How to eat healthy as a vegetarian

Vegetarianism for Parents

Vegetarian diets have become more popular, and many parents may wonder if kids can safely follow a vegetarian diet and still get all the nutrients necessary for growing up healthy and strong.

Becoming a Vegetarian for Teens

People choose vegetarianism for a variety of reasons. This article describes different types of vegetarianism and provides advice on ways for vegetarians to get all the nutrients they need.

Vegetarian Recipes – Nemours KidsHealth for Parents

Nutritious recipes for kids, teens, and families who follow a meatless diet.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers for Parents

This recipe is especially for kids who must avoid gluten, a type of protein found in many foods.

Vegetarian Chili (Lactose Intolerance) for Parents

This recipe is especially for kids with lactose intolerance, who need to limit or avoid dairy products.

Vegetarian Recipes for Kids for Kids

Ready to go veggie? Try these meat-free vegetarian recipes.

Vegetarian Recipes for Teens for Teens

These recipes are for anyone following a vegetarian (meat-free) diet, and some are also suitable for vegans.

Recipes – Nemours KidsHealth for Parents

Check out these quick and easy recipes for families with all kinds of nutritional needs – from tasty meals and snacks for everyday living to scrumptious recipes geared toward lactose intolerance, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and vegetarianism.

Healthy Recipes – Nemours KidsHealth for Parents

Nutritious recipes parents will love and kids can’t resist!

Recipes for Kids With Lactose Intolerance – Nemours KidsHealth for Parents

Check out these nutritious meal ideas created especially for kids with lactose intolerance.

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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Last Updated: June 3, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Tara Coleman. Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist who has a private practice in San Diego, California. With over 15 years of experience, Tara specializes in sports nutrition, body confidence, and immune system health and offers personalized nutrition, corporate wellness, and online learning courses. She received a BS in Biology from James Madison University and spent six years in the pharmaceutical industry as an analytical chemist before founding her practice. Tara has been featured on NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, and Dr. Oz The Good Life as well as in Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Self, and Runner’s World.

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People adopt a semi- or total vegetarian diet for many reasons. You may choose to refrain from eating meat, seafood, dairy, and/or eggs to improve health; for ethical or religious reasons; to cut down on the environmental effects livestock has; to cut costs; or just to experiment. Following a vegetarian diet may even reduce the risk of developing certain chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. [1] X Trustworthy Source Harvard Medical School Harvard Medical School’s Educational Site for the Public Go to source However, adopting a vegetarian diet does not simply mean removing meat from your plate and eating what’s left. Changing your diet means changing your lifestyle. Further, eliminating significant food groups can place you at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies, including iron, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and riboflavin.

Increase Your Nutritional Intake

How to eat healthy as a vegetarian

The Spruce Eats / Emily Hawkes

Most of these tips really apply to everyone, not just vegetarians. They may seem trite, but they are tried and true and you will notice the difference in your health and energy levels.

Eat a Dark Green Vegetable at Least Three Times a Week

These nutritional powerhouses are packed full of vitamins such as calcium and iron. On the run or hate spinach? Try drinking your greens. Green smoothies are better than a cup of coffee in the morning and they really are healthy. Another thing you can do to get your greens is to add a handful of spinach leaves to your regular salad. A full spinach salad isn’t very enticing, but a handful or so mixed in with your favorite red leaf lettuce goes down just fine. Or try out a unique combination of kale and collard greens, which is very flavorful.

Take a Vitamin Supplement That Contains B12

Or include nutritional yeast in your diet regularly, especially if you’re vegan or mostly vegan. Vegetarians don’t need to worry about vitamin B12, as you’ll easily consume plenty of it, but vegans should err on the side of caution and make sure they’re getting a source of B12. Many products, such as soy milk and veggie burgers are fortified with B12, so read the label.

Stay Hydrated

It’s been said over and over again for a reason—because it’s true! Most people don’t drink nearly enough (and even if you think you’re drinking enough, you probably aren’t, especially if you’re trying to gain health and lose unhealthy habits). Bring a water bottle with you wherever you go and invest in a simple filter for your home. Water is especially important when adjusting to a new way of eating, as it will help curb any cravings you may experience.

Specifically, drinking plenty of water helps to prevent cravings before they even arise. Drink more water than you think you need and get in the habit of drinking a glass first thing in the morning.

If you’re used to sipping on a diet cola while you’re working, transition to sparkling water mixed with fruit juice and see if that doesn’t keep your hands happy enough to satisfy your habit.

How to eat healthy as a vegetarian

Eat at Least One Raw Fruit or Veggie a Day

This may seem like a no-brainer, but even if we’re eating plenty of fresh vegetables, many times we don’t always get fresh raw produce in our diets, which means we’re really missing out! Some days, you probably get plenty of fresh raw fruits and vegetables, but there are probably plenty of days when you have absolutely none at all.

Try to eat an apple first thing in the morning to get it out of the way. Or keep baby carrots on hand for snacking, and include a raw green salad with your lunch every day.

Reduce Your Refined Sugar Intake

If you have a huge sweet tooth, try to keep it under control by using such sugar replacers as brown rice syrup, stevia, and agave nectar whenever possible (such as in coffee and tea) and indulging in the refined stuff only occasionally.

Similarly, try to avoid processed foods which contain high fructose corn syrup. If you start reading labels, you might be absolutely shocked to find out that this highly processed sugary junk gets slipped into nearly everything, from things that should be healthy—like whole-grain bread and even hummus—to nearly everything that comes in a bottle, including barbecue sauce and salad dressings.

Keep Your Favorite Salad Dressings on Hand

You’re much more likely to eat your greens or some raw veggies when your favorite salad dressings are in the fridge. A little variety is great too—try to keep at least two kinds, either store-bought or homemade on hand at all times. Some favorites are homemade goddess dressing, Thai peanut sauce from my local Asian grocer and raspberry vinaigrette. A vegan ranch dressing is helpful as well when trying to wean yourself off dairy.

Eat the Rainbow!

Fruits and vegetables all contain different nutrients. A simple way to remember to eat a range of vitamins and minerals is to vary the colors of the fruits and vegetables you eat. Of course, greens are always good, but try eating a rainbow of tomatoes, yellow squash, and purple cabbage.

This is one thing vegetarians often have to remind themselves of, as it’s easy to get into food ruts or habits. You probably make green salads nearly the same way all the time, but really should be mixing it up. Thinly sliced leeks, chopped boiled beets, bell peppers of all colors and shredded carrots are great to toss into the mix.

If cutting out meat, dairy and eggs leaves you confused about how to eat a healthy, balanced diet, you’re in the right place. Here are 9 healthy tips to starting a vegan diet.

You’ve probably heard that eating more vegetables and less meat is healthy. Maybe you’re even feeling inspired to try eating a vegan diet-which excludes all animal products, including dairy and eggs-to improve your health or lose a little weight. Eating a vegan diet can be a healthy way to eat when your meals are full of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. You need a well-planned vegan diet to make sure you don’t miss out on essential nutrients or end up eating only processed vegan foods. Here are 9 simple tips for eating a vegan diet that is easy and healthy. Even if you’re just trying to adopt a more plant-based diet for better health, these tips are a great way to get started.

Pictured Recipe: Kung Pao Broccoli

1. Make Vegetables the Stars of Your Meals

People often get hung up on what they can’t have on a plant-based diet, instead of what they can. But a great meal does not have to center on meat. Veggie-packed meals are a winning choice all-around: veggies are full of vitamins (like A and K) and minerals (like potassium), they keep your calories in check and, because they are high in fiber, they can help you feel more satisfied.

2. Eat a Variety of Foods

To make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet, it’s important to eat balanced meals that include a variety of healthy foods. For example, you’ll get protein and fiber from beans; leafy greens are great sources of vitamins A, C and K. Choose produce from all colors of the rainbow to get all the benefits. Red tomatoes have heart-healthy lycopene, blue blueberries have brain-boosting anthocyanins and orange sweet potatoes have lots of vitamin A to help keep eyes healthy. Looking for meal ideas? Try a simple well-balanced grain bowl: top brown rice, or quinoa, with beans and a mix of sautéed or roasted veggies.

Recipes to try: Enjoy a simple well-balanced plate of brown rice and beans with vegetables or a hearty bowl of our Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili, chock-full of nutrient-rich veggies and whole grains.

3. Choose Whole Grains

Swapping out refined grains, such as white pasta and white bread, for whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, adds iron and B vitamins to a vegan diet (nutrients that are stripped out when the grains are refined). And, the extra fiber from whole grains will help keep you full, and may even help you lose weight.

Pictured Recipe: Vegan Jackfruit Tacos

4. Discover New Plant-Based Proteins

This seems like a no-brainer if you’re vegan, but one thing everyone can do for better health is eat more plant-based proteins. Animal sources of protein, like meat and cheese, tend to be high in unhealthy saturated fat. (Plus, there are plenty of good environmental reasons to cut out animal sources of food.) Vegan sources of protein really are plentiful and include: tofu, tempeh, edamame (soybeans), lentils, chickpeas and beans. Nuts, like almonds and walnuts, and seeds, like sunflower and pumpkin seeds, also deliver protein. Even though many people think it’s difficult for vegans to eat enough protein, it typically isn’t an issue for someone eating a varied diet and consciously including sources of plant-based protein. The Institute of Medicine recommends women get 46 grams of protein daily and men 56 grams-an amount that’s pretty easy to reach. Women would meet their daily quota with ½ cup of dry oatmeal (5 grams protein), 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (8 grams), 1/2 cup of chickpeas (5 grams),1 cup of cooked quinoa (8 grams), 24 almonds (6 grams), 1 cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti (7 grams) and 1/2 cup of tofu (10 grams). Men could add just ½ cup of cooked lentils (9 grams) to meet their daily protein requirement.

5. Don’t Assume Vegan Food Products Are Healthier

Vegan cookies aren’t necessarily any better for your waistline than regular cookies. And garlic bread made with vegan margarine isn’t necessarily any healthier for your heart than one made with butter. Processed vegan foods often contain saturated-fat-laden palm oil and coconut oil. Stick to whole, nutritious foods that just happen to be vegan, such as carrots and hummus, nuts and dried fruit, whole-grain tortilla chips with guacamole. Indulging in vegan treats every so often is fine, but don’t justify them as “healthy” simply because they’re vegan.

Recipe: Make your own quick, to-go foods like this Peanut Tofu Wrap.

Pictured Recipe: Chai Chia Pudding

6. Focus On Fish-Free Omega-3s

Even when you eat a variety of healthy vegan foods, some nutrients will be hard to come by. DHA and EPA, two types of omega-3 fatty acids, are important for eye and brain development, as well as heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in fatty fish like salmon, though they can be made by the body in small amounts from ALA, another type of omega-3 that’s found in plants like flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil and soy. A variety of foods, including soymilks and breakfast bars, are now fortified with DHA. Supplements of DHA/EPA made from algae are also available.

Eating a plant-based meal every now and then can help you lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health. And unlike a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, mixing in some meatless meals won’t require you to give up your carnivorous ways.

What’s the deal with meatless meals?

Well, it seems that leaving out the meat is good for you. In fact, it could help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. Best of all, a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian eating style doesn’t require you to completely give up your carnivorous ways. You can totally eat lean meat – just less of it! We’ll let the experts explain.

Expert Tip #1:

Most of the cholesterol-raising saturated fats that Americans eat come from meat and full-fat dairy products such as whole milk cheese,” said Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and an AHA volunteer. “If you decrease your daily intake of animal fat, you’re going to decrease your intake of saturated fat.

What’s in a meatless meal?

What does your dinner look like when you take meat off the menu? Your meal won’t be boring and there are more options than you’d think! For example – craving a burger? Try a savory grilled portabella mushroom burger.

Expert Tip #2:

Going meatless is as simple as moving vegetables and fruits from a side dish to a starring role. You should also seek out high-fiber whole grains, beans and legumes, unsalted nuts, and lower fat and fat-free dairy foods. These tend to be high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important phytonutrients,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont and AHA volunteer.

Start with small steps.

Expert Tip #3:

“An easy way to get started is to eat one meatless meal a week,” suggests Dr. Johnson. Sticking with it can quickly make you start feeling lighter and your wallet fatter: People who eat less meat tend to consume fewer calories, and foods such as beans are one of the most cost-effective sources of protein available. Meat typically costs more per pound than other protein sources.

If meatless is not for you, don’t worry. You don’t have to go cold turkey on meat to adopt a heart-healthy eating style.

Are you a fan of chicken or fish? Skinless poultry and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids are good protein choices and easy to prepare in healthy ways.

Gotta have meat? Limit it to once in a while.

When you do eat meat, choose the leanest cut available, reduce your portion size to no more than 6 oz cooked, remove all visible fat, and cook in a healthy way to avoid excess saturated fats. And remember, a meatless meal doesn’t automatically translate to less saturated fat.

Expert Tip #4:

“You can drop meat, but if you substitute quiche for steak, you’re not going to get any advantage in terms of heart health,” Dr. Lichtenstein cautioned. Make sure you’re making healthy swaps.

More tips for going meatless:

  • Keep the refrigerator and pantry stocked with plant-based alternatives like vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and tofu.
  • Find recipesfor meatless meals and get your cook on! The American Heart Association offers hundreds of healthy, delicious plant-based entrees in our cookbooks and online recipe center.
  • Go veggie at work. If you have access to an office kitchen, keep a few convenient meatless foods you like, such as veggie burgers and vegetarian microwavable meals, on hand for a quick, meatless lunch.

Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.

From breakfast to dinner – and everything in between – this is precisely what a vegetarian’s day on a plate should look like, according to a dietitian.

January 23, 2017 12:01pm

Photo: iStock Source:BodyAndSoul

From breakfast to dinner – and everything in between – this is precisely what a vegetarian’s day on a plate should look like, according to a dietitian.

There is no doubt that eating a more plant-based diet is not only excellent for our health but also for the environment. Research is now showing that a well-balanced vegetarian diet is associated with lower body weight and reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.

Switching to a vegetarian diet however also means cutting out many nutrient-rich animal foods, which can be tricky to get elsewhere in a vegetarian diet. By starting with a great base diet and including every day vegetarian foods that can be a nutrient alternative to those missing animal food, it is possible to follow a very balanced and healthy vegetarian diet.

There are a variety of different vegetarian diets but assuming it contains eggs and dairy but avoid all meats, fish and seafood (known as lacto-ovo vegetarian), here is a list of nutrients that might be lacking and alternative food sources of these nutrients in a vegetarian diet.

Protein

The most complete sources of protein are found in animal products so it’s important to make the most of eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese as part of the daily diet, as well as tofu and tempeh. Other good sources of protein include lentils, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.

Iron

The best source of iron in a vegetarian diet is from eggs as well as iron-fortified breads and cereals and in a less bioavailable form in wholegrains, soy beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach and peanut butter. Eat these vegetarian iron sources with vitamin C containing foods to boost the iron’s absorption, such as tomatoes, lemon and lime juice.

Vitamin B12

This commonly overlooked nutrient is found only in animal products. Small amounts are found in eggs and diary products so these will be important foods in a vegetarian diet. If you don’t eat dairy or eggs then a supplement will be necessary.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Plant sources of these essential fatty acids include flaxseeds or linseeds and walnuts, however these sources of omega 3 fatty acids aren’t as well absorbed as fish sources.

Other foods that should appear in healthy vegetarian diet every day include:

  • Wholegrains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Legumes and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado

So what does the perfect ‘day on a plate’ for a vegetarian look like? Here are a variety of vegetarian meals and snacks to create the prefect vegetarian meal plan:

Breakfast:

  • Wholegrain toast with eggs and vegetables such as tomato, spinach, mushrooms
  • Rolled or steel cut oats topped with Greek yoghurt, berries and nuts & seeds
  • Wholegrain toast topped with natural peanut butter and a banana

Lunch

  • Quinoa and lentil salad with lots of baby spinach and an olive oil vinaigrette
  • Wholegrain wrap filled with hummus, avocado, alfalfa sprouts and heaps of salad
  • Wholegrain sandwich filled with avocado, cheese and lots of salad

Dinner

  • Mexican chilli beans and vegetables in a tomato sauce served on brown rice and topped with guacamole
  • Tofu & vegetable stir fry with soba noodles
  • Chickpea & pumpkin curry served on brown rice
  • Wholemeal spelt pasta and lentil bolognaise topped with fresh grated parmesan

Snacks

  • Wholegrain crackers and cheese
  • Greek yoghurt and seeds
  • Fresh fruit and nuts
  • Dried fruit like apricots and peaches and seeds
  • Vegetable sticks and hummus
  • Wholegrain crackers and natural peanut butter

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Vegetarians typically consume fewer calories than their non-vegetarian counterparts. If you lead an active lifestyle, this may result in difficulties meeting your daily calorie needs without protein- and fat-rich meats in your diet. However, replacing these with vegetarian sources of fats and protein, such as nuts, seeds and oils, is relatively easy. As part of a balanced diet comprised mainly of high-carbohydrate foods, these healthful meat replacements can quickly bring you to your 2,500-calorie daily goal.

Calorie Sources

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans outline how you should meet your daily calorie needs with a balanced vegetarian diet. These guidelines state that carbohydrates should account for 45 to 65 percent of your daily caloric intake, with fat accounting for 10 to 35 percent and protein 20 to 35 percent. As such, a 2,500-calorie vegetarian diet should include: 250 to 875 calories from fat, 500 to 875 calories from protein and 1125 to 1625 calories from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, so according to the Guidelines your daily diet should include approximately 281 to 406 grams of carbohydrates. A typical vegetarian diet easily meets these requirements, as fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains are all rich sources of carbohydrates.

To meet your daily carbohydrate intake, you should eat a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods with every meal. At breakfast, for example, a bowl of cereal with 1 cup of bran flakes and 1 cup of 1 percent milk contains 36.3 grams of carbs. Topping this with 1 medium-sized banana adds another 27 grams, and pairing this with 1 cup of orange juice results in a total of 89.1 grams of carbohydrates.

With 9 calories in one gram of fat, your balanced 2,500 calorie vegetarian diet should include 27.8 to 97.2 grams of fats. According to MayoClinic.com, most saturated and trans fats come from animal sources. Healthful fats, such as mono and polyunsaturated fats, typically come from vegetable, seed and nut oils, such as olive, peanut, canola, safflower, corn and soy oils. To help meet your daily fat intake, include nuts, seeds and avocados in your diet. Examples of healthy fats include 1 cup of sliced avocado with 21.4 grams and 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 13.5 grams.

Protein

One gram of protein contains approximately 4 calories. As such, you should eat approximately 125 to 219 grams of protein per day. Although meat is an excellent source of protein, the Guidelines list a variety of alternative vegetarian protein sources. Examples include 1 cup of black beans, with 15.2 grams of protein, 1 cup of lentils, with 17.9 grams, and 1 cup of almonds, with 30.3 grams of protein. As nuts and seeds are high in protein, healthful fats and calories, these foods can play a vital role in reaching 2,500 calories per day with a balanced vegetarian diet.

How to eat healthy as a vegetarian

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Choosing to switch from vegetarianism to eating meat involves more than digestive concerns. These include adjusting to new textures and flavors, learning how to eat a balanced, meat-based diet and explaining your decision to friends and family. To help make the transition smoother, gradually introduce lean meats into your diet, continue to eat vegetarian sources of protein and begin by adopting a semi-vegetarian diet.

Digestion

A common concern among vegetarians deciding to eat meat is that their bodies might not be able to properly digest animal fats and proteins. This is rooted in the belief that a vegetarian’s body no longer produces the enzymes needed to break down meat. However, nutritionist Judith Brown says there is no evidence supporting this belief. Although you may have difficulties with eating meat, Brown says that even long-term vegetarians can reintroduce meat into their diets without digestive issues.

Protein Sources

In their 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services suggest that all Americans eat a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian protein sources. In addition, they recommend that red meat not be your main source of animal protein. To ensure that your switch to meat-eating is a healthy one, most of your animal protein should come from lean meats, such as fish, poultry and seafood.

Nutritional Impact

The Dietary Guidelines state that protein should account for 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories. As meat is more readily available than some vegetarian sources of protein, you may find it easier to meet these recommendations after switching to meat-eating. Despite these benefits, eating too much meat can lead to excessive intakes of iron, protein, calories and saturated, trans and total fats. This can result in a variety of health problems, including diabetes, liver damage, weight gain and cardiovascular issues. To avoid these problems, carefully monitor your meat intake when moving away from a purely vegetarian diet.

Semi-vegetarianism

Although vegetarians do not lose the ability to digest meat, they may have difficulties adjusting to meat due to ethical concerns, textures and flavors. Additional challenges may arise from nutritional concerns and your personal life, as you will need to explain your decision to family and friends. Adopting a semi-vegetarian diet can help to dampen the effects of these issues and ease your transition away from pure vegetarianism. This involves eating meat only occasionally, limiting your meat intake to certain animal sources and continuing to include vegetarian protein sources in your diet.