This blog was written by our Dietetic Intern from Georgia State, Nikki Speake.
As a vegetarian for most my life, only a fraction has been spent as a healthy eater.
Growing up in rural Alabama — the mother of all food deserts — I consumed many ill-balanced meals of French fry-Dorito sandwiches, processed cheese, and minute rice.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I discovered how to properly eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet, and my health has been better for it.
The health benefits of plant-based diets are plenty — if you do it right. Properly planned vegetarian diets have been proven to lower risks of heart disease, type II diabetes, and cancer as vegetarians typically eat less saturated (animal) fat and more fiber and antioxidants from beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
However, it’s important not to base your diet on refined carbohydrates (packaged crackers, cookies, white rice, white bread and white pasta), fried foods, and high-fat dairy foods like cheese — oh, the cheese.
I have been asked MANY questions about vegetarianism, but mostly people ask me the best way to transition into the diet.
Here are my suggestions:
• Start off by trying a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that includes eggs and low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese).
• Try getting most of your protein from eggs, beans, quinoa, low-fat dairy, and tofu rather than meat substitutes, which can be high in sodium.
• If you want to go further, but still aren’t convinced you can make it longer than a day, consider a trial of the vegetarian Good Measure Meals. This is a great way to get the hang of the diet, and learn to balance your plate as well as taste some healthy veggie staples like quinoa or chickpea patties.
Remember – it’s not for everyone, so don’t feel defeated if it doesn’t work out for you.
Maybe you’re a “flexitarian,” and that’s fine too.