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Reach for All-Star Spices

A vegetarian diet doesn’t have to equal bland. Amp up your flavors with fresh and dried spices and herbs. Versatile players include:

Garlic. This pungent mainstay perks up soups, marinades, salad dressing, and stews.

Basil. Toss the fragrant leaves onto tomato-based sauces, stir-fry dishes, salads, and pizzas.

Cayenne pepper. Add a dash to Mexican dishes and any food that needs a little heat.

Curry powder. This sweet and savory flavor works well in soups, stews, sauces, and even eggs.

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Eat Cheaper

Studies show that vegetarian diets can be more affordable than meat-based eating. But fresh produce, especially vegetables, can get pricey. A big cost-cutting move is to cook more at home. You’ll also get less of the salt, sugar, saturated fats, and additives in packaged foods and restaurant meals. Another tip: Buy green beans, mangos, and other veggies and fruits frozen. They’re packed at the peak of nutrition and often have more vitamins and minerals than the fresh versions.

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Say Yes to Yeast

Many vegetarians are familiar with the benefits of nutritional yeast. These nutty yellow flakes are deactivated yeast grown in molasses. They add an earthy, cheesy taste to pasta, popcorn, and vegetables. But what you might not know is that nutritional yeast is loaded with protein. Just 2 tablespoons pack 9 grams. That’s more protein than you get in 1 ounce of beef or chicken.

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Profiles of Success

Surveys show that nearly 9 out of 10 vegetarians eventually go back to eating meat. Most of them quit up after less than a year. People who were more likely to stick to vegetarianism differed from former vegetarians in that they:

  • Adopted plant-based diet at a younger age, in their 20s
  • Switched over more slowly, over months instead of days or weeks
  • Were more likely to have friends, partners, or family members who were also vegetarians
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Stock Up on Staples

Keep your pantry and fridge filled with basic ingredients for easy-fix dishes to help keep you on track.

  • Quick-cooking whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, and bulgur
  • Canned beans such as black beans and chickpeas
  • High-protein plant foods, including tofu, edamame, peas, and lentils
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Nuts and nut spreads and butters
  • Vegetarian soups (make a batch and freeze individual portions)
  • Non-dairy milk like coconut, almond, and soy (the ones sold in aseptic, or shelf-stable, boxes last for months in your pantry)
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Tamp Down Gas

Beans are the centerpiece of many vegetarian recipes. They’re also known triggers for gas. Soak dried beans overnight before cooking to help banish gas. The water leaches away the sugars that cause it. Or go with canned beans. Other foods with gas-producing carbohydrates to watch for include whole grains and veggies like cabbage, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower.

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Vegetarian Newbies

Before you dive in, think about your reasons for going vegetarian and what type of diet may work best for you.

  • Meatless. No animal flesh, including chicken, beef, pork, fish, and seafood
  • Lacto-vegetarian. No meat but allows dairy foods like cheese, milk, yogurt, and butter
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian. Permits dairy as well as eggs
  • Vegan. No foods that come from living creatures, including lard, gelatin (animal protein), and honey
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Protein Sources

Protein is key to healthy skin, bones, and muscles. Vegetarians may get less of it than meat eaters. But you probably don’t need as much of it as you might think. About 45-55 grams of protein a day for adult women and men are usually enough. Just a cup of soybeans (edamame) will fill a third or more of your daily requirement. Legumes like split peas and spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, and guava also are healthy choices.

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Go Global

Being a vegetarian means forgoing certain foods. It may be one of the reasons why some vegetarians give up plant-based eating. One fix? Expand your palate. Explore cuisines that are especially meatless-friendly.

Ethiopian. Injera (flatbread made from teff), lentil stew, vegetable sampler plates

Mediterranean. Beans, eggplant, pita, hummus, peppers, pasta, yogurt

Indian. Dosas (fermented pancakes), lentils, potatoes, curries, chutneys

Mexican. Rice, beans, salsa, tortillas, chilies, avocado, queso fresco, Cotija, and other cheeses

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Tweak Your Recipes

Pizza. Tacos. Lasagna. Bacon and eggs. There’s no need to cross them off your menu! It’s easy to go meatless with bean burritos, veggie omelets, tofu chili, and other vegetarian switches. Or explore unfamiliar ingredients. Grains like freekeh, farro, and millet and greens such as steamed chard and roast beets may become your new faves.

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Meat Swaps

Even vegetarians might crave a burger now and then. You can indulge with sausages, hot dogs, and other meat alternatives made from soy, lentil, chickpeas, and other kinds of beans. They can be a cinch to make at home, too. Grilled portabella mushrooms are hearty and savory enough to pass for a burger patty. Some plant-based “beef” has zero cholesterol. But fake meat has more sodium than the real thing. And processed foods often lose beneficial phytochemicals and nutrients naturally present in plants.

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Supplements

Vegetarians who eat or drink eggs and dairy products don’t usually need extra vitamins or minerals. Your body best absorbs nutrients through food, not supplements. Vegans may need regular source of vitamin B12 from supplements or fortified foods. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy ways to eat for almost anyone, including kids, pregnant women, athletes, and older people.

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Talking to Friends and Family

Not everyone supports or understands a vegetarian diet. Education is key. Let your friends and family know that this type of diet is safe and healthy for most people.

Vegetarians are also less likely to be obese or get type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain kinds of cancer. Vegan and vegetarian diets also help animals and the environment. Support from your loved ones can help make your way of eating a lifelong practice.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/17/2020 Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 17, 2020

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SOURCES:

Jerlyn Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, LD, CLT, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

PETA: “15 Essentials for Your Vegan Kitchen.”

Brown University: “Being a Vegetarian.”

MedlinePlus: “Vegetarian Diet.”

Mayo Clinic: “Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition,” “Beans and other legumes: Cooking tips,” “Belching, gas and bloating: Tips for reducing them.”

The Medical Journal of Australia: “Protein and vegetarian diets.”

University of Massachusetts Medical School: “Nutritional Yeast – Nourishing or No-Go?”

LiverTox: “Spirulina.”

Celiac Disease Foundation: “Green Spirulina Risotto.”

USDA: “Tips for Vegetarians,” “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive?

It Depends on How You Measure the Price.”

NIDDK: “Symptoms & Causes of Gas in the Digestive Tract.”

North American Vegetarian Society: “Grocery Hacks: Money-Saving Tips for a Hearty Vegan or Plant-Based Diet.”

Food & Nutrition: “Get to Know Nutritional Yeast.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Vegetarian/Vegan Myths,” “It’s a fruit…it’s a vegetable…it’s a fungus!,” “Frozen Foods: Convenient and Nutritious,” “Vegetarianism: The Basic Facts.”

Red Star: “The Science of Yeast.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Protein Content of Common Foods.”

Medscape: “Vegetarian or 'Flexitarian' Diet Benefits Waistline and Pocket.”

Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition: “Economical Healthy Diets (2012): Including Lean Animal Protein Costs More Than Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil.”

Animal Charity Evaluators: “Length of Adherence to Vegetarianism.”

Faunalytics: “Vegetarianism In The US: A Summary Of Quantitative Research.”

The Bean Institute: “Two Ways to Soak Beans to Reduce Gas.”

Health.gov: “Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020.”

Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.”

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 17, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.