Everything You Need to Know About the Vegetarian Diet

A cheat sheet with for getting started, based on science and first-hand fat loss research.

Erin Frey
Erin Frey
Dec 29, 2013 · 6 min read

QUICK TIPS

  • Your diet in a nutshell: Eat a plant-based diet. Dairy and eggs are optional.
  • Read this guide. If you have more questions, ask them in the responses.
  • Get a diet buddy. Ask a family member, friend or coworker to join the diet with you.

WHY IS THIS DIET HEALTHY?

How many diets include the guideline “eat lots of vegetables and fruits”? Most of them, because plants are good for you and provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep you healthy. Avoiding meat means avoiding saturated fat as well as the antibiotics and hormones injected into livestock grown on factory farms. Some people also eat vegetarian for ethical reasons such as animal welfare and environmental conservation.


WHAT CAN YOU EAT?

Eat plant-based foods, like vegetables, fruits, beans, soy, grains, rice and nuts. Don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or seafood of any kind. What other foods you can eat will depend on what kind of vegetarian diet you follow:

  • Lacto-vegetarian: Eats dairy. Does not eat meat, fish, or eggs.
  • Vegan: No meat, fish, eggs or dairy.

Vegetarian protein sources

You’ll need to replace meat with meat-free protein sources. Here are some popular ones:

* Tempeh (1 cup): 31g* Seitan (3 oz): 21g* Tofu (4 oz): 10g* Black beans (1 cup cooked): 15g* Quinoa (1 cup cooked): 8g* Egg (1): 6g* Cottage cheese (3oz): 15g* Broccoli or spinach (1 cup cooked): 4g
* Beef (3oz): 31g* Fish (3oz): 22g* Chicken (breast): 17g

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal
  • Apples and nut butter
  • Nuts and berries in milk (or almond/coconut milk)
  • Vegetarian bars
  • Eggs or egg dishes like veggie frittata
  • Breads: muffins, toast with peanut butter, bagels
  • Smoothies (healthy recipe from No Meat Athlete)

Lunch & Dinner

These meals are easy to make at home:

  • Hearty salads such as bean or quinoa salad
  • Sandwiches filled with hummus, cheese, nut butters and your favorite fruits and veggies.
  • Leftovers from the dinner the night before (that’s a tip from the No Meat Athlete)
  • Soup: tomato, mushroom, split pea (without the ham), vegetarian chili
  • Pizza and pasta dishes at Italian restaurants
  • Indian: saag or palak paneer, daal, channa masala, aaloo paratha, bhindi, etc.
  • Mediterranean: hummus and falafel
  • Chinese: any veggie or tofu dish
  • Thai: vegetable curries, vegetable stir-fries
  • Japanese: vegetarian sushi, any noodle or rice dish with tofu
  • Burritos or tacos with beans or tofu (Chipotle is veg-friendly)

Snacks

If you’re hungry between meals, it’s okay to eat! Just make sure to choose these on-diet options:

  • Veggie chips
  • Tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole or black bean dip
  • Kale chips
  • Almonds, pepitas, nuts
  • Nut butter with fruits
  • Hummus with veggies
  • Granola
  • Hard-boiled eggs or yogurt
  • Bars

Sweets

If you think the occasional sweet will keep you satisfied and happy, indulge every once in a while in one of the diet-friendly options below. Go cold turkey if you think it’ll derail you.

  • Chocolate
  • Fruit
  • Coconut cream with berries
  • Ice cream or sorbet
  • Baked goods but check in case they include dairy, eggs, or lard
  • Frozen banana truffles

MORE TIPS

Differentiating between healthy and non-healthy meals

Not all vegetarian foods are created equal. If your goal is health, here are some healthy eating guidelines from Matt at the No Meat Athlete.

  • Get most of your food from plants.
  • Cook your own food.
  • Make raw fruits and vegetables a big part of your diet.
  • Eat a salad and drink a smoothie every day.
  • Don’t eat too much wheat.
  • Eat a wide variety of foods.
  • Don’t drink your calories.

Tips for cooking at home

Matt from the No Meat Athlete almost always makes enough dinner so that he can eat leftovers for lunch the next day. This is a brilliant trick that’ll save you time (and money!). Here are some more tips:

  • Roast or bake vegetables: most taste great tossed in olive oil, salt & pepper, and roasted on a pan in the oven for 20-40 minutes. Line the pan with tin foil for easy cleanup.
  • Buy vegetables/fruits when they’re in season (it’s cheaper).
  • If you’re eating eggs, experiment with different ways to make them: omelets, frittatas, poached. They’re cheap and mix well with almost any ingredient
  • Prep: Cut up a few days worth of vegetables so that when you get home, you can quickly saute or roast them. You can even prepare full dinners and refrigerate/freeze them.
  • Keep tofu and beans handy, always.
  • Buy Sriracha or your favorite vegetarian-friendly sauce to top onto any ‘failed meals.’

Sticking to the diet when eating out

  • Ask the waiter to point out the vegetarian options.
  • Confirm that vegetarian dishes don’t have hidden animal products such as lard or meat stock for flavoring.
  • Ask to modify your meal! Servers are usually happy to accommodate your requests.
  • Soups often have meat bases. Check before you order.
  • Stay away from steakhouses and anywhere that you can’t confirm whether if animal products are used in stocks/sauces.

How to approach social situations

  • Schedule coffees and drinks instead of lunches and dinners. This will probably be cheaper, too.
  • Be proactive: suggest the restaurant when making plans. No one likes making this decision, so everyone wins.
  • Eat before attending cocktail hours so that you aren’t hungry.
  • Keep almonds or a vegetarian snack bar in your backpack or bag for times when vegetarian options aren’t available.

What to eat when you’re in a rush

Eek! You have 10 minutes to eat. What can you grab in a pinch?

  • Veggie/fruit with nut butters
  • Chips and guacamole and salsa
  • Hummus with pita or veggies
  • Yogurt with granola and fruit
  • Peanut butter & jelly
  • Grilled/toasted cheese
  • Microwaved sweet or baked potato

Sticking to the diet while traveling

Sticking to the diet while traveling is all about preparation:

  • Research the location and menu of restaurants in the hotel — use Happycow.net to find them.
  • Visit a grocery store. This will be cheaper than eating out every meal and you’ll get to restock your clutch foods.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you break the diet. It happens. When you do, try to make a decently healthy choice and jump right back on the next meal.
  • Tip from Matt at the No Meat Athlete: if you’ll have a small fridge or kitchenette, bring a small immersion blender and cup so that you can make your own smoothies!

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Thanks to David Broockman and Dan Duett

Erin Frey

Written by

Erin Frey

YC ‘S16 Yale ‘08.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Erin Frey

Written by

Erin Frey

YC ‘S16 Yale ‘08.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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