These hints and tips came out of a 12,000 person research study I helped organize at Lift (now Coach.me). The study confirmed that switching to a Vegetarian Diet will lead to weight loss on par with other popular diets.
- 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-ovo-vegetarian: Eats dairy and eggs. Does not eat fish or meat.
- 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
Here’s how the substitutes compare to meat-based protein:
* Beef (3oz): 31g* Fish (3oz): 22g* Chicken (breast): 17g
- 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:
- Salads: add your favorite protein + vegetable
- 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)
These meals are easy to make at home or find at a local restaurant:
- Most restaurants have a vegetarian option that replaces a typical meat protein with soy or beans. If you don’t see it, ask.
- 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)
If you’re hungry between meals, it’s okay to eat! Just make sure to choose these on-diet options:
- Cooked or raw veggies
- Veggie chips
- Tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole or black bean dip
- Kale chips
- Almonds, pepitas, nuts
- Nut butter with fruits
- Hummus with veggies
- Hard-boiled eggs or yogurt
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.
- Almond or coconut butter
- Coconut cream with berries
- Ice cream or sorbet
- Baked goods but check in case they include dairy, eggs, or lard
- Frozen banana truffles
If you have a high-speed blender, you can blend most frozen fruit with a little nut/soy milk and make a healthy version of ice cream.
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.
- Avoid processed foods and choose whole, unrefined foods instead.
- 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:
- Invest in a good pan, knife, roasting pan/baking sheet, and cutting board.
- 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:
- Pack foods like nuts, dried fruit, nut butter, bars, and plant-based protein powders that travel well.
- 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!
Here are more resources to help you as you get started with the Vegetarian Diet:
Beginner’s Guide to Vegetarianism from Zenhabits.net
Vegetarian Food Shopping List
Foods you think are vegetarian but aren’t from No-Meat Athlete
Many thanks to No Meat Athlete for helping us write this guide.