Today is World Vegetarian Day, which marks the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month. Even if meat is a part of your diet, it’s good to understand the nutritional and ecological benefits of shifting to a more plant-focused diet.
Only one in 10 Americans eats the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day. This means most people would benefit from incorporating more of these healthy foods into their diets. Studies have found that vegetarian populations have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. This is likely because a healthy, plant-focused diet aims to “maximize consumption of nutrient-dense plant foods while minimizing processed foods, oils, and animal foods.”
On a more global scale, the United Nations recently agreed that ending hunger through a series of “specific, measurable goals” is crucial. One of the top changes experts recommend is reducing meat consumption around the world, as it’s one of the most ecologically costly foods eaten by humans. If we focused on using more resources to cultivate grains, vegetables and fruits for human consumption instead of for animal consumption and growth, we’d be a lot closer to feeding the global population.
Now that you’re aware of two major benefits of reducing your meat consumption, here’s the scoop on vegetarianism and ideas for moving towards a more plant-oriented diet.
So, what exactly is a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian is broadly defined as someone who doesn’t eat meat, poultry or seafood. Vegetarian diets typically consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and a variety of other foods.
Within this broader group, there are subgroups known as lacto-ovo vegetarians, ovo vegetarians and vegans, all of which don’t eat meat, poultry or seafood. Lacto-ovo vegetarians incorporate dairy products and eggs into their diet, while ovo vegetarians incorporate eggs, but not dairy products. Vegans avoid all animal products, including dairy products and eggs.
Do vegetarians get enough nutrients?
Vegetarians can indeed meet all of their nutrient requirements without meat, poultry and seafood by eating a properly varied diet that includes other sources of protein, iron, calcium and vitamin B12. Protein can be obtained through beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, tofu and other common foods. Iron can be found in beans, tofu, spinach, chard, bulgur and cashews. Calcium can be acquired through broccoli, collard greens and kale. Vitamin B12 is a bit harder to come by, but it can be found in certain fortified foods like cereal, nutritional yeast and soy milk.
How can I incorporate more plant-focused meals into my diet?
While there’s no need to cut meat out of your diet completely (vegetarianism is not for everyone), your overall health will likely benefit from moving towards a more plant-oriented diet. Here are some tips and tricks to make the transition easier.
- Don’t make meat the main focus of your meal. Aim to fill 50% of your plate with vegetables, 25% of your plate with whole grains and the remaining 25% with protein of some kind – not necessarily meat.
- Take part in Meatless Monday to go meat-free for at least one day each week.
- Don’t eat meat before dinner. Focus on getting your fill of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and other healthy non-meat foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks.
- Find substitutions you enjoy and tweak some of your go-to recipes. Trade burgers for veggie burgers or portobello mushrooms, chicken for tofu, meat-based chilis for bean-based chilis, and so on.
- Cook one new vegetarian dish a week. You can use our updated Meal Planner tool to search for and schedule vegetarian meals. Here are some of our favorite veggie-friendly recipes on our platform:
Green Pizza Recipe >
Rice & Lentil Salad Recipe >
Vegetarian Spinach Enchiladas Recipe >
Tomato Almond Avocado Salad Recipe >
Black Bean Quesadillas Recipe >
Bean & Barley Soup Recipe >
Chickpea Couscous Salad Recipe >
What are some of your favorite vegetarian dishes? Let us know in the comments below.