Mmm, veggies!

Many people may be afraid to make the change to a vegetarian diet because they worry about the so-called health risks, and the variety of food options. With celebrities like Natalie Portman, Hayden Penattiere, and Ellen DeGenerers giving up meat for healthier lives, vegetarian diets are becoming trendier, and the options more abundant. Here are a few tips to get you on the green path to a healthier vegetarian lifestyle.

First of all, the idea that a vegetarian diet doesn’t provide you with enough protein and calcium is a myth.  In fact, many Americans have diets that consist of too much protein.  It is a little known fact that calcium retention is just as important as the amount of calcium you consume.  Diets that are too high in protein can cause a faster rate at which our bodies lose calcium, leading to things like Osteoporosis as we get older. Vegetarians also consume little to no cholesterol along with very low amounts of saturated fat, which can ultimately mean a much healthier heart.  And the list of health related reason to switch doesn’t end here.  However, even with all the health benefits, becoming a vegetarian can seem hard if we are at a loss of knowledge on what is left to eat without meat.  Here’s how to get started and make it easy:
1. Vegetarian food is sold everywhere.  You no longer have to scour small, far away markets for vegetarian friendly choices.  Options are everywhere!  There are a variety of companies that make everything from meatless chicken nuggets, to tofu hot dogs, and deli meats.  Experiment with a few different brands to find out which one tastes the best to you.  You can often find that with products like vegetarian refried beans, chili, veggie burgers and even ground beef substitutes it is easy to tweak your normal recipes for meatless products that taste just as good and are much better for you. 
2. When dining out don’t be afraid to explore.  I have found that being a vegetarian has lead me to try more new and exotic types of food than I ever would have as a meat eater.  Since many other cultures tend to use less meat in their menus going to different ethnic restaurants can present new options for a vegetarian.  Japanese and Chinese restaurants have become the masters of tofu and even mainstream places like P.F. Chang’s and Chipotle offer vegetarian friendly meals.  If you happen to be somewhere that doesn’t seem too keen on veggies don’t be afraid to ask for it.  Most Mexican restaurants will make potato tacos that might not be on the menu, and a grilled cheese or vegetable soups can be found almost anywhere.
3. Do your homework.  Researching recipes in cookbooks or online can be the best way to add variety into a veggie diet.  There are even blogs, websites, and magazines dedicated to making the vegetarian diet easy and delicious.  Here are some links that have helped me stay a healthy vegetarian:

Vegetarian Times – Full of articles and recipes, even a vegetarian starter kit!
The Lazy Vegetarian – A personal blog about easy vegetarian recipes.
Happy Cow – A guide that let’s you locate vegetarian friendly restaurants in your area.

Remember, like all diets the vegetarian diet is something that requires balance, and the incorporation of all different kinds of foods and nutrients.  Don’t be afraid to start slow.  Cutting out meat entirely from your diet all at once may not be the best option for you when becoming a vegetarian.  It is ok to slowly eat less and less meat while replacing it with new things you try as you go.  Simply set goals for yourself and be open-minded.  Although it may appear difficult at first the benefits are well worth it as well as delicious!