So you’ve decided to go vegetarian? Awesome! There are many benefits to a plant-based diet, from low blood pressure to improved insulin sensitivity. The risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions will be reduced significantly. The chances of weight gain will also drop if you eat little to no meat. It’s basically a win for overall health only if you do it right.
Vegetarianism isn’t a fool-proof way of eating. Beyond fatty steaks and processed meats, there are many unhealthy foods that are technically vegetarian. Don’t let your no-meat diet work against you. Make sure you don’t take up these harmful habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle as soon as possible.1
1. Eating Starchy Carbs
Carbs are a major source of calories and energy. For a vegetarian, it also promotes fullness when you skip the meat. The problem is when you reach for starchy carbs like fries and white bread. Because these foods are digested so quickly, you’ll just feel hungrier. They’re also associated with low-grade inflammation, high blood sugar, and weight gain. It’s probably not what you were hoping for.2 3
Replace starchy carbohydrates with whole foods like quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potato. They take a while to digest, so you’ll stay nice and full! Harmful factors like blood cholesterol and post-prandial blood glucose will also improve.4
2. Depending On Fake Meat
For a vegetarian, soy-based meat products might seem like the world’s greatest invention. They taste and feel like the real thing, offering plant protein as well. But they’re not the healthiest choice. Fake meat is highly processed, regardless of what it is made of.
Sodium, sugar, and other additives are used for flavor. The pinky brown “meat” color? That’s fake, too. In moderation, fake meat can be part of a healthy vegetarian diet. Just be sure to avoid making it the highlight of your meals. Instead go for whole foods like beans, lentils, and nuts.
3. Not Getting Enough Protein
Protein deficiency is one of the biggest risks for a vegetarian. Meat is a complete source of protein, but besides that, you need to get that protein from other foods. It’s easy to miss the mark if you’re not careful. Again, plant-based protein like nuts, beans, and lentils are a must. Don’t forget about eggs! One large hard-boiled egg has about 6.29 grams of protein, making it a smart choice for salads and sandwiches.5 6
4. Avoiding Fruits
Many people are wary about fruits. We’re always told to cut back on sugar, but fruits are full of it. So what’s the deal? Fructose, the sugar in fruits, is actually the good kind. It’s nothing like high-fructose corn syrup, so don’t get them confused. Fruits also have anti-obesity effects and offer vitamins, minerals, and lots of fiber. They’re a must for vegetarians – and everyone else.7
5. Not Snacking Wisely
Smart snacking can make or break a healthy diet. With the right approach, food choices in between meals will enhance nutrition. It’ll also ward off hunger and hold you over for the next meal. Instead of ice cream, eat Greek yogurt for more protein and increased satiety. Roasted chickpeas can replace salty snacks, while oatmeal cookies offer satiety-inducing fiber. Unsalted nuts, almond butter, and bananas also fit the bill.8
Adopt a vegetarian diet slowly. Give yourself time to incorporate plant-based protein, and don’t be afraid to try new recipes. With the right approach, vegetarianism can be delicious and nutritious.
|↑1||Vergnaud, Anne-Claire, Teresa Norat, Dora Romaguera, Traci Mouw, Anne M. May, Noemie Travier, Jian’an Luan et al. “Meat consumption and prospective weight change in participants of the EPIC-PANACEA study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 92, no. 2 (2010): 398-407.|
|↑2||Spadaro, Paola A., Helen L. Naug, Eugene F. Du Toit, Daniel Donner, and Natalie J. Colson. “A refined high carbohydrate diet is associated with changes in the serotonin pathway and visceral obesity.” Genetics research 97 (2015).|
|↑3||López-Alarcón, Mardia, Otilia Perichart-Perera, Samuel Flores-Huerta, Patricia Inda-Icaza, Maricela Rodríguez-Cruz, Andrea Armenta-Álvarez, María Teresa Bram-Falcón, and Marielle Mayorga-Ochoa. “Excessive refined carbohydrates and scarce micronutrients intakes increase inflammatory mediators and insulin resistance in prepubertal and pubertal obese children independently of obesity.” Mediators of inflammation 2014 (2014).|
|↑4||Ross, Alastair B. “Whole grains beyond fibre: what can metabolomics tell us about mechanisms?.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 74, no. 3 (2015): 320-327.|
|↑5||Pilis, Wiesław, Krzysztof Stec, Michał Zych, and Anna Pilis. “Health benefits and risk associated with adopting a vegetarian diet.” Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny 65, no. 1 (2014).|
|↑6||Basic Report: 01129, Egg, whole, cooked, hard-boiled. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑7||Sharma, Satya P., Hea J. Chung, Hyeon J. Kim, and Seong T. Hong. “Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity.” Nutrients 8, no. 10 (2016): 633.|
|↑8||Douglas, Steve M., Laura C. Ortinau, Heather A. Hoertel, and Heather J. Leidy. “Low, moderate, or high protein yogurt snacks on appetite control and subsequent eating in healthy women.” Appetite 60 (2013): 117-122.|