Meatless Meals: 10 Tips for Vegetarian Diets (cont.)

It's easy to be a vegetarian these days, with so many meatless food products on the market, along with all kinds of vegetarian cookbooks and magazines.

If you want to become a 'sometime' vegetarian or just enjoy a meatless meal once in a while, there are ways to do it without learning a whole new way of cooking and eating. First, start by substituting beans for meat or poultry in your favorite dishes, advises Diekman.

"The easiest way to transition into a more plant-based diet is to use familiar recipes substituting vegetarian ingredients," she says.

She recommends making these substitutions in dishes that have strong flavors, such as those with a sweet and sour or marinara sauce. Once you get used to more beans in your diet, experiment with meat substitutes, which look and taste like meat but are made of plant products.

Your second step: The next time you're at the grocery store, pick up one of the many pre-prepared vegetarian convenience foods. Sample several options to find the ones you enjoy.

Here are eight other tips for working more vegetarian meals into your eating plan while meeting all your nutritional needs:

  • Look for foods that are fortified with extra nutrients for a nutritional boost. Choose soy products that are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and B12.
  • Try tofu and soy crumbles, which are mild-tasting and absorb the seasonings and flavor of whatever you cook them with.
  • Eat plenty of dark, leafy greens, which are rich in iron and provide calcium.
  • Top salads, soups, stews, and omelets with beans, nuts, or seeds to add protein.
  • Add a once-daily multivitamin/mineral for nutritional insurance. See your doctor or registered dietitian if you are pregnant or have any other condition that could require extra supplementation.
  • Choose low- and nonfat dairy products.
  • Boost the healthy omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by eating fatty fish (if you include fish in your diet), enriched eggs, walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil.
  • Try going meatless one day a week at first. You don't have to cook elaborate vegetarian meals; it can be as simple as having a veggie burger and salad for dinner.

Vegetarianism is a healthy lifestyle, but experts point out that lean meat, fish, and poultry also have nutritional benefits -- as long as you keep your portions moderate. To gain the health benefits of a vegetarian diet and still enjoy animal products, think of the meat, fish, or poultry as a side dish and fill the rest of your plate with plant foods. And be sure to choose the leanest cuts when you do buy meat.

Published April 20, 2006

SOURCES: Nutrition Reviews, April 2006. Journal of the American Diet Association, 2003; vol 103: pp 748-765. News release, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; and co-author, Your Diet is Driving Me Crazy: When Food Conflicts Get in the Way of Your Love Life. Connie Diekman, RD, MEd, FADA, president elect, American Dietetic Association; and director of nutrition, Washington University, St. Louis.

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