Find meals that still satisfy but don’t include meat, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce or vegetable stir-fry.  Eating filling fruits and vegetables while cutting back on meat makes your brain realize that you are not missing out on nutrients and vitamins.  Some foods high in vital nutrients include greens like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard. 

Branch Out

The internet is full of vegetarian menu ideas.  Ethnic restaurants allow you to sample new vegetarian cuisines before trying them out in your kitchen.  By bringing more variety to your vegetarian diet, those vital nutrients that the body needs are more likely to be found.

Vitamins and Nutrients

Many who are making the switch to a vegetarian diet are worried about eating all of the necessary vitamins and nutrients that keep the body healthy.  While true that the more restrictive a diet is, the harder it is to eat all of the varied vitamins and nutrients, it is not impossible.  Be sure to include the following nutrients in your diet:

  • Calcium – Milk and diary foods are excellent sources of calcium
  • Vitamin D – Added to cow’s milk, Vitamin D can also be found in some brands of soy or rice milk
  • Vitamin B12 – This vitamin can be a challenge to eat in a vegetarian diet, so consider vitamin supplements or vitamin-enriched foods
  • Protein – Eggs and dairy products are excellent sources of protein, along with plant sources such as soy, nuts, and whole grains
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Soybeans, flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil can help boost the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in a vegetarian diet
  • Iron and zinc – Dried beans, peas, lentils, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruits are excellent sources of iron and zinc which are needed for red blood cells
  • Iodine – Needed to help regulate metabolism, eating sweet potatoes or iodized salt can provide all the iodine the body needs

Begin slowly by finding out what you like and what works for you.  This will increase the likelihood of success in your new vegetarian diet. 


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