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Go Veg Without Going All the Way

Try to eat one vegetarian meal a day. It is not as difficult as you might think and it puts you in a better position to consume the USDA daily recommendation of consuming 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables. © istockphoto.com Try to eat one vegetarian meal a day. It is not as difficult as you might think and it puts you in a better position to consume the USDA daily recommendation of consuming 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables. © istockphoto.com

By Lauren Brown
Provided by WorldNow

Research shows the health benefits of vegetarianism but what if you're not totally prepared to give up all of your meat, chicken, fish, and dairy?  You can incorporate some of the practices of vegetarianism, without completely changing your diet and lifestyle in one fell swoop.  Here are ten changes that you can make:

  1. No Rules. There are all different kinds of vegetarians. You don't need to feel like you're "cheating" if you do not go completely vegetarian because there is a wide range of alternatives on the vegetarian spectrum. Not all self proclaimed vegetarians give up all meat, fish, poultry and dairy. There are typical vegetarians (do not eat anything derived from an animal), vegan (do not eat any products of an animal including dairy and eggs), Lacto Ovo Vegetarians (do not eat any animals but do eat eggs and dairy), Ovo vegetarians (no animals, but eat eggs), Lacto vegetarians (no animals, but eat dairy), Pescatarians (only animals consumed are fish and seafood), Pollotarians (only animals consumed are poultry), Flexitarians (vegetarians who occasionally eat meat), and that's not even naming them all. No matter where you fit along the spectrum, you can make changes that allow you to eat healthier and reduce your intake of meat and other animal products without totally sacrificing everything that is part of your regular diet.

  2. Leafy Greens. Many vegetarians do not consume dairy. In keeping with this vegetarian practice you can get your calcium from leafy greens. According to American Dietetic Association's Vegetarian Food Pyramid, it is recommended that adults get eight servings of calcium daily. Try to introduce the following foods into your diet to achieve a more well-rounded calcium intake: broccoli, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, fortified juices, almonds, figs, and soybeans.

  3. One a Day. Try to eat one vegetarian meal a day. It is not as difficult as you might think and it puts you in a better position to consume the USDA daily recommendation of consuming 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables. It is not always easy to eat that much produce daily, but a focus on at least one meatless meal can help. For lunch try a salad with a wide variety of vegetables as well as nuts or eggs for protein. Think about a sandwich without the meat. Try mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil or spinach. Or grilled vegetables with any type of spread that you like. For breakfast have fruit and granola or a veggie omelet.

  4. Variety. Work on varying your diet. Rather than completely cutting out meat or poultry; simply attempt to cut back or switch your primary source of protein to something that you don't normally eat. If you find yourself eating a lot of red meat, try to eat more poultry. If fish is not a regular part of your diet, figure out how to have it at least once a week. Nutrients can be derived from all different types of food, but the key is in the proportions. If you're going to continue eating meat, fish, and poultry, make a concerted effort to include more vegetables and fruits alongside those proteins.

  5. Main Dish Veggies. "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Food writer Michael Pollan begins his 2007 article in The New York Times entitled "Unhappy Meals" with that advice. Basically he is encouraging people to eat whole foods rather than processed food products. He also claims that it is alright to consume meat and poultry but in small quantities. Try a reverse in your thinking. Consider meats to be a flavoring or side dish and allow fruits and vegetables to take center stage.

  6. Experiment. Go food shopping and experiment. There are tons of vegetarian products in the grocery store right now. There are entire meals including vegetarian burritos, burgers, pizzas, stir fries, soups, sauces and ethnic cuisine. Amy's Kitchen (also organic), Boca, MorningStar are some vegetarian brands that you can find in most grocery stores.

  7. Organic, Local, Farm-Raised. Eat organic, local and farm-raised foods. If you'd like to make the switch towards vegetarianism because of moral or environmental reasons or you simply do not like the taste of meat, do what you can to buy organic, local, and farm-raised meat, fish, poultry, and dairy. You are likely to find that animals raised on grass and their natural diet are more fresh tasting than those fed grain and other fillers. Animals that are raised on organic farms are often treated better, especially if they are not caged-raised. You are reducing the carbon footprint by purchasing local meat and produce since you will cut out the gas used to transport food from afar. Organic produce that is better for the earth since there is not the potential for harmful chemicals from pesticides to runoff into the soil and water supply. You will also find that naturally grown and local produce tastes better. It is fresher since it has not been sitting in some grocery store warehouse waiting to be shipped.

  8. New Cookbooks. Check out a vegetarian cookbook. You are more apt to eat something when you know how to cook it. There are many dishes that can be made without meat or poultry and with a vegetarian substitute or replacement of vegetables. Tofu (versatile soy product), seitan (form of wheat gluten), and tempeh (fermented soy product) are all vegan meat substitutes. One cookbook you might try is How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Vegetarian Melinda Quintero says, "I like the Bittman book because he includes lots of variations for almost each recipe. That way your one recipe for grilled vegetables turns into a dozen different options for several different meals."

  9. New Friends. Hang out with more vegetarians. By default you will end up trying foods and eating in ways you didn't know existed but actually do like. You will also be introduced to new places to eat. My best friend who is a vegetarian showed me that a meal without meat could be just as pleasing. I followed suit by coming up with a recipe for cashew nut chili, finding that any type of vegetable roasted with some olive oil and garlic makes a great dinner, and discovering a great organic vegetarian restaurant, Counter in NYC, that served surprisingly satisfying and filling meals.

  10. Garden. Try planting just one type of vegetable or fruit in your garden. You will definitely taste the difference and appreciate the freshness. Your family will be excited to try something homegrown. Hopefully, they will come to understand and appreciate that food is not just something that comes from a grocery store, but was once a living thing, whether animal or plant.
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