Although becoming a vegetarian straight away is a good idea. A slow but sure transformation is even better. This is because of the following reasons;
1. An unexpected dietary change. This affects the digestive system by lack of appetite, bloating , stomach cramps, diarrhea.
2. Without animal proteins the body takes longer to repair the muscles.
3. Becoming a vegetarian is a lifestyle and not a onetime thing. The sudden dietary change affects the long-term objectives if planned in a rush.
The transformation process - start by reducing animal proteins in your diet. Introduce more plant based proteins, fruits and vegetables into the diet step by step.
Categories of vegetarian diets
Vegetarian diet is one without fish, dairy, poultry and meat. But people with various dietary models refer themselves as vegetarians like the following;
Flexitarian diet - this consist large amounts of the plant-based diet. Eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy on small quantities or special occasions.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians - this diet is all about eating eggs and dairy products. While keeping off poultry, fish and meat.
Lacto vegetarians - here people take dairy products but don't eat eggs, meat, poultry or fish.
Ovo vegetarians - these category of people eat eggs, but don't eat meat, poultry, fish and dairy products.
Pesco - vegetarians - eat fish only. Avoid meat, poultry, dairy products and eggs.
Pollo-vegetarians - eat poultry only and keep off fish, dairy products, meat and eggs.
Vegans - completely keeps off any animal products. This include meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, and honey.
Serious factors to consider when becoming a vegetarian
Anyone who desires to become a vegetarian must learn to get basic nutrients the body needs in other ways. Having a closer look at the following nutrients will help in proper use to stay healthy.
Iodine is a key mineral found in seafood. Thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are useful when it comes to maintaining a healthy metabolism. Also in growth and repair of injured body cells. Iodine deficiency causes goiter (enlarged thyroid gland). Unfortunately, people at risk of getting iodine deficiency include;
·Vegetarians and Vegans
· People who never use iodized salt
· Expectant mothers
Foods that promote goiter include;
· sweet potatoes,
· cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach),
· soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy beans)
· gluten (cereals ,bread, pasta, beer)
· certain fruits (peaches, strawberries and pears)
Even so, by taking a quarter teaspoon of iodized salt daily you get a considerable quantity of iodine.
2. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is the producer of red blood cells which fight against anemia. The human body cannot make this nutrient on its own thus the need to get it from foods or supplements. Vitamin B12 is present in animal products. This makes the vegan community to suffer great loss.
Unfortunately, lack of Vitamin B12 in the body may go unnoticed for the vegans. This is because of folate vitamin found in their food. Asparagus, legumes, fortified grains, broccoli, avocados, nuts and seeds are rich in folate. Soy milk, high vitamin cereals and vitamin supplements boost Vitamin B12.
Your body cannot survive without proteins. They're responsible for growth and maintenance of the tissues. Transporting and storing nutrients, maintaining healthy skin and organs. And allowing metabolic reactions to manage body functions.
Eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt) are high sources of proteins. Besides, you can get enough protein from plant sources. They are; beans, lentils, chia seeds, nuts, soy products( tempeh and tofu) and whole grains. As a vegetarian be sure to eat a broad selection of protein sources daily to get the required nutrients.
4. Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids reduce risks of heart diseases and stroke. These healthy fats are present in fish and eggs. So diets without eggs and fish experience low levels of these healthy fats.
Soy products, cereals, flax seeds, walnuts, mustard seed oil, spinach have fatty acids. Even so, human conversion of plant based omega 3 is not enough. Thus the need for supplements and fortified products.
Iron forms red blood cells and transports oxygen throughout the body. Whole grains, leafy vegetables, dried beans, quinoa, pumpkin seeds are rich in iron. But, iron is not easily absorbed from these plant sources. So the required intake is twice as much as compared to meat eaters.
Tomatoes, cabbages, broccoli, strawberries and citrus fruits help the body to absorb iron. These foods are also rich in iron, so eat them in plenty to get enough iron.
Zinc grows and repairs body tissues, protein formation and maintaining the immune system. And just like iron, zinc is not easily absorbed from plant sources.
Milk and cheese for those who eat dairy products are good sources of zinc. Plant based products legumes such as ( beans, chickpeas, lentils), seeds (sesame and pumpkin). Nuts ( cashew, almonds and peanuts), whole grains (quinoa, wheat, oats and rice).
Calcium is life and it takes the highest percentage of minerals in your body. Calcium makes strong teeth and bones and maintains them too. Calcium is also essential for nerve signaling, heart health and muscle functioning.
Sardines and canned salmon, milk and dairy foods are the richest in calcium. But, leafy greens (spinach, collard greens and kale) when eaten in plenty gives calcium. Also, soy products ( tofu, soy milk and beans), beans, lentils, chia seeds and almond nuts are rich in calcium.
8. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important when it comes to bone health. It is made from cholesterol when the body gets enough sunlight. Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon), fortified dairy products, soy milk and cereals are rich in vitamin D.
But, poor intake of fortified foods and little or no sun exposure leads to Vitamin D deficiencies. Make a point of getting Vitamin D supplements made from plants.
Vegetarian Health Benefits
Vegetarians get more vitamin C and E, magnesium and fiber as compared to meat-eaters.
Promotes Healthier Cholesterol Levels
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) is also known as "bad" cholesterol. And it contributes to fatty buildup in the arteries. LDL is present in fatty beef, pork, lamb, butter and milk. The "bad" cholesterol causes heart disease.
Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet can lower LDL as well as medication treatment.
Promotes weight loss
Vegetarians weigh less because their diet includes lower calories. The low caloric foods are fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Studies show that vegetarians have a lower body mass index (BMI) as compared to meat eaters.
Vegetarian diets have little amounts of cholesterol and unsaturated fats. They're rich in antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins C and E, magnesium and potassium. Not forgetting plant chemicals like flavonoids and carotenoids. These nutrients lower the bad cholesterol in the body.
"Bad" cholesterol causes chronic diseases. They include coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Whole grains and nuts are good foods for your heart.
Vegetarian diet requires a selection of nutritious plant-based foods. They include whole grains, legumes, whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. Also, stay away from unsaturated fats, refined sugar and grains.
Becoming a vegetarian is a long-term goal. So take your time in planning and execution details. Look out for vegetarian recipes, invest in vegetarian cook books. You can join vegetarian clubs and visit vegetarian restaurant to get firsthand experience.