Nutrition A Healthy Vegetarian Diet Can Be Good for You By BodyChangers, October 7, 2014 So you’ve decided to eliminate meat from your diet: You’re in good company! There are now more than 7 million vegetarians in the United States. And Meatless Mondays have millions more worldwide vegging out on a regular basis. Many people switch to a vegetarian diet because of the potential health benefits. Research shows that a meat-free diet can lower your risk of heart disease, some cancers, and chronic illnesses (like diabetes), and can even help you to slim down. Whether you’re a long-time vegetarian or just looking to experiment with a new diet, it’s important to understand the necessary vitamins and nutrients your body needs to stay in peak condition. If you’re looking to give the vegetarian diet a go, we’ve put together some essential information below to help you get started! No Meat? Not a Problem! When you’re trying to dial back on your daily meat intake, it can be a hard to find ways to get the protein you need into your diet. Excellent sources of protein that are vegetarian-friendly include: Quinoa Spinach Lentils Broccoli Chickpeas Peanut butter. Looking for something a bit meatier? Try one of these vegetarian meat substitutes. Tofu Tofu (toe-foo) or bean curd, a staple of many vegetarian meals, is one of the most common soy products available. It’s high in protein and low in fat and carbs. Because it has a very mild taste, tofu can soak up any flavor added to it. Tempeh Tempeh (tem-pay) is another protein-packed, low fat soy product with a firm, chewy texture similar to a veggie burger. Unlike tofu, it has a mild, nutty flavor of its own and is packed with calcium. Seitan Seitan (say-tan) or wheat gluten mimics the taste and texture of meat, making it favorite meat substitute — but a no-no if you’re on a gluten-free diet. Another culinary chameleon, seitan also will take on pretty much any flavor you pair with it. When transitioning to a new diet, the last thing your body needs are unhealthy cravings, so taking baby steps is key. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new diet. Need help and support in your own journey to lose weight and get healthy? Visit the UPMC BodyChangers website for more information on programs and classes.