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How to Eat a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet is a healthy diet. But if you do not eat a vegetarian diet properly, it can also become an unhealthy diet. Learn how to be a healthy vegetarian.

When some people start a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, they believe they are automatically eating a healthy vegetarian diet. Except there are many ways you can actually eat an unhealthy diet and become an unhealthy vegetarian.

The Reasons People Eat a Vegetarian Diet

There are different reasons that people become vegans or vegetarians that include:

  • Becoming a vegan or vegetarian for health reasons, thinking it is a healthier diet which in many cases it is healthy diet. Healthy because red meat especially can be high in fat and cholesterol which can clog arteries and cause high blood pressure.
  • Some are vegan or vegetarian for religious reasons
  • When a person believes that eating any animal food is harming animals, they will turn to a vegan diet or strict vegetarian diet.

The Different Types of Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

There are also different types of vegetarian diets, which can seem rather contradictory. Vegetarian used to mean no animal foods at all, but there are now different levels of a vegetarian diet.

  • Vegan diet is the strictest vegetarian diet where the person who follows a vegan diet will not eat any type of products that has ingredients from animal products. With a vegan diet, you have to know ingredients because animal foods can be hidden in almost anything. This can include different types of milk or beef products like foods with gelatin or dairy. Since gelatin is in so many foods like Jello, sour cream, ice cream, cottage cheese and many other products, it is important to look at all ingredients if you want to follow a vegan diet. Gelatin is made from the bone and skin of animals.
  • Vegetarian diets come in several forms. Originally, a vegetarian diet meant the same as a vegan diet, but over the years this has changed.
  • Lacto-vegetarian diet follows a plant based diet but also allows milk, cheese and other dairy products but no other animal foods. With the Lacto-vegetarian diet, it is also important to read ingredients for gelatin since dairy is allowed on this lifestyle diet.
  • Ovo-vegetarian diet follows a plant based diet which allows for eggs but not diary products.
  • Pesco-vegetarians follow a plant based diet for the most part, but also include fish in their diet. And some might even add eggs and dairy in small amounts.

As you can see, the term vegetarian has become confusing over the years. There was a time when calling yourself a vegetarian meant no animal products and only eating a diet based on plant foods. Some of these different or so-called vegetarian diets more closely resemble a healthy macrobiotic diet or Mediterranean diet. 

The Unhealthy Vegetarian

 Over the years as I have experimented with different ways to eat, I have met many who already were or became vegan or strict vegetarians who believed as long as they did not eat meat or any animal foods they would automatically be eating healthy.

Yet these new vegetarians would eat white bread, white pasta, donuts, candy and basically junk and processed food that is not very healthy for us to eat, just because the food contained no animal products.

When you eat no animal foods, you could become deficient in vitamin B12, iron, calcium and other nutrients that are important for our good health. Eating nothing but carbs, especially white carbs and ignoring vegetables, you also risk becoming deficient in many vitamins, phytochemicals and nutrients.

Eating too many carbs like white grains, white potatoes and white rice just because your diet contains no animal foods, you also could become overweight. Many of the white carbs contain little or no fiber and none of the minerals of the whole grains and have a higher glycemic index (GI) which can cause you to gain body fat.

Just because you are not including animal foods in your diet, does not automatically mean you are eating healthy and could actually be an unhealthy diet compared to someone who eats a well rounded healthy diet that does include meat.

How to be a Healthy Vegetarian

There are healthy eating rules that all vegans or strict vegetarians should follow to insure they are eating a healthy vegetarian diet.

  • Eat whole grains as much as possible so you get all of the great nutrients that are stripped out of white grains. Make sure you eat whole grain breads, brown rice, rolled oats oatmeal and quinoa. Quinoa is a complete source of non-animal protein.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and some fruits. This will guarantee you get plenty of vitamins, nutrients and phytochemicals.
  • Use the healthier types of lettuce like romaine instead of iceberg which has little nutritional value. When you have vegetables like broccoli, healthy lettuce salads and all kinds of greens, use some lemon. Using lemon on these vegetables will help your body absorb the iron from these vegetables.
  • Pay attention to healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Without eating fish or grass-fed beef, you will be missing out on the omega-3 fatty acids. Using flax seeds or flax oil will help you get plenty of the omega-3 fatty acids. For more information, please read How Vegetarians Can Get Omega-3.
  • Stay away from white sugar and products that contain white sugar. Read ingredients, even though a food might be animal food free and completely vegan, they can still contain plenty of white sugar or high fructose corn syrup and neither are healthy.
  • Eat plenty of beans and legumes which include split peas and lentils. These foods are not only high in healthy fiber but also contain iron, protein and many other vitamins and nutrients. You could also include tofu products for protein.
  • If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan and do not eat yogurt, you should include some fermented foods in your diet like miso or sauerkraut for good digestive health.
  • Eat foods that have the fewest ingredients. Today, there are so many food choices that make claims like heart healthy or vegetarian, yet can contain ingredients that are not healthy for you. In many cases, these so-called health foods are actually nothing more than unhealthy highly processed foods with too many man-made ingredients.
  • Take a multi-vitamin that contains plenty of the B vitamins and D vitamin and for women, possibly a multi-vitamin that contains iron.

Conclusion about Eating a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Following these simple rules can help you be a healthy vegetarian. Eat simple and eat whole foods like whole grains, lentils and legumes, fruits and plenty of vegetables. Don’t let yourself become an unhealthy vegetarian. There are many whole and real foods, you should be able to be a vegan or vegetarian and still eat healthy. At the bottom of this article in the resources section, there are many related articles for eating a healthy vegetarian diet.

Resources and More Healthy Diet Articles

Copyright © December 2011 Sam Montana

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Comments (14)
Ranked #1 in Nutrition

Very beneficial for vegetarians and for those who plan to be one.

excellent write up and excellent advise

I encourage everyone to at least have 1 or 2 vegetarian days per week.

No doubt, Sam, vegetarian is healthier, but I couldn't hoe that row. I'm an omnivore through and through. I eat everything. I need my red meat as much as I need my veggies. :-))

Well done and thanks for explaining the pros and cons in your article.

Ranked #2 in Nutrition

Jerry, vegetarian has been proven to be healthier when it is done properly, otherwise a vegetarian can eat nothing but junk and miss out on all of the needed vitamins. I also think eating meat can be healthy. Grass-fed beef can be quite healthy. A well rounded diet with whole foods and avoid the white products and processed foods is probably the best. It is the amount of meat that is eaten versus veggies and good carbs that is part of the health problem.

Ranked #2 in Nutrition

Brenda, having several meat free meals per week at least is not only good for our health, but also the planet.

Wonderful and realistic tips here Sam. As always, an excellent article.

Very well written true to the calling of a vegetarian at heart. This is a very valuable reference for those starting out to be vegetarians.

I like the section about why someone chooses to become a vegetarian. Vote up

Ranked #2 in Nutrition

Christy, I should have added another reason why some choose to become a vegetarian. That would be for environmental reasons since raising animals for food, the crops it takes to feed the animals, the water this process uses and what it does to the land and environment.

Thanks Sam for the additional information!

Thanks for this very helpful explanation of the different types of vegetarian diets Sam. It is something I have wondered about on occasion, including the term ''vegen''. Excellent warnings too for those contemplating or starting any of these type of diets.

Great article Sam - -Love the breakdown on the different types of Vegetarians  - I have been reading alot lately on alkaline foods and their importance. Also, I include Omega3's from a plant based source. It is a product called Mila by Lifemax. I would've loved to have known about the value of Omega 3's as a vegetarian back then

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