Is a Vegetarian Lifestyle Right for You?

Many people toying with the idea of adopting a meatless diet believe vegetarianism involves nothing more than skipping the meat entrée during meals. But building a healthy vegetarian diet isn’t so easy.

Adults who simply eliminate meat from their diets risk missing out on the essential vitamins and minerals commonly found in animal products. Safely reap the benefits of vegetarianism — which include a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer — through education and planning.

Learning the Vegetarian Lingo

Based on their beliefs and dietary goals, vegetarians typically fall into one of the following classes:

  • Ÿ Lacto-ovo vegetarians exclude only meat. Their diets include other animal products such as eggs and milk.
  • Ÿ Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs.
  • Ÿ Ovo vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy.
  • Ÿ Vegans consume only plant-based foods. Eggs, dairy, gelatin and honey are off limits.

Other terms you may have heard include pescatarian and flexitarian. People who consider themselves pescatarians include fish in their diets. Flexitarians eat a mostly vegetarian diet but occasionally indulge in meat, poultry or seafood.

Steps to Meatless Success

“Once you’ve determined what type of vegetarian you want to become, you’re ready to start making gradual dietary changes,” says Marie Detillier, R.D., L.D., clinical nutrition manager at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano. “To help your body adjust to a vegetarian diet, eat one or two meatless meals per week and slowly increase this number over time.”

Throughout the adoption of your vegetarian meal plan, take a comprehensive look at your diet. Make sure commonly missed nutrients, including iron, vitamins B12 and D, and calcium, remain part of your diet with these tips:

  1. Consider a vitamin B12 supplement if you’re vegan. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. Vegans often require a vitamin B12 supplement but can also find this important nutrient in fortified soy milk and tofu.
  2. Eat your greens. Dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, are good sources of iron. According to Detillier, pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C helps aid iron absorption. Enjoy a leafy green salad topped with tomatoes, strawberries or mandarin oranges.
  3. Get your daily dose of sunshine. Detillier recommends spending at least 10 minutes outside on sunny days, and eating vitamin D-fortified foods such as orange juice and cereal.
  4. Select calcium-fortified foods. Dairy products are the richest sources of dietary calcium. If you’re vegan, enjoy calcium-fortified rice or soy milk, cereal and tofu.

Have questions about establishing a healthy meatless diet? To find a physician who can refer you to a Texas Health dietitian, visit TexasHealth.org/FindAPhysician.

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