How To Follow A Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan

How To Follow A Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan

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Tamara
January 24, 2022
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If you’re choosing to start a vegetarian diet, you’ll feel good that you’re doing something positive for the environment.

Eating plant-based instead of animal-based products reduces the need for natural resources, such as land and water, to be used for meat production.

What can’t you eat on a vegetarian diet? If you become vegetarian, you won’t be able to eat meat such as beef or poultry, but some vegetarians eat fish. You can eat animal-based products such as dairy.

With that in mind, let’s explore the different types of vegetarian diets. We’ll also give you the information you need to follow a healthy vegetarian meal plan. 

Types Of Vegetarians 

Types Of Vegetarians 

Vegetarians are different from vegans because they don’t eat any shellfish, crustacea, red meat, poultry, game, or animal-by products like gelatine.

However, vegetarians will consume eggs and dairy products. Basically, you could say that vegetarians who don’t consume meat, dairy, or any animal-based products are vegans.

But there are different types of vegetarians. These include the following: 

  • Ovo-vegetarians: These vegetarians eat eggs in their diet but they don’t eat dairy products.
  • Lacto-vegetarians: If you’re on this diet, you will eat dairy but not eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: These vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products. 

Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan: What Are The Pros And Cons? 

Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan: What Are The Pros And Cons? 

If you’re keen to start following a vegetarian diet, there are some important advantages and potential disadvantages to know about.

Pros

On a vegetarian diet you will eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These are full of healthy vitamins and nutrients, such as antioxidants and fiber, that can reduce your risk of health conditions such as heart disease.

  • Vegetarian diets reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes because low-glycemic foods such as legumes, nuts, and whole grains regulate your blood sugar.
  • Vegetarian diets reduce your blood pressure. Plant foods are lower in cholesterol, fat, and sodium, which prevents your blood pressure from reaching unhealthy levels. Many fruits and vegetables contain potassium, which reduces your blood pressure and keeps it at a healthy level
  • You have a variety of dietary choices. As a vegetarian, you can choose if you’re going to eat dairy or eggs, or both, as well as if you’re going to eat seafood once in a while. This provides you with more options than if you choose a vegan diet which prohibits all foods that are derived from animals, even honey.

Cons

  • You can lack certain important nutrients, such as omega-3 and Vitamin B12, on a vegetarian diet. This is why it’s essential to choose the right foods.
  • Just because you’re vegetarian, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically following a healthier lifestyle. You have to ensure you avoid processed vegetarian meals and choose healthy, nutrient-rich foods instead.

Foods To Eat On A Vegetarian Diet 

Foods To Eat On A Vegetarian Diet 

To ensure you make your vegetarian diet healthy, you need to include a variety of foods to give you a range of nutrients. Let’s explore some of the essential vegetarian foods to add to your diet.

  • Eat more whole fruits and vegetables. You should aim to get 2 ½ cups of veggies a day and two cups of fruits per day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet) in order to ensure you’re getting enough. Fruits and vegetables can be great snack options throughout the day, instead of reaching for sweet or processed foods.
  • Add whole grains to your diet. Aim for 6 ½ ounces per day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Healthy whole grains include quinoa, rye, brown rice, and barley.
  • Get enough protein. It’s easy to lack protein on a vegetarian diet if you’re eating processed foods, so make sure you get 3 ½ ounces of healthy protein (based on a 2,000 calories per day meal plan). This could include Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, almonds, and nut butter.
  • Boost your calcium. If you don’t eat dairy products, you can get calcium by eating large amounts of foods such as kale, spinach, collard greens, and broccoli.
  • Be smart about iron. Make sure you reach for iron-rich foods, such as peas, dried beans, dark leafy green veggies, enriched cereals, and dried fruits. Iron is a nutrient that can’t be easily absorbed from plant sources, though, so you have to eat Vitamin C-rich foods to help your body absorb iron. Good Vitamin C sources include citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. Eat these at the same time that you eat the iron-rich foods.
  • Add some Vitamin D. This vitamin is found in cow’s milk but if you don’t consume dairy regularly or at all, you’ll have to check for Vitamin-D enriched milks such as soy and rice milks. You can also find cereals that are enriched with this nutrient.
  • Choose Vitamin B12 foods. You need to ensure you get enough of this nutrient because it keeps your cells, DNA, and nerves healthy. You can get Vitamin B12 from eggs, milk, cheese, and fortified foods. There are also natural foods that contain this nutrient, such as yeast spreads, algae, and nutritional yeast. 

What Is A “Dirty Vegetarian”? 

What Is A “Dirty Vegetarian”? 

The term “dirty vegan” is someone who follows the vegan diet but not in a very restrictive way.

Someone who follows a dirty vegan diet might include fake “meats” into their eating plan, for example, while another will consume animal products from time to time. Therefore, it’s a more flexible lifestyle than being completely vegan.

Since vegetarianism can include animal-derived foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, and dairy, “dirty vegetarian” isn’t really as much of a popular label as “dirty vegan.” There are, however, terms such as “flexitarian” that apply to vegetarians.

A flexitarian is someone who follows a vegetarian lifestyle but can add animal products, including meat, to their diet every now and then.

The flexitarian diet aims to remove the label of being a “bad vegetarian” from one’s dictionary because it allows a bit of wiggle room when it comes to eating meat to accommodate one’s preferences. 

What Is A Pure Vegetarian Diet?

What Is A Pure Vegetarian Diet?

Now that we’ve looked at what it means to be a “dirty vegetarian” or flexitarian, what does it mean to follow a pure vegetarian diet?

This is when you don’t have any meat or animal-based dairy products in your diet. Your eating plan will mainly contain fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. 

You can also follow clean eating principles on a vegetarian diet because the two diets have many similar characteristics.

Clean eating is based on eating more whole foods, such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains, while reducing processed foods such as sweets, snack foods, and packaged foods.

You can achieve clean eating on a vegetarian diet, such as by focusing on healthy fats and whole foods as much as possible, while reducing processed vegetarian meals and other processed or packaged foods. You should also reduce your intake of sugar. 

How Often Should Vegetarians Eat Eggs And Dairy?

How Often Should Vegetarians Eat Eggs And Dairy?

One of the problems you might encounter when following a vegetarian diet is that you only get complete sources of protein by eating animal-derived proteins, such as eggs.

If you eat eggs on your vegetarian diet, it’s good to know you can safely consume between one and three eggs per day.

When it comes to eating dairy, you should consume around three cups  per day on a vegetarian diet, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. 

How To Get Complete Proteins On A Vegetarian Diet

How To Get Complete Proteins On A Vegetarian Diet

If you don’t want to include dairy or eggs in your vegetarian diet, you will have to get enough protein in other ways.

As we already mentioned, you can’t get complete proteins, which contain all the essential amino acids, from plants alone. This is why you have to ensure you eat a variety of foods.

By combining different protein sources, you will get enough protein in your diet, and eating these foods together will give you complete proteins. The most powerful protein combinations are grains and legumes, and nuts/seeds with legumes.

  • Examples of meals that contain legumes and grains include rice with lentils, bean soup with breadsticks, pasta salad with kidney beans, peanut butter sandwiches on whole-wheat bread, and split-pea soup with brown rice. 
  • By comparison, examples of foods containing legumes and nuts/seeds include trail mix with pumpkin seeds, hummus (that contains sesame paste and chickpeas), and bean curd with sesame seeds. 

Extra Tips For Healthy Vegetarian Meals 

Extra Tips For Healthy Vegetarian Meals 
  • Make starchy foods the base of your meals. Starch-filled foods include bread, potatoes, rice, and pasta, and they should make up about one-third of your diet. For increased health, stick to whole-grain varieties of these foods. The benefit of starchy foods is that they give you energy and contain important nutrients, such as iron, fiber, and B-vitamins. 
  • Avoid high-sodium foods. While those packaged or processed veggie meals can be convenient once in a while, be careful with them as they’re usually packed with sodium. You need to reduce your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day as this will prevent you from getting high blood pressure.
  • Watch your carb intake. You might find that you want to reach for refined carbs to satisfy you, but this can disrupt your blood sugar and cause weight gain. This is why you have to replace refined carbs with healthy whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa, that are satisfying yet healthy. 

How To Transition To A Vegetarian Diet

How To Transition To A Vegetarian Diet

If you’re currently on a diet that’s filled with animal-based foods, making the transition to a vegetarian diet can be difficult.

Here are some tips to help you make the transition a little smoother, which will also help you to better maintain it in the long run:

  • Slowly add plant-based foods to your diet. Start by adding a few meals that are plant-based, such as oatmeal for breakfast, vegetable stir-fries for lunch, or lentil stews for dinner. It helps to choose plant-based foods that you already like so you won’t feel like you’re denying yourself by not having meat in your meals. 
  • Reduce your processed foods. Add more salad to your portions when you eat fast food, so that you slowly reduce how much of those unhealthy foods you’re eating. Then, try making veggie meals at home instead of ordering takeaway food. 
  • Commit to one plant-based meal per day. Once you’ve started making some changes to your eating plan, stick to having one meal per day that doesn’t contain any animal-based products.
  • Eat healthy snacks. It’s totally doable to replace all your unhealthy and sweet snacks during the day with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These are smaller meals so they’re easier to change. 
  • Add healthy foods to your grocery shopping list. If you have stocked your kitchen with whole foods, this will make it easier to cook vegetarian meals, especially on busy days or during the week.
  • Find creative recipes. It’s easy to fall into a rut when you start a vegetarian diet. You might eat the same foods every day, which can become boring. Go online or to your local bookstore and find creative, exciting vegetarian recipes or recipe books so that you keep learning how to make your meals delicious and healthy without spending a lot of time cooking.

Does a vegetarian diet make you lose weight?

Vegetarians can experience weight loss, but you need to make healthy food choices. If you’re eating processed foods on a vegetarian diet, this won’t help you in terms of being healthy or losing weight.

Can cutting out meat from your diet cause withdrawals?

You might experience symptoms such as weakness when cutting out meat, but this is because your body requires important nutrients, such as iron and protein.

Ensure you add these nutrients to your diet to replace what you’re losing from no longer eating meat. 

Conclusion 

If you want to start following a vegetarian diet, you should ensure you get enough nutrients from your eating plan.

In this article, we’ve looked at what you need to know about vegetarian diets, such as looking at their different types, what their pros and cons are, and what important nutrients you need to add to your vegetarian eating plan.

Resources:

Tamara

Tamara is an avid foodie and successful restaurateur. She has dedicated a large chunk of her life to researching healthy food recipes and diet plans, and also teaching people how to improve their eating habits. Using Eatomology, Tamara shares the very best diet plans, cookbooks, and more. Also, for those on a quest to improve their kitchen, Tamara shares some awesome and high-quality kitchen equipment recommendations as well as buying guides on her website.