The Vegetarian Diet | A Complete Beginner’s Guide

Becoming Vegetarian - Everything You Need To Know About The Vegetarian Diet

Becoming a vegetarian. Everything you need to know about the vegetarian diet

I decided to write this post to serve as an informative guide to anyone who’s interested in or is considering switching over to a vegetarian diet.

The goal is to show you what being vegan (or vegetarian) is all about and really understanding the vegetarian diet as a whole.

There is a lot of information to take in especially if this is your first time so I suggest you bookmark this page and come back as often as you need to for reference. 

Content

What is A Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet as you would assume is one that excludes any kind of meat.

By definition that means no forms of meat, poultry, fish or any other animal related products such as eggs, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), honey, and so on.

In a later section we’ll take a look at the different types of vegetarian diets and you’ll notice a few exceptions here and there but the overall principle remains the same – no animal products.

Vegetarianism is completely different from veganism.

In fact veganism is much more than just a diet.

There is an entire lifestyle centered around the topic which involves ethics, personal values and helping reduce or eliminate any harm to animals.

This post isn’t about those ethical values albeit their importance but to focus instead on the different aspects of the diet itself.

I just need to make that clarification because this article isn’t meant to judge you or your beliefs or even guilt-trip you into changing your diet. 

With that in mind back to the vegetarian diet…

Nowadays eating vegetarian meals isn’t something to shy away from or feel like it’s reserved for a particular group of individuals.

Lots of people have embraced it for numerous reasons and many restaurants and grocery stores have made vegetarian options readily accessible.

So if you really do want to change your eating habits there are plenty of options available to you.

I’m assuming that’s why you’re here.

However like most things, you don’t want to do this blindly.

It’s not easy to just wake up one day and consider yourself a vegetarian.

There are a lot of transitional steps involved and it begins with understanding what the vegetarian diet is all about and how it could potentially be of benefit to you.

Which leads me to…

Vegan or Vegetarian - Which One Are You?

Vegan? Vegetarian? Don’t they all mean the same thing?

It may seem as though the word vegan is just the shortened version of vegetarian but as I mentioned earlier they really aren’t the same thing.

Keep this in mind: All vegans are vegetarians but not all vegetarians are vegans.

I promise I’m not trying to confuse you. It’ll all make sense once we take a look at the differences.

Vegan

Being vegan is no different from anything I’ve mentioned thus far.

By definition vegans do not consume any animal products or by products.

But true veganism is more of a lifestyle – A way of living if you want to refer to it that way.

That means it goes as far as completely eliminating anything that has to do with animal slaughter or animal cruelty.

We’re talking clothing, shoes, leather accessories, the whole nine yards.

Whatever the reason may be for killing animals, vegans have and want absolutely nothing to do with it.

So being vegan is definitely more strict and requires a lot more discipline.

If you’re in need of some Vegan recipes, see150 Tasty Vegan Recipes

Vegetarian

Similar to vegans, most vegetarians do not eat any meat, poultry, fish or any other by products of animal slaughter.

There are a few exceptions.

Some vegetarians will consume products that come from animals i.e products that do not involve the killing of the animal.

Things such as eggs, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc), or honey.

Compared to veganism, being a vegetarian isn’t as restrictive of a lifestyle or diet for that matter.

Whether you consider yourself a vegan or a vegetarian the principles are the same – You do not eat any animal meat (for the most part).

If you’re making the transition to a vegetarian diet it is very important to know and understand the differences between both.

Sometimes it can get quite confusing since both terms tend to be used interchangeably in regular conversation.

But now you know the difference and can clearly make the appropriate determination for which one you’re going to be.

If ever in doubt just remember: All vegans are vegetarian but not vegetarians are vegan.

See, told you it’ll eventually make sense.

Please remember this post is more of a guide towards vegetarianism. 

The primary focus here is on what a diet without meat looks like and the different ways it can be of benefit to you.

If any areas come up where I need to make the proper references or distinctions between vegans or vegetarians I’ll be sure to do so.

Is A Vegetarian Diet Healthy?

a vegetarian diet is healthy and has its benefits. Find out why you should consider being on a vegetarian diet.

How many times have you been eating a salad or brought one to work and heard somebody say “Wow you must be eating healthy!”

Even if you haven’t had it happen to you directly you at least understand what I mean.

There’s this natural inclination that anyone who’s eating any food without meat or any other kind of lean food must be healthy or at least is trying to be.

Combine that with the fact that there’s no shortage of stories about people who credit all their healthy lifestyle changes to vegetarianism and it makes us all believers.

At face value it is very easy to understand why that may seem true.

But true or not, you shouldn’t readily jump to any conclusions without understanding why – especially if this is your first time learning about the vegetarian diet.

The truth is a vegetarian diet is only healthy if done right.

Let me repeat that again A vegetarian diet is only healthy if done right.

A Vegetarian Diet is Only If Done Right!

I think I’ve done my best to stress the importance of that statement.

You can hate me now for the repetition but I believe you’ll appreciate it down the road.

So how does any of it matter?

Well we understand that the whole point of any vegetarian diet is to eliminate meat and other animal products from your diet.

That’s great and all but you also need to understand in so doing you also eliminate any nutrients that come along with animal products.

What happens if you don’t replace the “lost” nutrients? Are you eating healthy?

It may feel like it but without some of those essential nutrients you aren’t really eating healthy at all.

If you don’t pay enough attention you’ll only end up doing yourself more harm than good in the long run.

That means for any vegetarian diet to be considered healthy you need to focus what you’re eating and pick food options that help you meet all your necessary nutrient requirements.

Sometimes that may mean the inclusion of dietary supplements. (more on this later)

That is why it is very important to look at the whole picture.

Part of any healthy diet plan is making sure you always get all the required Macro and micronutrients your body needs.

The vegetarian diet is no exception.

That’s the only way you can really ensure that what you’re doing is healthy.

If you understand this and give it your best effort to meet your requirements then you’re placing yourself on the right track.

Because make no mistake, when done right, switching to a vegetarian diet can be considered by far one of the healthiest decisions you’ll ever make.

Is A Vegetarian Diet Sustainable in The Long Term?

I personally think this question stems indirectly from “Can you survive on greens alone?

It seems to be the primary reason of concern for anyone who’s getting rid of meat.

Whatever the case may be, it remains a popular question within vegetarian and non-vegetarian circles alike so I believe it is something worth talking about.

Go back and take a look at everything we just covered in the previous section. 

I want you to re-read that section because if you’re getting the appropriate amount of nutrients AND keeping fit then you’ll do just fine and yes it can be sustainable.

There are plenty of vegetarians who have been living on the diet for decades.

The key to all of that success is making sure they continue to select the right vegetarian food sources and include some kind of exercise on a regular basis.

Makes just about as much sense as anyone who’s non-vegetarian.

If you give it some thought, a lot of these questions also probably come from the fact that veganism and vegetarianism only recently became mainstream so there isn’t as much research on the subject comparatively speaking.

But they’ve both been around for a very long time and vegetarians have successfully lived very healthy lifestyles as a result of their diet.

One important point you cannot fail to neglect here is that your overall health matters.

There are a few disease processes or ailments that could potentially prevent you from being on a plant-based diet.

Things such as allergies, anemia, B-12 Deficiencies and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to name a few.

Can you find a workaround?

In some cases you may able to but that’s something you need professional medical advice for.

The point I’m trying to make is you need to be aware of your circumstances and always put them into consideration.

So is a vegetarian diet sustainable in the long term?

Yes it is but only if done right. 

Do vegetarians live longer than non-vegetarians?

I don’t know that the 2 are correlated so that’s really up in the air.

Valid arguments can be made for both.

Types of Vegetarian Diets

Everybody knows that a vegetarian diet consists primarily of plant-based foods.

What everybody doesn’t know is that not all vegetarian diets are the same.

Besides the strict vegan diet, other vegetarians tweak their diet based on preference to determine what kind of animal products they are willing to allow in their meals.

You might run into someone who considers themselves a vegetarian yet they eat fish or another who eats dairy products for one reason or another.

I’m not here to tell you right or wrong but show you they are not all the same.

Different categories exist for each type of vegetarian and that’s what we’re about to take a look at.

1 - Vegan

This is the strictest (or “purest”) form of vegetarianism.

I hate to use the word strict because it gives it some form of negative connotation but I use it only because it’s really the better way to separate it from the rest.

As mentioned previously, vegans do not eat any animals or their by-products.

Everything about the vegan lifestyle excludes any animal related products.

That means no meat, no fish, no dairy, no insects, no honey, no leather, no silk and so on.

You get the gist.

2 - Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian

These are the most common types of vegetarians.

Lacto-Ovo is derived from 2 latin words.

Lacto which means milk and Ovo which means egg.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat red or white meat, chicken, fish or any other kinds of seafood.

They do consume eggs and dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt hence the name.

Even though eggs are a part of their diet most lacto-ovo vegetarians prefer free-range eggs.

Free-range eggs come from chickens that are allowed to roam freely outdoors and eat natural food.

3 - Lacto Vegetarian

You guessed it, Lacto = milk.

Lacto vegetarians do not eat any red or white meat, chicken, fish, seafood or eggs.

They do consume dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt.

4 - Ovo Vegetarian

Ovo vegetarians do not eat any animal products (meat, chicken, fish, etc) or dairy products.

They do consume eggs.

5 - Pollotarian

A pollotarian diet stretches the true definition of vegetarianism.

Pollotarians do not eat any red meat but they eat chicken.

Some may or may not include dairy products and eggs as part of their diet.

Then you also have Pesce-pollotarians who include fish and seafood in addition to everything above.

Because of the inclusion of different animal foods and animal by-products, pollotarians are often referred to as semi-vegetarians.

6 - Pescatarian

This is also another form of a semi-vegetarian diet.

Pescetarians consume fish and seafood but exclude any other forms of animal foods (no chicken or meat).

Eggs and dairy may or may not be included.

7 - Flexitarian

By virtue of its name this is a flexible vegetarian diet.

A flexitarian diet consists primarily of plant-based foods with the occasional meat included.

Think of it as someone who has a hard time giving up on meat or for one reason or another needs meat as a part of their diet.

It obviously also falls under the semi-vegetarian diet as well.

There are people who dismiss this category as part of the vegetarian diet altogether.

To Summarize

  • Vegans: No animal foods, by-products or animal related items
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: No animal foods but consume dairy and free-range eggs (most common).
  • Lacto Vegetarian: No animal foods or eggs but consume dairy.
  • Ovo Vegetarian: No animal foods or dairy products but consume eggs.
  • Pollotarian: No red meat but eat chicken. Dairy products & eggs may or may not be included.
  • Pesce-Pollotarian: Same as a pollotarian but includes fish and seafood.
  • Pescatarian: No animal foods besides fish and seafood. Eggs & dairy optional.
  • Flexitarian: Focuses primarily on healthy plant-based foods but meat is occasionally included.

10 Important Things To Know Before Beginning A Vegetarian Diet

These are a few important things you need to make note of to ensure you’re doing things the right way.

1 - Make the transition easier for yourself

Don’t try to go for the instant 180° switch from a non-vegetarian to a complete vegetarian diet.

You need to gradually taper yourself of the meat otherwise you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Consider a flexitarian diet for example then work your way out of it.

You need to allow yourself ample time to make the necessary adjustments.

2 - Ask Questions

There are so many helpful resources available to you if you are unsure about anything.

Seek medical or professional advice if you can.

Talk to other vegetarians and get some insight from them.

The point is you don’t have to do this alone because you clearly aren’t.

Ask questions, get help and make sure you’re putting yourself on the right track for success.

It is also important to talk to your family members and friends to let them know about the choices you’re about to make.

Making everyone aware has its benefits.

3 - Iron is your best friend

Eliminating meat means you’re also eliminating the heme iron found in animal food.

Heme iron is a form of iron that is easily absorbed in the body.

When you make the switch to a plant-based diet what you end up getting is non-heme iron which unfortunately isn’t absorbed as easily.

For that reason vegetarians need a higher daily recommendation of iron than non-vegetarians (twice as much).

So when you’re on a plant-based diet you need to make sure you include a lot of iron-rich plant foods and maybe even consider some iron supplements.

Iron plays a number of vital roles in your body so you don’t want to skimp out on it.

See: 25 Excellent Vegetarian Foods with High Iron

4 - Vitamin C helps

Speaking of iron absorption, a great way to make sure you’re getting plenty of it is by mixing in some Vitamin C.

Vitamin C helps your body absorb more iron so be sure to make it a staple of your diet.

5 - What about Protein?

The idea that vegetarian diets are completely lacking in protein is false.

There are plenty of plant-based food options that are rich in protein.

Examples include quinoa, lentils, beans, nuts & seeds, steel-cut oatmeal and so on.

You can add all these foods to your diet to make sure you are getting enough protein.

The question that needs to be asked is “How much protein do you need?”

Since there are a lot of factors that come into play it is up to you to make that determination.

Here are a few things you need to consider:

  •  Your age
  • Gender
  • Level of activity
  • Your weight goals

6 - Omega-3 is Necessary

Omga-3 plays an essential role in preventing and managing heart disease.

To a certain extent it also plays a role in lowering (maintaining) your blood pressure.

Unfortunately your body does not produce Omega-3 so it needs to be gotten from your diet.

Omega-3 is primarily found in fish which in most cases isn’t part of a vegetarian diet.

On a plant-based diet you’ll need to rely on nuts and seeds such as walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed, chia seeds and canola oil.

7 - Learn about your options

When you think about transitioning to a vegetarian diet some of the questions that may come up include:

“What kind of foods can you prepare?”

“What’s okay and what isn’t?”

“What about dining out?” etc.

Good news is vegetarianism is much more popular and widely accepted than it used to be.

Most grocery stores now include “vegetarian” sections and will even help you with different meat substitutes.

Restaurants have been incorporating vegetarian options in their menus for some time now.

You have so many different options available.

Just make sure you take the time to learn about them so you don’t find yourself completely restricted.

8 - Be Careful with your options

No this is not the same thing as the previous point.

It is one thing to know about something and it is another to really understand what it is.

Just because something is labeled “vegetarian” doesn’t necessarily mean it truly is or that it is even nutritious.

We’ve all seen the increased production of meat substitutes which have some benefits in their own right but you need to pay particular attention to the contents.

Some of those substitutes may be comprised of chemicals instead of healthy veggie options.

You can’t just assume all of them are great for you.

Do your due diligence.

9 - Smoothies over Juices

Making your own smoothies is a great way to ensure you’re getting all your appropriate nutrients and avoiding all the sugary content found in juices.

It’s really an easy way to make a healthy snack option in no time.

In fact you should try to stay away from junk food altogether.

10 - Enjoy variety

A balanced vegetarian diet is the best vegetarian diet.

That really is one of the key elements to sustainability.

I keep talking about nutrients but that’s because it is very important that you get the appropriate amounts.

Try different healthy options and mix in different foods to maintain a balanced meal.

What Does A Vegetarian Diet Consist Of?

The simplest answer to this question is No meat.

But is it really that simple?

In the last section I spoke about eating in variety and maintaining a balanced diet.

By now you already get the concept which is eat healthy plant-based options.

What does that really entail?

What kinds of foods should you be looking to get?

I’ve already mentioned a few throughout this post and although there isn’t any single one-size-fits-all list, I’m going to show you a few options you need to consider.

Foods to Consider

Fresh veggies: Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Tomatoes, Cauliflower, etc.

Legumes: Lentils, Beans, Chickpeas, Peas, etc.

Seeds and Nuts: Almonds, Walnuts, Cashews, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds, etc.

Whole Grains: Quinoa, Brown rice, Barley, Oats, etc.

Plant-based Protein: Tofu, Tempeh, Seeds such as chia & hemp.

Fruits: The list of healthy options is endless. Great sources of Vitamin C.

Starchy Produce: Yams, Potatoes, Taro, Squash, Corn, etc.

Plant-based Dairy Substitutes: Almond milk, Coconut milk, etc.

Healthy Fats: Avocado, Olive oil, Coconut oil

Healthy Spices and Herbs

Unsweetened Drinks

Foods to Avoid

Meat: Be careful will meat substitutes as well

Sugary foods: Sodas, Juices, Candy, etc.

Refined foods: White bread, white rice, white pasta, etc.

Packaged foods: Chips, cookies, sugary cereals, etc.

Fast food

Things to Consider As A First Time Vegetarian Buyer

– Take a look at your current pantry stock and see how you’ll replace the things you have. That allows for consistency and prevents you from shopping blindly.

– Consider replacing dairy products with plant-based options if you’re not going to completely eliminate them.

– Plan your meals and recipes ahead of time so you know what to get.

– Stock up on veggies, fruits, legumes and find healthy fat options.

– You may need to replace most if not all of your seasonings and condiments.

– You NEED whole grains. Not only are they a healthier option they’re also very tasty.

– Get healthy (plant-based) snacks for back up.

Essential Supplements

This isn’t quite a make or break deal but supplements can be an additional way to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients for your body.

Here are a few you may need to consider:

– Iron

– Omega-3

– Vitamin D

– Vitamin B-12

– Calcium

– Zinc

– Iodine

– Vitamin K-2 (There are 2 types of Vitamin K: K-1 & K-2. K-1 occurs naturally in plants but K-2 doesn’t).

Keep in mind you can still make sure you eat a well-nourished diet that contains a lot of those nutrients.

Sometimes it could still prove to be difficult to get them all through your diet alone.

That’s why you should consider supplements or better yet seek medical advice.

Vegetarian Diets and Weight Goals

Can you lose weight on a vegetarian diet? Should you even consider it?

Can you exercise? If so, how much?

What about building muscle? Is it even a possibility?

Those are all valid questions any first time vegetarian needs to consider especially if you’re the active type.

It’s easy to assume that since you’re cutting down on all the meat you should be able to readily lose some weight but that’s not always the case.

On the other hand you can argue that maybe you should limit your exercise or maybe bodybuilding isn’t even an option for you.

Well that isn’t necessarily the case either.

You can achieve any weight goals you want on a vegetarian diet.

You just need to make sure you’re consuming the right amounts of food to help you reach your particular goal.

Weight loss or weight gain ultimately comes down to the amount of calories you’re consuming and your level of activity.

To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you are consuming and exercise on a regular basis.

Switching over to vegetarian diet doesn’t mean you’ve automatically dropped the amount of calories you get.

You still need to pay attention to your portion sizes and make sure they are appropriate for you.

Gaining weight on the other hand means increasing your calorie intake but you still need a decent amount of exercise to keep you lean and in shape.

This may mean eating more frequently and focusing instead on short but intense workouts.

Losing weight or gaining muscle is definitely possible on a vegetarian diet.

You just need to pay particular attention to how much you eat, what you eat and make sure you’re keeping your body in shape with enough exercise.

Pros of A Vegetarian Diet

1 - Positive Sentiment towards Animals

At its core, a vegetarian diet helps eliminate animal cruelty by focusing instead on plant-based options.

This will always remain a tough argument because you have those who will always believe animal food is just part of the natural life cycle.

Either way, a lot of awareness has been raised on animal cruelty thanks to vegetarianism or veganism as a whole.

People are now paying attention.

As result we are now seeing better care for some of the animals even if animal slaughter hasn’t been completely eliminated.

2 - It is Healthy

Generally speaking vegetarian diets are more healthier than non-vegetarian diets.

This is primarily due to the fact that they contain less fatty substances and cholesterol found in animal foods.

Studies have shown vegetarian diets can help play a significant role in lowering the risk for heart disease and longer life expectancy as a result.

Vegetarianism has also been linked to a lower risk of developing certain cancers.

3 - Weight Loss

Besides the ethical reasons, weight loss ranks high up there as one of the main reasons why anyone would consider a vegetarian diet.

The nature of the diet is a good way to help you lose some weight if that’s one of your goals.

People on a vegetarian diet are also less likely to become obese due to the elimination of a lot of the unhealthy food options.

4 - Promotes Healthy Eating

This basically is a summation of points 2 and 3 above.

It’s pretty much explanatory because it encompasses everything a healthy plant-based diet is all about.

Being on a vegetarian diet can also have a positive influence on those around you when they notice the results.

Cons of A Vegetarian Diet

1 - False Assumptions

Many people assume once they transition to a vegetarian diet they’ll automatically become healthy.

As we’ve seen that’s far from the truth.

Being healthy is a possibility but not without understanding what you’re doing.

Vegetarianism is not an automatic fix for any health problems you may be have and is by no means a guarantee for success.

It is helpful but you need to pay conscious attention to what you eat.

2 - Lack of Nutrients

Another point of concern with the vegetarian diet is the lack of nutrients.

I mentioned iron, Omega-3 and we saw a few others you need to make sure are a part of your diet.

There are obviously workarounds to making sure you get them all but again don’t rely on assumptions.

It is your duty to make sure your diet consists of enough options to meet your nutritional requirements.

A balanced diet is key.

3 - May Not Be An Option for Everyone

I don’t know if this is necessarily a good or bad thing but it is worth mentioning.

You need to consider your own situation before you switch your diet.

Things such as iron-deficiency, pregnancy or eating disorders may be conditions that prevent you from being a vegetarian.

My number 1 piece of advice – Seek professional or medical help when unsure.

Is A Vegetarian Diet Good For You

To be completely honest it really depends.

If you’re currently healthy, in good shape and otherwise have no reason to worry about what you’re currently doing then there’s no reason to make the switch.

On the other hand if you have any reason to consider being a vegetarian then you should by all means consider it.

It is impossible for me to say Yes or No without knowing your current situation.

The purpose of this post is to present you with enough knowledge about the vegetarian diet so you can determine if it is the best option for you.

I’m not here to tell you whether you need to make the change or not.

That decision really comes down to you and I’m honestly in no position to provide you with medical advice.

However I can tell you with certainty that a vegetarian diet has numerous positive benefits.

You’ve seen a few of them and now you even understand some of the differences within the diet itself.

Nowadays it is a lot easier to transition to a vegetarian diet than it used to be in the past.

The important thing is being aware of your situation and making sure once you switch you work on consistently getting the appropriate amount of nutrients.

When done right, vegetarianism can really provide you with a lot of health and nutritional benefits.

Recommended Vegetarian Diet Resources

To help you get started on your journey towards a balanced vegetarian diet and a healthier lifestyle, here are a few excellent resources I recommend you get your hands on today.

Oh and by the way I do earn a commission if you purchase the books using the links I’ve provided below.

You are by no means inclined to do so but just want to make you aware. 🙂

Beginner Books

The New Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melinda MS RD

Living Vegetarian for Dummies by Suzanne Havala Hobbs

Vegetarian Cookbooks

Online

Recipes – 100+ 15 Minute Quick and Easy Vegetarian Recipes

The Vegetarian Resource Group – vrg.org

Vegetarian Society – vegsoc.org

Sharing is Caring

I hope you appreciate this article and that it truly helps you on your journey towards a healthy lifestyle.

Before you leave I kindly ask that you please share this with others who may be interested or that you believe it may be of benefit to.

Also I’m not perfect so if you know of anything that I need to add or improve on this post please let me know.

I appreciate you for being here.

Cheers to eating healthy!

Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
The complete beginner's guide to the vegetarian diet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *