The USDA states:
Vegetarian diets can meet all the recommendations for nutrients. The key is to consume a variety of foods and the right amount of foods to meet your calorie needs.
And indeed they can. Vegetarian diets can not only meet all nutrient requirements, but they can also be optimal for health.
Cutting meat from your diet can be a great first step in becoming healthier. But it’s not a magic route.
Here are 15 helpful tips for being a healthy vegetarian.
1. Avoid multi-vitamins
Grabbing a multi-vitamin straight from the pharmaceutical shelf is a common tactic.
But this isn’t the best tactic to become healthy. Most of the time, it’s just money you pee down the drain.
You may think that you’ll be lacking a lot of nutrients on a vegetarian diet. The reality is, you won’t. Because fruits and vegetables are plentiful in essential nutrients.
There are a few nutrients in particular you should watch out for (more on that later). However, you’re better off supplementing with individual nutrients if needed. Always try to meet nutrient needs through diet first.
2. Drink plenty of water
Water is an essential element for life. Many of us are walking around chronically dehydrated.
Maintain a steady intake of fluids throughout the day. If you don’t like water, try teas, herbal drinks and flavored waters.
Note: Soda does not constitute as water.
3. Flavor foods with herbs and spices
What makes dishes special are their spices.
It can be tempting to grab the salt to season your meal. Shocking, I know, but this isn’t the only flavor at your disposal.
It can take some learning to know what spice combinations work well. But the effort will truly pay off in the long run.
Herbs and spices can make or break a dish. They can turn simple ingredients into mouthwatering delights.
4. Eat something new each week
Although I’ve been vegan for several years now, I’m continuously trying new food.
I make it a goal that whenever I go to an exotic grocery store, I buy something new that I’ve never tried before.
Not too long ago I tried yucca for the first time.
You can try trendy pseudo-grains like quinoa or buckwheat. Or buy an exotic vegetable. Keep your horizons open for new culinary experiences.
5. Try some raw meals
You don’t have to go crazy and eat everything raw.
But some tasty meals of raw fruits and veggies may surprise you.
Eat big salads. And lots of fruits. Not every meal has to be cooked.
6. Take a Vitamin B12 supplement
This is especially important.
Unfortunately, it’s something many vegetarians and vegans neglect.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is serious and troubling. Take a supplement or eat B12 fortified foods just in case.
Important: Do not skip seeking a reliable source of Vitamin B12.
7. Reduce intake of refined sugar
Sugar in fruits and vegetables are great.
Sugar in a packet — not so great.
Check labels of packages. Often sugar is listed as one of the main ingredients.
If you want some sweetness, try adding succulent dates to recipes. Or use an artificial sweetener like I do — I use Splenda.
8. Ensure adequate Iodine
Iodine is an important nutrient that can be neglected when abstaining from animal products.
You can ensure adequate intake of iodine by eating sea vegetables like seaweed (I love vegetarian sushi!). Or make sure any salt you add to foods is iodized.
Alternatively you can take an iodine supplement like Lugol’s solution.
9. Make half your grains whole
When grains are refined, they lose much of their fiber.
They also lose other nutrients like fatty acids.
The ultimate goal should be to eat only whole grain products. But sometimes that’s not practical. So try to at least eat half whole grains.
10. Use vinegar for salad dressings
I love vinegar, and use it for everything from salad dressings to cooking.
Unlike oil, vinegar is essentially calorie-free. You can drizzle a little vinegar on your salads to add some punch minus the fattening calories.
There are an assortment of different flavored vinegars that you can try. Or you can stick with the cheap and versatile white vinegar. Maybe mix it with some lemon juice and herbs.
11. Eat at least 1 cup of beans each day
When you think of beans you might think of protein.
Contrary to popular belief, protein is not a concern on a vegetarian diet.
What is a concern for any diet is fiber. Legumes like split peas, lentils and beans are some of the highest sources of fiber. They also contain bountiful other phytochemicals important for health.
So get to it and eat some beans. They can make your meals more filling and give you lots of essential nutrients.
12. Keep it simple
Don’t be afraid of simple meals.
When I first started my path to health, I ate lots of fruit. Usually entire meals of fruit. Like, over 9 bananas in one sitting.
Occasionally I still eat mono-meals. Life doesn’t need to be over-complicated. Try a big meal of oranges. Or even just have a nice freshly baked loaf of bread, maybe with a simple veggie spread.
You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen making elaborate multi-ingredient meals. Quick potato salads can be great too.
13. Remember vegetarian starts with “veg” not “junk”
It can be a lot of fun trying new vegetarian meats and other tasty foods. But try to keep these treats to a minimum.
Just because a food lacks animal products doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Many processed vegetarian foods contain unwanted additives you’d be best to avoid.
Base your diet around whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
14. Focus on produce, not organic
The market for organic foods is huge.
And the marketing often makes it sound so holy. It can suck you in and suck out all your money too.
Rather than heading down the organic isle, peruse the produce section instead. Even if it’s not organic, fruits and vegetables are better than processed organic foods on shelves.
It’s a fantastic start to eat more fruits and vegetables. Don’t be discouraged by impurity.
15. Eat the Rainbow!
Make health easy using The Rainbow Plate as a guide: