If you've decided that you'd like to be a vegetarian, then congratulations! Eating a vegetarian diet can be a healthy, nutritious, and delicious way to live. Depending on the type of vegetarian you choose to become, though, there may be gaps in your dietary needs. It's important that vegetarians learn how to become protectors of their own health by becoming experts in vegetarian nutrition. The following steps will help you learn how.
- Learn the differences between types of vegetarians: Most people think of vegetarians as people who don't eat meat, but that's oversimplifying vegetarianism. Some vegetarians don't eat meat, such as beef or poultry, but do eat eggs and/or dairy products. Vegetarians also may or may not eat seafood products. Finally, some vegetarians do not eat any animal products whatsoever. This type of diet, called a vegan diet, needs the most careful dietary planning.
- Learn about nutritional requirements: Did you know that your body needs amino acids? Or that your skin can manufacture vitamin D? If you choose to eat a vegetarian diet, you'll need to learn about what nutrients your body needs to survive. Head to the library and check out a book on nutrition and eating right. Some of the best books include: Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Dummies, and The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet.
- Learn which nutrients aren't found in plant products: Vitamin B-12 isn't found in plant products at all, calcium is in short supply, and the iron found in plant foods is difficult for the body to absorb. Learn which nutrients are abundant in vegetarian diets, and which ones you'll need to work harder to get.
- Supplement if you need to: Especially when starting a vegetarian diet, take a look at how your diet stacks up against the recommended daily allowances for different nutrients. If you need to, take a multivitamin or a nutrient-specific supplement.
- Visit a dietician: It's always a good idea to have an appointment with a dietician when starting a vegetarian diet. She will look at your diet and help you figure out what you're missing and how to get the nutrients you need.
- Read vegetarian cookbooks: Variety is important in any diet, and even more so in vegetarian diets. Cookbooks will help vegetarians figure out new foods and new ways to combine foods in healthy, delicious ways.
- Find other vegetarians: Talking together helps vegetarians pass along information and recipes. Join a local food club meant for vegetarians or find one of the many websites and Internet forums dedicated to vegetarians.
- Subscribe to a vegetarian magazine: Vegetarian Times, Veggie Life, VegNews, and Vegan Magazine are all magazines designed for people who eat a vegetarian diet. By subscribing to and reading these magazines, vegetarians can keep abreast of the latest scientific research and stories related to a vegetarian lifestyle.
- Talk to your doctor: Before making any major lifestyle changes, it is wise to consult your doctor. She knows your body's specific, individual needs, and can advise you on specific nutritional information you need to know.
As you can see, becoming a vegetarian is not a decision to be made without careful thought. If you decide that a vegetarian diet is the right step to take, make sure to learn as much as you can about vegetarian nutrition. Vegetarianism can be a truly wonderful way to live, but it's something that should be taken seriously.