Expert Advice

What's the best way to become a vegetarian?

You can stop eating meat, fish or poultry whenever you are ready. But when making the switch to a plant-based diet, knowing your nutrient needs is essential.

What's the best way to become a vegetarian?
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The importance of protein The 10 percent to 15 percent of calories you need each day from protein can easily be met by eating high-quality plant foods, including vegetables (vegetables contribute 2 grams to 3 grams of protein per half cup serving) as well as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Typically, more than half of the calories in a vegetarian diet comes from carbohydrates, found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

Don’t forget fat Fats serve multiple functions, such as maintaining the integrity of our cell membranes and fighting inflammation. Essential fatty acids in plant foods, including flax, hemp, soybeans and walnuts, are provided in the form of ALA, which the body can then convert to those fatty acids found naturally in fish (EPA and DHA). Or, take a vegetarian omega-3 Natural Healing supplement that is made from algae.

Take your vitamins Supplements, in conjunction with diet, can help you get enough of four crucial vitamins and minerals found in animal foods:

Vitamin D: There are receptors in every cell for vitamin D, shown to aid in immunity and cancer protection. You need a minimum of 600 IUs per day.

B12: Essential for energy, metabolism and cognitive function, B12 is found only in animal foods. Get the recommended 2.4 micrograms of B12 from eggs, dairy or in fortified foods such as cereal.

Zinc: Important for optimal immune function, zinc is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains and wild rice. Zinc absorption may be slightly lower for vegetarians, so it’s important to make sure you vary the number of zinc sources you get in order to meet the recommended 8 milligrams to 11 milligrams per day.

Iron: Vital to the health of red blood cells, iron is essential for energy and immunity. Fresh fruit, dark greens, beans, tofu, whole grains, nuts and seeds can provide the recommended 10 milligrams to 18 milligrams per day along with a hefty dose of vitamin C, which helps the body absorb the nonheme iron found in plant foods.

Seek inspiration Vegetarian resources are essential to help create a balanced, whole foods eating plan and avoiding the pitfalls of a convenience-based, nutritionally naked vegetarian diet. Celebrate your choice (and seek out support) by sharing your new eating habits with your family and friends. — Kathie Madonna Swift, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., creator of myfoundationdiet.com, a glutenfree, dairy-free and whole foods guide to vegetarian and flexitarian diets.