Vegan and vegetarian diets are increasing in popularity over the past few years. A vegan diet involves cutting out all animal products (from your diet and even from your lifestyle). A vegetarian diet involves cutting out all meat. Blogs, restaurants, and even stores dedicated to these diets are popping up everywhere. But you have to ask yourself what is the best way to do it? Of course, the practice of not eating or using animal products dates back thousands of years as a way of healthy eating and spiritual cleansing. With endless resources a vegetarian and vegan diet is easier than ever, however, people are still falling short. Find out some tips from the experts how to be a healthy vegetarian or vegan.
Why should I cut out meat?
Meat is in almost every meal you eat now, which exceeds your weekly requirement. Lindsey Joe, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, points out that it’s recommended to intake no more than 18 ounces of red meat a week. Joe, adds that “cutting out red meat is encouraged when it comes to Cancer prevention because research has shown that these foods may promote cancer-causing compounds.” Meat consumption has been on the rise which means we need more space and resources to take care of these animals and raise them for consumption. Cutting out meat is a choice for a healthy lifestyle that can help create healthy habits and have a positive environmental impact.
Consuming more meat and protein than we need which can lead to heart and gastrointestinal health issues. For anyone beginning a diet free of meat, you do need to consider how you will get protein. Nan Allison RDN suggests many alternative ways to get protein including “nuts, seeds, soy, beans lentils, and soy milk.” When switching to a vegetarian diet is important that you are making you consume enough, Nan pointed out “that many people don’t eat enough because they feel like it is too much.” Outside of these foods there are many other foods that contain protein, Lindsey Joe RDN provides us with this list of protein-rich foods:
• 1 cup of cooked spinach has about 5 grams of protein
• 1 cup of cooked broccoli is about 4 grams
• ½ cup of cooked quinoa contributes about 4 grams of protein
• 2 tablespoons of peanut butter offer 8 grams.
B12, Iron, and Calcium
Like protein B12, Iron, and Calcium are all nutrients that we typically get from animal products, but you can find many alternatives. B12 can also be found in soy products, meat alternatives, and cereals. Beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh are all great sources of iron as well as protein for those looking for meat alternatives. Dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and broccoli are also a great source of calcium.
Make sure you are getting enough of these!
Vegan and vegetarian diets when done properly can contain all your nutrients and help you live out a healthy lifestyle. For many people, it can be time-consuming to prep and consume so many whole foods. These are vitamins you should make sure you are getting from either supplements or whole foods when you go meat-free:
Vitamin B12: Try nutritional yeast and nut milks to get more of this.
Iron: Leafy green vegetables, lentils, and peas are high in iron.
Zinc: Whole grains, legumes, and beans all contain zinc.
Vitamin D: Mushrooms are rich in vitamin D and a great meat replacement in meals.
Omega-3: Chia seeds and flax seeds are a great omega-3 replacement.
Iodine: Kelp, Arame, Hiziki, Kombu, and Wakame. Cranberries. Milk, Organic Yogurt, Cheese and other Dairy products
An important part of any diet is keeping it healthy and balanced. It is often thought that a vegetarian diet will make it difficult to get the nutrients you need. However, as with any diet, it is all about eating foods that meet your needs. Nan Allison warns people who are becoming vegetarian that you should avoid eating a “brown diet”, meaning your diet lacks color. Eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds that have color. The more natural color on your plate the better. “Be a rockstar label reader. Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t mean you want to forget about choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugar”, says Lindsey Joe.
Eating a balanced diet is the first step to good health. “Detoxifying while nourishing,” is how Nan Allison describes a balanced vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet can be a great way to kick-start a healthy lifestyle rich with fresh vegetables and diverse food with everything from beans and soy products to tofu and lentils. Eating a diverse vegetarian diet is a safe way to better your health.
Interested in learning more from the experts? Check out Lindsey Joe RDN and Nan Allison RDN to learn more about a complete vegetarian or vegan diet.
NAN ALLISON, MS, RDN, LDN
Nan is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, co-author of “Full and Fulfilled: The Science of Eating to Your Soul’s Satisfaction” and owners since 1987 of Allison’s Nutrition Consulting. You can contact Nan at or .
LINDSEY JOE, RDN, LDN
Lindsey is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Lifestyle Coach from Nashville, TN. Check out her blog at