I want to know what would happen if you stopped eating meat and I become a vegetarian and whether that process would be very difficult.

You ask a great question. I think vegetarian diets/lifestyles can be so healthy. However, I always discuss the “whys” with my patients first before giving them tips on how to evolve into that lifestyle. Ask yourself a few questions. First, why do you want to become a vegetarian? Is it to improve your health, lose weight, reduce animal cruelty? Certainly following a vegetarian diet can be very healthy, but it comes with taking time to plan grocery store trips, investigating eating out options, communicating with family and loved ones about your intent etc. I remind people that just because you are following a vegetarian diet, unhealthy eating habits and weight gain still can occur. The best way to truly improve the health of your diet, lose weight, and limit cruelty to animals is to do the research first. Second ask yourself what type of vegetarian you want to be. Below is a breakdown on some of the common vegetarian diets:

Lacto-ovo vegetarians omit red meat, poultry, and fish but do eat eggs, milk and milk products (cheese, yogurt) in addition to plant-based foods. Lacto-vegetarians omit eggs, red meat, poultry, and fish but will allow milk and milk products. Vegans eliminate all foods coming from animals including meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt etc. They consume only plant-based foods. Fruitarians eliminate all animal products and processed foods.

If you have done the research and made up your mind, that is fantastic! Some people have to drastically change their diet and lifestyles and some find that it is not that hard, but just takes planning and preparation.

A vegetarian diet can be a healthy alternative for people with high intakes of meat and animal products. However, because it is a more restrictive way of eating, people need to make sure that they are consuming a variety of nutrients from non-meat sources. Protein is a nutrient that is essential for building new cells and for the growth and repair of damaged tissues. Non-meat sources of protein include legumes, lentils, meat substitutes, soy products, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong teeth and bones. Sources of calcium include: low fat dairy products (if you include these), dark green vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, and spinach), and enriched tofu, soymilk, and fruit juices. Vegetarians need to include non-animal sources of vitamin B12 to ensure proper production of red blood cells. Examples include: enriched cereals, fortified soy products or by supplementation. Iron helps carry oxygen to cells. A few sources of iron are dried beans, peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole grain products, and green leafy vegetables. Finally, zinc is an important nutrient in the wound healing process and is vital for many enzyme reactions. Good sources of zinc are nuts, wheat germ, soy and green leafy vegetables.

If you are interested in switching to a vegetarian diet, first determine how many times a week that you eat meat. Next decide how many of the dishes that contain meat could be modified and made “meat-free”. For example, spaghetti sauce that would normally contain ground beef could be made vegetarian with the addition of portabella mushrooms, zucchini, and soy crumbles. Then obtain recipes or purchase a vegetarian cookbook so you have more ideas for home. Finally, take a deep breath and take it one step at a time. Achieving a vegetarian lifestyle might require a lot of changing, planning, and preparation…but can offer many health benefits in the long run.

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