You have decided you want to achieve optimum health.

Maybe you want to lower your blood cholesterol or blood pressure. Maybe you would like to try to prevent Type II Diabetes. Maybe you simply want to maintain your overall good health. You have decided to become a vegetarian.

Vegetarians tend to have lower incidences of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In addition, certain types of vegetarians live longer with an improved quality of life. How do you become a vegetarian when you love meat and other animal products?

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First you must decide what type of vegetarian you would like to be. There are a few different categories of vegetarianism: 1) Lacto-Vegetarians consume dairy products; 2) Ovo-Vegetarians consume eggs; 3) Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians consume dairy and eggs; and 4) Vegans do not consume any animal products, not even honey, and will need to supplement their diet with vitamin B12.

Another consideration is whether or not you want to follow a “whole-foods” approach.

Also if you want to incorporate texturized vegetable proteins,otherwise known as vegan meats or dairy substitutes made from soy and other vegetable sources. Some vegan meats and cheeses tend to be high in fat and sodium.

Reading labels will become very important to make healthy food choices.

Following a “whole-foods” approach means choosing foods in their most natural form by limiting the number of foods that are packaged or processed. Whole fruits, vegetables, eggs and whole grains are all “whole-foods”.

Naturally, these foods will retain the most amounts of their own nutrients.

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Then you will want to decide on organic vs. conventional foods.

Many conventional foods are grown with pesticides and may be genetically modified. Organic foods are grown without pesticides and from non-genetically modified seeds, but tend to be more expensive. Organic foods may not necessarily have more nutrients, but they will be in their most natural form without the added chemicals.

The same basic rules apply for maintaining optimum health when you are a vegetarian.

You will want to include a minimum of 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables in their whole form to provide important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that help prevent cancer.

Whole grains (oats, black or brown rice, quinoa, kamut, flax, or whole wheat pasta) will provide fiber that will help with digestive health and lower cholesterol levels. Soy or cow’s milk will provide calcium for strong bones and a source of good quality protein. Eggs are a great source of protein as well as vitamin B12, and raw organic honey provides antioxidants.

If you choose to include fish, you will want to include at least 3 servings a week with at least one of those servings being a fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines and herring) to obtain the much needed omega-3 fatty acids that help improve heart health.

Remember, becoming a vegetarian by avoiding meat alone will not necessarily help you achieve optimum health.

Like meat eaters, vegetarians will want to include a variety of foods and food groups in their diet. Loading up on vibrant and colorful vegetables (think kale, carrots, cauliflower, and red bell peppers) will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to nutrients. But don’t forget the fruit, soymilk and whole grains!

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