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April 9, 2024

I am starting to see more people transitioning to vegetarian whole foods diets or simply reducing their meat intakes. The movies such as Food Inc., as well as farmers' markets seem to be waking people up about what they eat. Some of it may also be budget concerns with the high cost of meat in this economy. So here are some tips to help make the switch to a healthier diet easier.

1. Ease into it. Too much fiber too fast equals digestive upset. If you have been eating the standard american diet(SAD), you are probably used to eating under 15 grams of fiber daily. Whole foods vegetarians typically get much more and the American Dietic Association  recommends that women get at least 25 grams and men get at least 38 grams of fiber daily. If you are used to eating white bread, lots of meat and processed foods, you will be very uncomfortable if you suddenly load up on healthy fiber rich foods.

2. Drink enough water. It is important to stay hydrated, and water helps flush toxins out of the body. It helps your body adjust to your dietary changes. The increase in fiber can cause discomfort if too little water is taken in.

3. Start with meatless versions of your favorite meals. It is easiest to begin with foods you are already comfortable with and enjoy. Veggie pizza, lentil sloppy joes, bean burritos, vegetable stir-fry, chili with beans, whole grain pasta with meatless sauce, and vegetable soups are a great place to start. Grilled portobella mushrooms are an excellent substitute for a burger and do not take any more time or effort. Once you have gotten used to incorporating some familiar meatless meals into your menu, you can branch out and try new foods and more difficult recipes if you wish.

4. Avoid the processed fake meat "foods". These have had all the nutrition processed out of them and are full of gmos, and chemical additives; artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Tvp and soy protein isolate in most vegetarian fake meats and nutrition bars is processed with hexane- a neurotoxin. Hexane extracted soy is used in products made by Amy's Kitchen, Morningstar Farms, Boca Burger and Yves Cuisine. The Cornucopia Institute has studied this and found hexane residues even in some products made with organic ingredients such as Clif bars. Here's a link to their report. Stick with real, whole foods.

5. Be clear on your reasons for a meatless or vegetarian dietary change. Whether you are changing your diet for ethical reasons, environmental reasons, health reasons, or a combination of these, be clear. The clearer your focus is, the easier it will be for you to attain your goal. Educate yourself on nutrition, uninformed people often give new vegetarians a hard time without knowing anything about nutrition themselves.

6. Make sure to get enough dark, leafy greens. Greens are some of the most nutrient dense foods on this planet and have the biggest impact on your health. It's important to consume greens daily. They include broccoli, spinach, swiss chard, kale, beet greens and dandelions. If you are not a fan of cooked greens and don't care much for big leafy salads, blend them into a smoothie with some fruit. You'll get all of the nutritional benefits without the taste.

7. Make sure to get enough legumes.  Low in calories and loaded with nutrition, these are an important part of every diet. There is a large variety of peas, beans and lentils. They are great in soups, sprinkled on salads, and in bean dips, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find a few ways you enjoy them.

8. Eat at least some of your food raw each day. Raw foods have the most anticancer properties as well as enzymes that help in digestion. A big salad full of raw veggies and some raw fruit is a good start.

9. Eat the rainbow. In order to get all of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals you need you must eat a variety of foods. Eating fruits and vegetables from each of the color groups helps ensure you don't miss anything.

10. Make sure to eat enough fruits and veggies every day.  The absolute minimum recommended amount is 2 1/2 cups or 5 servings daily. For optimal health and best weight control the recommended amount is 5 cups or 10 servings.

11. Get enough omega #3 fatty acids. Most people have an imbalance of fatty acids, getting too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3. Adding ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil, and walnuts to your diet will increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids.

12. Don't substitute junk food for a nutritious balanced diet. Just because it's meatless or vegetarian doesn't mean it is healthy. It's not unusual for someone to switch to a vegetarian diet and gain weight by swapping their old diet for vegetarian processed and even organic junk food. Toaster pastries aren't healthy even if they're organic. This leads us to #12.

13.  Keep your pantry stocked with healthy options. When time is short or you are just too tired, the temptation to run out for fast food will be less if you have a well stocked pantry that includes some quick easy options. Canned beans and tomatoes can become chili in an instant. Beans or nuts can be added to a salad for a fast filling meal, lentils cook quickly and can become anything from soup to sloppy joes. Frozen vegetables can be turned into a satisfying stir-fry in no time. Sweet potatoes cook quickly and are a nutritional powerhouse.

14. Check out some vegetarian cookbooks at your local library. Finding new recipes to try keeps meals interesting. There are lots of books available with timesaving ideas. Keep a file of your favorites, with a section devoted to fast meals for when you're in a hurry.

15. Don't give up. If the transition is difficult for you do not be discouraged. It takes time to learn new habits and give up old unhealthy ways. Whether your goal is to become vegetarian or simply to reduce your meat consumption, just remember that each whole foods meatless meal you eat improves your health, and impacts the environment and animal welfare.

For info. on calcium, protein and iron, read 5 Myths About Eating Vegetarian .

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