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Tips on Transitioning to a Vegetarian Diet

By Erin Fergus

People may choose to follow a vegetarian diet due to ethical reasons or health concerns, such as high cholesterol or cancer risks. Several levels of transitions can be labeled "vegetarian," including the avoidance of land animals but not fish, all meat, eggs and/or dairy or all animal-derived substances. The easiest transition is to eliminate meat because the meat ingredients are typically readily visible. Phasing out other products may be confusing at first, but reading labels and knowing in which sections of the supermarket to shop becomes routine with practice.

Transitioning to Vegetarianism

Determine the appropriate strictness of vegetarianism and how lifestyle will be influenced. Decide whether to continue eating seafood (pescatarian), dairy products (lacto), eggs (ovo) or both (lacto-ovo vegetarian). Or decide to eliminate animal food products and byproducts completely (complete vegetarian, also known as vegan.) Newly transitioning vegetarians should also consider how they will handle situations in which vegetarian-friendly food options are not available.

Begin replacing meat and possibly egg, dairy and other animal products by reading ingredient lists and nutrition labels. Meat substitutes include tofu, soy products/soybeans, processed faux meats, seitan, tempeh, nuts, hemp, beans and legumes. Milk can be replaced with soy, almond, rice and hemp varieties. Powered egg replacement, ground flax seed meal and even tofu can be substituted in egg recipes. Amy's Kitchen, Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, Boca Burger, Cascadian Farm, Gardenburger, Kashi, Lightlife Foods, Morningstar Farms, Nature's Path Foods, Tofutti, Tofurky and Yves Veggie Cuisine are all popular brands with vegetarian options.

Consider adding one or more vitamin supplements if necessary. A multivitamin contains daily recommended values of various vitamins and minerals, but any of them can be taken singly as well. Calcium, which maintains bone and tooth health, is found most densely in dairy products. Iron is important for red blood cell functioning and is not as easily absorbed through plant sources. Vitamin B12 is necessary to prevent anemia and for energy, and it is found almost strictly in animal sources. These vitamins can be found in fortified foods and in pill form, but using only one or the other is necessary because overdosing is possible.

Tips

Vegetarians can make the mistake of consuming excess amounts of bread products, pastries, trail mixes, potatoes and other starchy products, which can lead to weight gain.

Not all foods listed as vegetarian are also vegan. Read labels carefully if attempting to eliminate all animal products.

Protein supplementation is not usually necessary, but vegetarian/vegan protein powders in the form of hemp, brown rice, soy or peas can be used.

Warnings

Consult with a medical professional if any symptoms appear that signify vitamin deficiencies, such as fatigue, headaches, heart problems, etc.

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