As a non-vegetarian, you’ve been accustomed to eating meat your whole life. Consequently, your body is addicted to that food group. When meat is eliminated, some people may experience significant withdrawal, something similar to quitting caffeine or smoking. It’s important to know that synthetic chemicals and hormones are regularly used in food production animals. Such hormones are injected into cows to increase their milk production and length of lactation, and as many as six different hormones are used within the meat production process to promote growth in livestock. As your body rids itself of these toxins that have been built up from years of meat consumption, withdrawal will affect not only your body but your emotional state as well.
The good news is that after the withdrawal from meat is complete and you’ve successfully transitioned to a vegetarian lifestyle, you will feel significantly better within days. As you continue with your meatless diet, your body will start to heal itself. You will become healthier, more likely to fight off harmful bacteria that makes you sick, and biologically stronger than ever before. As great as all of this sounds, those that have just switched or are thinking of choosing vegetarianism undoubtedly have some nutritional concerns that need to be addressed before making the switch.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these health issues and how they can be addressed.
Common Health Concerns
Because beef, pork, and poultry have been found to be nutrient-dense and packed full of protein and other essential vitamins, the question most asked by those wanting to become vegetarian is: “Will I get enough protein?” The short answer is yes. Here are some great sources of meatless protein:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat dairy products
Some of these may surprise you, but it’s true! The USDA recommends that 10-35% of your diet be comprised of protein, and by combining one or more plant-based proteins, you’ll be supporting your daily protein intake in the best way possible. This plant-based protein chart will help you to become familiar with the best foods for your new lifestyle.
Some other nutrients that come into question as part of a vegetarian diet are:
- Iron – It is completely possible to meet your iron intake requirements with plant-based sources. Most breads and cereals are fortified with iron during the production process, but there are several other sources of natural iron such as spinach, broccoli and other dark, leafy greens; dried fruit and prunes; seeds like pumpkin and sesame; and blackstrap molasses. Preparing your food in iron cookware will also help increase your iron intake.
- Calcium – This is very essential for a healthy immune system and stronger bones, and most vegetarians can meet their USDA recommended daily amounts of 1000mg with low-fat and fat-free dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. You can also choose to include calcium-fortified breads and cereal to your diet. There are several plant-based sources of calcium as well, such as dark green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, mustard, and turnip or collard greens; dried fruit like figs; sunflower seeds, broccoli and bok choy.
- Vitamin D – Your body needs adequate calcium in order to absorb vitamin D, so both are equally important in a vegetarian diet. There are very few natural food sources that include vitamin D, but incorporating food such as vitamin-D fortified milk, cereals, eggs, mushrooms, tofu and ricotta cheese into your daily diet will ensure you won’t become deficient in this important nutrient. It is also recommended that you get healthy doses of sunlight to encourage your body’s own vitamin D production. Adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet is another option.Making these foods a natural part of your everyday diet will help you transition to becoming a vegetarian in less time than you think.