Switching to a vegetarian diet isn’t as daunting as you may think. In the last decade or so, many excellent meat substitute products have flooded the shelves to support a growing number of people in their decision to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. Once you’ve decided to go vegetarian, it’s time to clean out the fridge and pantry. Get rid of meat products (such as that canned tuna that’s been on the shelf a few months). Once the purge is complete, you’ll need to invest in a few good vegetarian cookbooks or websites to provide you with new idea and recipes for a variety of meat-free meals. Every meal and snack should adhere to your new lifestyle—try to avoid cheating as much as possible! Lapses simply make the transition more difficult. Treat yourself during the transition to your new vegetarian lifestyle; make it fun! If you’ve given up dairy, try a different dairy-free ice cream every week until you find one you love. Do the same for meat-free breakfast sausages too!
A plant-based diet offers a variety of health benefits, all backed by numerous research studies. Plant-based diets often lower cholesterol levels as well as high blood pressure. The risk for type 2 diabetes dramatically decreases as well; in some instances this disease can reverse itself with a plant-based diet. With a well-balanced diet, many vegetarians notice significant weight loss initially, and have a healthier weight overall. With an increase of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, many studies support stronger immune systems in vegetarians; this is likely because these food sources are high in antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial compounds that work to directly support the immune system. Many studies also support longer life spans for those who consistently follow a plant-based diet as well. The risk for a variety of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, is reduced as well. Scientific studies additionally support the reduction of inflammation throughout the body on plant-based diets.
The vegan food pyramid is a general guide regarding a healthy approach to a plant-based diet. The largest part is devoted to whole grains, rice, pastas, and ancient grains such as quinoa and amaranth. This section recommends sprouted grains, as well as brown rice over white rice for its nutritional value. The pyramid recommends between 6-11 servings. The next level is shared between vegetables and fruit. The pyramid recommends 3-6 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit. Most health experts recommend raw or juiced produce to maintain the most nutrients as possible; cooking fruits and vegetables denatures some of the vitamins and minerals due to heat exposure. The next level recommends 2-3 servings of fortified dairy (or dairy alternatives such as soy, coconut, or almond products) and 2-3 servings of legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds. Finally, at the top of the vegan food pyramid is a small space for vegetable oils and fats, which should be used sparingly.
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