The health benefits of a vegetarian diet are no longer 'news'. Studies link meat consumption to increased risks of various types of cancers, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.
What makes a regular diet of meat bad for your health is the high saturated fat content that usually leads to poor digestion, high cholesterol levels, and heart disease. A sluggish digestive system eventually leads to toxin build-up, constipation, low energy levels, skin problems and a list of other health problems. In women, too much oestrogen has been investigated as a risk factor in breast and ovarian cancers.
In contrast, a diet that is composed of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has been proven to improve overall health by strengthening the immune system, cleaning the bowel, lowering levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream and shedding of excess weight.
If being overweight or heart disease is not your problem, you may be interested to know that a fringe benefit of a vegetarian diet is in its detoxification properties. Health spas and nutritionists often recommend that their clients take a break from eating meat and to consume a raw fruits and vegetables diet for a specified period to cleanse their bowels. Detoxification is said to be a first step to healing certain illnesses, an effective treatment for low energy levels and poor skin health and the missing link in most weight loss diets.
Clearly, your body has everything to gain by turning vegetarian. But switching from being a carnivore to a vegetarian may not be easy. You may have to go through a transition period before you get used to the tastes and textures of fruits and vegetables.
Here are some tips to help you become a vegetarian:
Start by eating 3 meat-free dinners every week, and then work your way up slowly by having three meat-free days weekly. As your taste buds get used to the vegetarian fare, you may eventually skip meat entirely.
Most vegetarian plans fail because people make drastic changes in their meals. Aside from turning meatless gradually, another easy way to introduce vegetables in your life is to take the same recipes that you love and use vegetables for them in place of meat. Think vegetarian lasagna, pizza with vegetable toppings and burritos with beans and minus the ground beef.
Bear in mind that you are not alone in your quest for a healthy vegetable diet. To satisfy a growing number of vegetarian eaters, more suppliers are offering tasty and satisfying vegetarian food items such as vegetarian burgers, sausages and other vegetarian foods with meat textures. You will be surprised at how enjoyable and inexpensive vegetarian food can be.
While a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits is encouraged by most health professionals, there is much concern about the other nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron and Vitamin B-12, that may be missing in a strictly vegetarian consumption.
You can get protein from tofu, eggs, soy, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, brown rice and whole grains without having to slide back to eating meat. As for calcium, you may get good amounts of it from milk, dark green leafy vegetables, orange juice, and sesame seeds. For iron, try tofu, lentils, spinach, soy, chickpeas and hummus, and take more Vitamin C to increase iron absorption.
You should also consider cutting down on coffee and tea because caffeine prevents your body from absorbing iron. Moderation is crucial in every diet, vegetarian or not. For vegetarians, this means that you should not eat too much eggs and dairy products.
If you feel that you may not be getting enough of the other nutrients from your vegetarian choices, there are multi-vitamin supplements that come in safe doses to provide what your body needs.
A consultation with your chosen health professional - nutritionist, dietitian or doctor - is recommended to ensure you start this journey to vegetarianism with all the knowledge and tools you need.