More and more people are exploring the health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet. Some are concerned with the ethical treatment of animals.

Others want to choose a healthier lifestyle and food choices to reduce the risks of illnesses related to poor diet such as diabetics, cancer and heart disease.

While this is a good idea, it is wise to plan menus carefully because some nutrients needed by the body are not easily absorbed or utilized from a vegetable only eating plan.

There are health advantages to a vegetarian diet. Because you are eliminating the solid fat found in animal meat, your diet will be low in saturated fats.

These are the fats doctors find promote higher cholesterol levels, especially of LDL, the bad one.  Most plants do not contain saturated fats and have beneficial fiber.

The University of Maryland Medical Center teaches that “following a vegetarian diet may decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and hypertension.”

There are disadvantages of following a meat free diet. You risk vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially vitamin B-12 and Iron. These nutrients are most available in meats. You could also experience a deficiency of Vitamin D, calcium and zinc and the Omega 3 fats available in fish.

Doing proper planning of menus will help to make sure that these nutrients are in the foods you are preparing.  B-12 is found in dairy products such as eggs, cheese and soy-based products. Flax seeds are high in the omega 3 fats.

Iron is another critical mineral that is usually found in meat. The plant based iron is not as easily absorbed as that from meat.

Consuming Vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables with the dark, leafy green vegetables that have iron will help increase your body’s absorption of this critical nutrient.

Some vegetarians also use vitamin and mineral supplements to prevent deficiencies of these important nutrients.

Some people also are not anxious to begin a vegetarian diet because they think that they will only be eating beans!  While this is not true, it is easier to start slowly making the change from meat to meat-free.

Start by eliminating one kind of meat from your menus, such as beef, which has the most saturated fat. This is the most fat and calorie dense meat.

Once you have done that, try a few vegetarian recipes a week and experiment until you find some that you and your family enjoy.

You will find that there are many tasty recipes that do include beans but there are many other foods that, when combined, will provide a balanced, enjoyable, healthy meal.

Check out supermarket and health food stores for meat substitute products. You will find veggie burgers, soy crumbles that can be added to any recipe called for ground meat, and even soy that tastes like chicken!  Restaurants are now offering vegetarian menu items as well.

And don’t forget that the peanut butter sandwich is a meatless sandwich that has been a staple in families for many years.

Whether you choose to go beef free, or totally meat free, being careful to plan your meals with nutritious choices will help you and your family to be as healthy as possible!


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