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Whether it’s for clear skin, weight loss, or greater energy, people seem to associate vegetarianism with good health. But many people who express an interest in consuming a vegetarian diet don’t do so because they are unsure of how to do it or think it’s too hard to give up meat.

Vege-might

If you are considering it, we’ll break down some of the benefits for you

Lower risk of obesity
Fat has double the calories as the same amount of carbohydrates or protein; cutting out animal-based fat is an easy first step in lowering your caloric intake.

Lower risk of heart disease
Steak, organ meats, butter and cheese are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which could build up in the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis. As a result of this condition, you could suffer chest pain and shortness of breath, and be at risk for heart attack and stroke.

Help for diabetics
A diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes can help stabilise your blood sugar. One study has shown that participants with type-2 diabetes who adhered to a low-fat vegan diet had reduced blood-sugar levels and felt a reduced need for diabetes medication.

Clearer skin
Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that fight skin damage. Zinc, a mineral found in beans, has been shown to fight acne and reduce inflammation. Research shows a link between high fibre intake and reduced severity of acne.

Wherefore art thou, nutrients?

A common misconception about vegetarianism is that it is impossible to meet all of your dietary needs of protein, vitamins and minerals. However, it’s easier to be vegetarian than most people think.
The key to making this diet work for you is simply to understand what nutrients you are missing from the foods you are not consuming, and learn how to balance your meals without these foods.
Protein isn’t the only thing you’re losing out on by omitting meat from your diet. Here are some other nutrients non-meat eaters need to take note of.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to slow the development of atherosclerosis, slightly lower blood pressure and contribute to healthy skin. You can boost your body’s own production of fatty acids by including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in your diet. Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, tofu, soybeans and walnuts are good non-meat sources.

Vitamin B12
The plant-based form of vitamin B12 cannot be properly absorbed. B12 deficiency can lead to anaemia and nerve damage, so it is important that vegetarians stock up on fortified foods like soy milk and cereal, as well as supplements.

Calcium
You know dairy products as “the” source of calcium, but they are often omitted in vegetarian diets. Non-dairy sources are fortified tofu, soy nuts and soy beans, legumes, fortified soy milk and juice, and leafy green vegetables like bok choy, spinach, kale and mustard greens. Maximise your body’s absorption of calcium by also consuming vitamin D, which is found in fortified juices and cereals.

Iron
Iron is essential for transporting oxygen around your body. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, spinach, tofu, wheat, and fortified cereal are all good plant sources of iron. Consuming vitamin C-containing foods like citrus fruits and red capsicums will improve the absorption of iron.

Parting is such sweet sorrow
If you’re not following a vegetarian diet but you’re thinking of trying it, here are some ideas to help you get started:
Meatless Mondays... and Tuesdays and Wednesdays. To get used to the vegetarian lifestyle, have the vegetarian dishes that you already know more often, whether it’s eggplant lasagna or stir-fried vegetables with steamed rice.
Make substitutions. Try your favourite recipes sans meat, or substitute meats with the vegetarian options that are available in many grocery stores. “Chicken” nuggets and faux cheese made of tofu can be delicious, or you can make easy substitutions in your own kitchen:

  • Make your own “meat”-balls with minced portabello mushrooms and breadcrumbs.
  • Replace chicken with extra-firm tofu.
  • Substitute black beans for ground beef. They are firm, flavourful and full of fibre.

Expand your horizons. The more variety your vegetarian diet has, the more likely your nutritional needs will be met and the more likely you are to stick with it. Plus, try the following:

Ban the veggie blahs
Steaming and boiling often leave much to be desired. Roasting and broiling your vegetables enhance their flavours by caramelising their natural sugars.

Open the spice cabinet
Vegetarian food doesn’t have to be bland. Indian cuisine is a great example of vegetarian food that is bursting with flavour.

Know your nuts
Jazz up taste and texture in salads, soups, fruits and veggie burgers with crushed toasted almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts.
And if these reasons aren’t enough, remember veggies tend to be cheaper than meats and fish, so you can even save a lot of green by going green! LW

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