Read This Before Starting The Vegetarian Diet

It can be hard to keep up with the constant influx of new diets and nutrition recommendations for your best possible health. While some plans are founded on fitness goals, others may be based on ethical considerations. Vegetarian and vegan diets often fall under the ethical category, although there are a number of reasons people might choose to make the shift away from animal products. Before making any dietary changes, it's important to take the time to properly plan before jumping into a plant-based diet. 

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics supports "appropriately planned" plant-based diets at all stages of life, noting that they are more sustainable and can "reduce risk of certain health conditions" (via Eat Right). Kristen Carli, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, spoke with Mashed about the importance of proper planning when it comes to plant-based diets. 

Carli notes that if healthy options aren't a priority, it can be easy to eat junk food that happens to be vegetarian but lacks all the benefits of a plant-based diet. "As a vegetarian, it is important to be mindful of your intake of a few key nutrients: protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12," Carli explains. For vegans, vitamin B12 is an essential supplement to take, Carli says, "because it is the only nutrient that cannot be found in reliable amounts in plant-based foods."

Balancing your plate is important on a vegetarian diet

It's a good idea to do some research to find out where you can get adequate amounts of plant-based proteins. With modern meat replacements such as Impossible Foods, the market is increasingly catering to plant-based diets. Some natural sources of plant-based protein, according to Kristen Carli, "are found in legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and even some vegetables like spinach and artichokes." While skeptics of plant-based diets often focus on protein, it is important to learn about vegetarian sources for the other essential nutrients as well, and Carli reminds us to "seek them out every day."

Carli's take-home message regarding vegetarian and vegan diets is, "be sure to balance your plate." We've all seen a food pyramid or pictures of brightly colored nutritious dishes, but it's even more critical for vegetarians who often lack options when eating out. Carli has many vegetarian patients who "simply omit protein from their plate. What's left is often refined carbohydrates and cheese." While pizza and fries are delicious treats, they shouldn't be the main focus of your meal on a regular basis. Plant-based diets have huge potential when they are planned and incorporated into a healthy and balanced lifestyle.