Starting a vegetarian diet? Follow these steps to get maximum benefits
- 4 Minutes Read
Been vegetarian for a long time, or considering starting a vegetarian diet? Learn how to get the most nutrition and enjoyment from this healthy eating pattern.
Do you think a vegetarian diet might be for you? You may consider starting a vegetarian diet for health benefits, weight loss, environmental, ethical, or religious reasons. Regardless of your motives, it is essential to have a roadmap for a healthy and balanced vegetarian plan.
Vegan: no animal products; may exclude honey
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: includes dairy products and eggs
Pescetarian: includes fish but no other meat
Plant-based, semi-vegetarian, or flexitarian: limits consumption of animal products
We recommend a minimum of 1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight per day for vegetarians. This goal is slightly higher than the RDA of 0.8 gram/kilogram and accounts for decreased digestibility of some plant proteins, and some plant proteins being incomplete in amino acids.
Example: If you are 170 pounds, which converts to 77 kilograms (170 lbs divided by 2.2 lbs per kg), then 77 grams of protein per day is a reasonable target.
Another strategy is to use MyNetDiary’s default protein target of 20% of your calories from protein. While a healthy range of protein is 10-25% of calories, we use a somewhat higher goal to help minimize muscle loss and help you feel full.
Example: For a 1400 calorie plan, 20% of calories would be 70 grams of protein. Rather not do the math? MyNetDiary Premium can help you set your individual protein goal.
You likely will get enough protein if you eat a balanced vegetarian diet. Dairy foods and eggs have plenty of high-quality protein, so including them in your diet helps ensure you meet your goal. When you give up meat, you have more room in your calorie budget for high-protein plant foods, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy foods.
Healthy vegetarian eating plans are abundant in such vitamins and minerals as vitamin C and magnesium. Pay attention to key vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin D that can be more difficult to obtain from a vegetarian or vegan diet. A reliable source of vitamin B12 is crucial for vegans. B12 is found only in dairy foods, meat, or fortified foods.
There’s no need to guess if you are meeting your nutrient needs—you can set your MyNetDiary tracker to monitor up to 45 nutrients, including iron, calcium, and vitamin B12.
Are you choosing a vegetarian diet for weight loss? A wise move as vegetarians tend to eat fewer calories and weigh less than meat-eaters. A sensible solution, a healthy vegetarian diet focuses on filling foods such as beans, vegetables, and whole grains. However, it is possible to eat a high-calorie, vegetarian diet, especially if you rely on processed foods.
Your calorie goal is no different than non-vegetarian plans. However, a very low-calorie plan could become challenging to meet your protein, vitamin, and mineral goals, making it essential to spend your calories on nutrient-packed foods.
Starting a vegetarian diet is so much more than excluding meat! You will likely save money on your food bill, which frees up more of your budget for stocking up on appealing and nutrition-packed ingredients.
|Grains||Choose: Mostly whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, barley and oats.
Benefits: Whole grains are higher in fiber, potassium, and magnesium, and slightly higher in protein than refined grains. Fortified grains may also provide additional iron.
|Fruits||Choose: A variety of fresh, frozen, or canned fruits.
Benefits: Fruits provide vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Fruits high in vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries, and kiwi fruits, improve iron absorption.
|Vegetables||Choose: A variety of fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables.
Benefits: You can’t have a healthy vegetarian diet without vegetables. Vegetables provide fiber, antioxidants, potassium, and magnesium. Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are packed with nutrients, while mushrooms add a savory taste to vegetarian dishes.
|Soy products and meat substitutes||Choose: Tofu, tempeh, edamame, roasted soy nuts, seitan, and “meat substitutes” such as veggie burgers.
Benefits: Soy provides a heart-healthy complete protein source. Meat substitutes make for convenient meals.
|Eggs||Choose: Scrambled eggs, omelettes, hard-boiled eggs, etc. (if lacto-ovo vegetarian).
Benefits: Eggs are versatile and inexpensive protein sources.
|Legumes||Choose: Dried, frozen, and canned beans, and split peas and lentils.
Benefits: Legumes are packed with protein, fiber, potassium, and magnesium and contribute perfectly to soups, stews, chilis, and pasta dishes.
|Nuts and seeds||Choose: Almonds, almond butter, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Benefits: Nuts and seeds make for convenient snacks, providing healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, potassium, zinc, and magnesium. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds contain omega 3s.
|Dairy foods or substitutes||Choose: Milk, yogurt, and cheese (if lacto-ovo-vegetarian);
non-dairy milk alternatives: soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, etc; non-dairy yogurt; vegan cheese substitutes.
Benefits: Many of these options provide protein, calcium (either naturally or fortified) and vitamin D (if fortified).
|Fats and oils||Choose: Avocados, olive oil, and vegetable oil.
Benefits: Plant-based oils are low in saturated fat and provide essential fatty acids and help with fat-soluble vitamin absorption.
|Spices and seasonings||Choose: Nutritional yeast, curry powder, vegetable broth or bouillon, “liquid smoke,” blackstrap molasses, miso, soy sauce, and tamari.
Benefits: These vegetarian pantry staples provide tons of flavor! A rich source of B vitamins, nutritional yeast is valued for its nutty flavor.
A new world of flavors with meatless recipes opens up when you're starting a vegetarian diet. Many cuisines, including Indian and Asian, lend themselves well to satisfying meatless meals.
MyNetDiary has hundreds of vegetarian recipes in our Premium Recipe collection, with more to come soon. View these recipes by selecting the vegetarian or vegan tags.
You can also import recipes from websites featuring delicious recipes, including Vegetarian Times, Oldways, and more. You can also often modify beloved recipes with meat by eliminating or substituting the meat with crumbled tempeh, beans, or other plant-based protein sources. MyNetDiary will provide an updated analysis of your new recipe.
Vegetarian eating plans are quite popular these days. You are in good company! Engage with our MyNetDiary community on Facebook or our Community Forum. We have a team of Registered Dietitians available to answer your nutrition and fitness questions.
Explore our recommended resources below for useful tips and recipes:
Oldways Preservation Trust
The Vegetarian Resource Group
The Vegetarian Society
Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
Reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDCES on July 20, 2023.
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