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By Thea Theresa English

How to transition into a vegetarian lifestyle

For weight loss or a healthier life overall, there are benefits to a vegetarian lifestyle. One advantage is that it will be easier to fight off long-term diseases that shorten your lifespan, such as heart disease and diabetes. The less animal fat that you eat, the less you will need to worry about these illnesses. Since many fruits and vegetables contain calcium and other important minerals, you will have stronger bones. Vegetarianism can also help menopausal women because of the phytoestrogens in vegetables that mimic estrogen, a hormone that is produced less after menopause. Here is how to transition into a vegetarian lifestyle:

Prepare vegetarian versions of your favorite foods

You can start by preparing vegetarian versions of your favorite dishes. If you love lasagna, make a vegetable lasagna with hearty vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and squash. Or if you enjoy chicken noodle soup, make a vegetable and quinoa soup with fresh herbs and spices instead. This allows for a smoother transition to vegetarian living.

Buy vegetarian brands of convenience foods

If you are busy during the week and cannot cook all the time, buy vegetarian brands of convenience foods in bulk when they go on sale. Some brands are better than others so research them before deciding what to get. Ask other vegetarians for suggestions on vegetarian convenience foods.

Look for meat and egg substitutes

This is important in making the transition to a vegetarian lifestyle because it can get boring if you eat only vegetable dishes. Some good meat and egg substitutes include tofu, soybeans, seitan, tempeh, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, mashed bananas, applesauce and soy yogurt.

Get vegetarian books and online materials

Another option is to buy vegetarian books with simple recipes that use diverse ingredients. You can start with five books then build on your collection as you become better at cooking vegetarian meals. Supplement your cookbooks with online vegetarian recipes.

Resist the temptation to overeat

You might feel that some vegetarian meals are not filling so you double the portion of those meals. But this is not a good idea because when you overeat even healthy foods, it leads to weight gain. This is especially the case when eating vegetarian meals with pasta and breads. Eat small meals during the day as this boosts metabolism.

Boost the iron intake

Meats provide plenty of iron and this becomes a challenge when transitioning to a vegetarian diet. Some good vegetarian sources of iron include beans, spinach, tomatoes, green peas, broccoli and potatoes. Fruits high in vitamin C assist in the increase of iron in the body when eaten along with the iron-rich vegetables.

Starter vegetarian meals

Stuffed peppers are a favorite; here is a vegetarian version: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then cut six to eight bell peppers in half. Stuff the pepper halves with cooked rice and crumbled veggie burger meat. Pour a cup of tomato sauce over the peppers and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

Another neat starter vegetarian meal is chili. In a medium pot with three teaspoons of olive oil combine three cups of onions, two cups of chopped celery, two chopped garlic cloves and three cups of chopped carrots. Saute for 20 minutes then add two cups of vegetable broth, two packages of frozen peas, a cup of chopped yellow squash and two cups of diced tomatoes. Cook over medium heat for 45 minutes.

In conclusion, the transition to a vegetarian lifestyle will be manageable with these steps.

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