It is likely that the vast majority of our very early ancestors were vegetarians. The farming-gathering culture thrived on making use of the food provided by surrounding plants and possibly animal products like milk and eggs.
The human body does not actually need meat to survive and thrive. The USDA’s ChooseMyPlate, for example, specifies protein as a major food group – but we can get protein from more than just meat products. There are plenty of vegetables that can serve as complete protein sources, which is why we haven’t always relied on killing animals for food.
A vegetarian diet really isn’t all that complicated when you break it down. As long as you are willing to eat a variety of plant based foods and commit to some major dietary lifestyle changes, you might even find you feel better once meat is out of the equation.
Let’s look closer at the benefits and possible risks of the vegetarian diet, as well as some sample menus and grocery shopping lists to show you how easy it can be to eat a diet mostly made up of plants and dairy products.
Vegetarian Diet Review
The only people vegetarianism probably isn’t suited for are those who aren’t willing to eat a diet high in carbohydrates. Meat doesn’t have any carbs, so a lot of times people can get away with eating more meat to avoid eating too much sugar. However, a vegetarian’s main sources of nourishment – fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy – all contain carbs.
This isn’t a bad thing – plant and dairy based carbs are healthy. But you’re going to be eating quite a lot of veggies and cheese, if we’re honest.
If that’s okay with you, then you’ll likely find the vegetarian diet fairly pleasant.
There are several main reasons why people become vegetarians. Vegetarian diets are lower in cholesterol and saturated fats because they tend to limit animal proteins and consume more plant based products, which is why some people choose to live by them. Others do so for animal rights reasons – meat is avoided because a person might not agree with how that animal is treated in the slaughtering process necessary to get that meat from farm to grocery store shelf.
There can be both benefits and risks to a vegetarian diet, of course, but that is usually the case with most diets. Traditional vegetarianism promotes eating a more plant based diet, which is naturally lower in sodium and added sugars. Saturated fats and dietary cholesterol aren’t as harmful as we once thought they were, but a vegetarian diet will be naturally lower in those things as well – everything in moderation.
However, if you don’t do your research beforehand and have a healthy and reliable diet plan in place before you begin, you can end up malnourished, protein deficient and severely lacking in certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium and iron. You can get everything you need – but you have to be willing to eat a variety of whole foods. Just cutting out meat and filling up on processed foods won’t cut it.
In other words – anyone can make a vegetarian diet work for them while getting all the nutrients they need from the foods they eat. But it is up to every individual to do the best they can to make the choices that are best for them health wise. Part of success in any diet is attitude: if you’re willing to make the appropriate lifestyle changes, you are much more likely to be pleased with your results.
Let’s break down how your diet will change if you decide to go vegetarian.
Vegetarian Diet Plan Basics and Rules
Traditionally, the vegetarian diet consists of a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables and some animal as well as plant protein products. Protein typically comes from dairy products on this diet, in the majority of vegetarians, but mainly comes from plant products like vegetables. However, some types of vegetarians do cut dairy products from their diet, or in some cases, such as veganism, eliminate animal products completely.
All vegetarians avoid meat products and eat grains, fruits and vegetables, but there are also several different types of vegetarianism that determine which foods are and are not included in the diet. You can pick your preferred type depending on what you do and do not want to eat on a daily basis.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs as part of a regular diet.
- Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but do not eat eggs.
- Ovo vegetarians eat eggs but do not eat dairy products.
- Pollotarians eat poultry and fowl but stay away from red meat, fish and seafood.
- Vegans eat only plant based foods – they do not eat any type of meat, fish or seafood, dairy products, eggs or other animal products like honey.
So if you are someone who is sensitive to lactose, you can choose to leave dairy out of your diet as well as meat, and become an ovo vegetarian – eating only fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains for meals and snacks.
There are also diets that exclude animal protein consumption to fish and seafood only, as well as those that limit their meat consumption but do not eliminate it completely – but these aren’t technically classified as types of vegetarian diets.
Menu and Meal Planning
Choosing to be a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to succumb to eating “rabbit food.” You’d be surprised how many of your favorite casseroles and other dishes are already meat free. You do have to let go of the chance of sitting down in front of a juicy steak, but replace that with an ounce of fish or a colorful assortment of cooked and seasoned vegetables and it’s really not all that different.
If you are careful to plan out your meals each week, you should have no problem at all adjusting to a vegetarian diet. The only thing that’s really missing is meat – no more chicken or beef, which just happen to be two foods that are staples in many households. You can manage it, though. You can even do so without relying on heavily processed soy based products, like frozen veggie burger patties.
Here is an example of a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu that includes all whole and mostly fresh or homemade food items made from fresh ingredients.
- Egg omelet (2 eggs) with cheese, tomatoes, avocado and spinach
- English muffin with nut butter spread (2 halves)
- 1 cup blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
- Twice baked potato
- Butternut squash
- Seasoned green beans
- Garlic bread (2 pieces)
- Homemade sweet potato fries
- Fresh applesauce with cinnamon
- Plain yogurt with fruit/granola
- Homemade snack mix
- Mixed nuts
- Dried fruit
- Hummus dip with fresh vegetables
Grocery Shopping List
You may not be heading down the aisles in search of your favorite meat products, but that does not mean you can’t still enjoy a variety of foods on your plate multiple times a day. You’re going to have to get used to the idea of unloading grocery bags full of fresh produce, so you might as well make the most of it.
To make sure you are getting all of your essential nutrients as part of a vegetarian diet, here are the main types of foods you will want to include on your plate during meals – and some familiar examples of each.
- Red, yellow or green peppers
- Lettuce or spinach
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Berries, such as strawberries and blueberries
- Melons, such as watermelon (usually seasonal)
Dairy products, including:
- Lowfat cow’s milk or soy milk
- Fresh deli cheeses
- Greek yogurt (more protein than regular yogurt)
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
Grain products, including:
- Whole grain breads
- Whole grain pasta
- Brown, white and wild rice
- Corn and corn products
- Oats and oatmeal
Other plant proteins, including:
- Nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts
- Nut butters, such as peanut butter or almond butter
- Seeds, such as sunflower seeds or chia seeds
- Chickpeas, such as those used to make hummus
- Beans, such as white or black beans
Are processed soy food products off limits? Not necessarily. But if you do want to follow a more traditional vegetarian diet, those frozen “fake meat” products sort of defeat the whole purpose. You’re much better off getting creative with your food preparation – you can make your own burger patties from chickpeas and other ingredients, for example.
You might consider investing in a true vegetarian cookbook to help give you some more creative recipe ideas you can try creating in your own kitchen. The more options you have for meals and snacks, especially as you are still adjusting to a meat free diet, the better.
Does the Vegetarian Diet Work?
Aside from the health benefits, switching to a vegetarian diet does the body good too.
Reviews and Weight Loss Results
“I have been eating a vegetarian diet since June 2015. I did not really lose any weight, maybe only a pound or two to start. The benefits from starting a vegetarian diet though were amazing and very easy to notice. To start, I had a lot more energy in the mornings and throughout the day, not getting tired as easily as when I ate a meat diet. My teeth became whiter and almost plaque free, much to my liking and to my dentist’s. I have not gotten sick since starting a vegetarian diet as many of the foods I eat have more nutrients and vitamins to help my body recover if infected with a virus.
Deciding to eat a vegetarian diet should be a very thought-out decision as it is important to feed your body the proper amounts of nutrients and proteins, so that you do not get sick. It is necessary to realize how much meat products are used in fast food, restaurants and even in everyday products such as BBQ sauce. Meat by-products are used in different types of oils and broths and if not careful can make a vegetarian sick when consuming them. It is hard to find a restaurant where they don’t cook food that has not touched meat or been in the same oil as meat. In order to be serious about the diet it is necessary to ensure that you consume no meat products or the benefits of the diet may not be in full affect.
I decided to become a vegetarian for personal reasons after living in France for a year, and I just tell people to keep an open mind about trying it. Instead of thinking about all of the foods you can’t eat, you focus on the food you can eat, with many new choices and options available. There are many different vegetarian and vegan TVP (textured vegetable protein) options that fill your body with good fats and proteins. I love being a vegetarian, the benefits to my health and happiness about my body appearance.”
Before and After Success Stories
“I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now. I was an on-and-off again vegetarian for a few years, but a year ago I officially became a vegetarian. I have lost 20 pounds since I became a vegetarian. I’m not sure how many inches I’ve lost, but my body seems more toned and in better shape. The first change I noticed was how my face got thinner. Then I slowly noticed my body slimming down as well.
It actually wasn’t difficult for me to change my diet. It was very easy for me to change to a vegetarian diet. I already loved fruits and veggies, so it didn’t feel like I had to give anything up. There are also a ton of meat free alternative foods at the grocery store that are just as good as meat. Not just the taste, but nutritional value as well.
I would definitely recommend trying a vegetarian diet if you haven’t already. It’s not hard to give up meat once you discover your alternative options. You don’t have to quit cold turkey, but you can slowly cut meat out of your diet. Once I switched to being a vegetarian I noticed that my skin looked healthier, my weight went down, and I had more energy. I recommend giving this diet a try!”