1. When you cut meat out of your diet (or even just cut way back on it), you’ll want to make sure you’re still getting enough protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
Those are the top nutrients that vegetarians may fall short on, Tara Ostrowe, MS, RD, a New York City-based registered dietitian and exercise physiologist, tells BuzzFeed Life.
An app like Wholesome can help you log what you eat every day, and it’ll tell you how close you are to your daily recommended allowance of each nutrient. It can also give you tips for which foods you might want to eat to hit the nutrients you’re low on.
Pictured above are cheesy black-bean–stuffed sweet potatoes with poached eggs, which come with 19 grams of protein (and 365 calories). Get the recipe here, and check out 22 High-Protein Meatless Meals For Under 400 Calories for a few more ideas.
2. You don’t need to jump in 100% from the get-go if you’re trying to become a vegetarian — you can take smaller steps to get there if you need to.
“Something I do to ease my clients into becoming vegetarian is I encourage them to mix base proteins and animal meat until they’re able to wean themselves off,” Nita Sharda, RD, owner of Carrots and Cake Balanced Nutrition Consulting, tells BuzzFeed Life.
Some examples: “If you’re making beef patties for the grill, add in a handful of lentils to the beef mixture, and that way you’re easing your taste buds into the taste a bit,” Sharda says. Or if you’re going to make a chili, use less ground beef and double the amount of beans you’d normally use. Or when you’re making tacos, use less meat and add in a can of lentils. You get the idea.
Pictured above is an easy vegetarian chili that you can ease into if you’d like.
3. Choose smoothies over juices.
“I favor smoothies over juices because smoothies have the added benefit of fiber,” Sharda says. They’re also a really easy way to add more fruits, veggies, and protein to your diet without having to try so hard.
4. See if you can add natural sources of protein to your smoothies instead of protein powder.
Not that there’s anything wrong with protein powder. But before you turn to supplements, you might want to try natural sources of protein like cottage cheese, peanut butter, almond butter, and Greek yogurt, Sharda says. Here are 17 Natural Ways To Add Protein To Your Smoothies for some more ideas.
Pictured above is a fruit and yogurt smoothie. Get the recipe here.
5. You might want to learn a few great recipes that involve beans or lentils, if you don’t know them already.
They’re excellent sources of iron and protein, and can help round out any meal and make you feel full. Here are 26 of the most delicious things you can do to beans (although heads up that some of these recipes have meat in them… Just skip those). One example: Those flourless black bean brownies shown above. Just saying.
6. Vegetarians need to eat about twice as much iron as non-vegetarians in order to get the amount they need.
There are two types of iron, Sharda says — the kind that comes from animals, and the kind that comes from plant-based foods and grains. Unfortunately, the iron from plants and grains doesn’t absorb into your body as well as animal-based iron. So vegetarians need to eat a lot MORE iron than non-vegetarians, in order to get as much as they need.
(Here’s what the CDC recommends in terms of daily iron intake. But, again, you’ll likely want to eat much more than that, so that your body actually absorbs the right amount.)
Plant-based foods rich in iron include beans, lentils, kale, spinach, soy, and more. That kale and black bean burrito pictured above from Cookie and Kate is a good place to start. And here are 26 recipes that will make you fall even more in love with kale, if it helps.
7. You’ll absorb more iron when you combine it with vitamin C.
Add blueberries to your oatmeal and bell peppers to your brown rice, for example. Or any combo of a food with vitamin C + a food with iron. That’s because eating vitamin C alongside iron can help your body absorb more of the iron than if you’d just eaten the iron all by itself, Ostrowe says.
8. The amount of protein you need depends a lot on how active you are.
If you’re not super active, Ostrowe recommends aiming for roughly a gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, or a little less. She suggests finding your weight in kilograms and then multiplying that by 0.8 to 1 — that’s how many grams of protein you should eat in a day. So, for example, a 150-pound woman would weigh 68 kilograms. 68 × 0.8 = 54.4. So she would want to aim for between 54.4 grams of protein and 68 grams of protein per day.
THAT SAID, the number goes up with your activity level. “If you’re working out regularly, you’d multiply that number by 1.2 to 1.4; and if someone is working out hard and is a competitive athlete, your needs would be 1.6 to 2.2 times that number,” Ostrowe says.
Regularly working out = 81 to 95 grams of protein per day if you’re at 150 pounds (68 kilograms)
Competitive athlete = 109 to 150 grams of protein per day
9. You don’t need to eat dairy to get calcium (although that will help).
Kale, collard greens, broccoli, and spinach all have calcium in them, as do soybeans and almonds.
You can get the recipe for that bean artichoke spinach cauliflower burger here.
10. If eggs are still in your diet, embrace them if you can or want to!
Eggs are a GREAT source of protein — about seven grams per egg, Ostrowe says. Here’s exactly how to boil an egg, if that’s what you like. And here are 31 of the most delicious things you can do with eggs, for some more inspiration.
12. Mason jar salads are a fun and easy way to prep your lunch for the week.
The perfect lunch to prep on Sundays and grab and go each morning. Here are 18 Mason jar salads that make perfect healthy lunches.
14. You should make friends with a vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter.
Both Ostrowe and Sharda recommend that their vegetarian clients take vitamin D supplements, because it can be incredibly hard to get with limited sunlight and no meat. (Dairy has some, but usually not enough to keep you from being deficient.)
15. You need to eat a variety of protein sources every day — it’s not enough to just eat a lot of quinoa and call it a day.
Proteins are made up of amino acids — essential amino acids, and non-essential amino acids, Sharda says. “To make sure you’re getting a good complement of all the different amino acids, you want to make sure you’re eating a variety,” she says.
Make sure you eat a variety of sources of protein every single day. “Certain vegetables will give you some protein, grains will give you protein, beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, hummus, and more,” Ostrowe says.
Here are 12 Complete Proteins Vegetarians Need To Know About, via Greatist.
17. And make sure your snacks have protein, too, to keep you full and satisfied.
“Snacking on high-protein snacks throughout the day will keep your energy levels up,” Ostrowe says. “Dried edamame is a really good high-protein snack. Also sunflower seeds, or nut butters (like peanut butter or almond butter on a piece of fruit). And if you’re eating dairy, then yogurt, cottage cheese, and string cheese can all be good snacks, too.”
18. You’ll also want to mind your omega-3s.
“Omega-3s are a type of unsaturated fat, and it’s really beneficial for optimal heart function,” Sharda says. Fish are high in omega-3s, but vegetarians might want to turn to canola, flaxseed, walnut, or soybean oil, she says. You can also find it in ground flaxseed and soybeans. One easy way to do this: Add flaxseed to your smoothies. Like in this green smoothie picture above. Get the recipe here.
19. Steaming veggies preserves more nutrients than boiling them.
When you boil vegetables the vitamins can escape into the water, Ostrowe says. That’s all good if you’re making soup, but if you’re just going to be taking the veggies out of the water, you’re losing a lot of the nutrients you’d otherwise get. Steam them instead, if you have the choice.
That said, if you prefer boiled (or stir-fried) veggies to steamed…have at it. Preparing veggies in a way that makes them tasty and enjoyable means you’ll be more likely to want to eat them! If you’re going to boil, steam, or microwave, Kid Spot has you covered.
20. A slow cooker isn’t necessary, but it sure is nice. And the same goes for a blender, while you’re at it.
“I don’t think you need a specific repertoire of gadgets to help you become a vegetarian or do it nutritionally,” Sharda says. That said, having a slow cooker will definitely be helpful in prepping beans and lentils. And a blender can be GREAT for all those smoothies.
That vegetarian red lentil dal pictured above was made in a slow cooker, for example. Get the recipe here.
21. Try to eat produce that’s in season, and local, if possible.
“I always try to reiterate to my vegetarian clients that it’s always about the purpose and their intentions,” Sharda says, “to always get them to pause and reflect on why they’re choosing this”. If you’re choosing to eat vegetarian because of environmental reasons, there are ways to do it that are more environmentally friendly: by eating foods that are in-season and locally grown, for instance. If you have the option to join a CSA, that might be a great way to start.
Image from The Best American Infographics.
22. Deciding to eat vegetarian is a lifestyle choice, and it can require some work. The more you plan ahead, the easier it’ll be.
Committing to a vegetarian lifestyle isn’t the easiest — it requires planning and work, especially at the beginning. Figuring out a few go-to recipes that you feel comfortable making (and that you enjoy) is really important, Sharda says. So is figuring out basic meal timing and planning. “You’ve got to almost sit down and visualize what your meals are going to look like that week, or at least for the next few days,” she says, “and then go to the grocery store and buy the items you’re going to need for those meals.”
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