Have you recently made the switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet? That’s great! People who don’t eat meat live about 9% longer, statistically speaking. However, be aware: just because you are a vegetarian now doesn’t automatically make your diet healthier. There’s plenty of ways to still mess up your body’s nutrition without eating meat.
“I’m finally going to take the leap,” you tell yourself. “This is the year that I finally get my diet under control and start eating healthier. I’m going to become a vegetarian!” While this sentiment is admirable and definitely coming from the right place, the elimination of meat is not an end to health into itself.
Before you know it, the main filter that you run food options through in your mind before eating them is “is this vegetarian/vegan?” However, even a quick second to think about all the junk food that exists and is still vegetarian/vegan can make you realize just how much room for error there still is.
It’s a problem that dietitians are describing as “elimination without replacement.” Basically, when you cut meat out of your diet, whether for moral reasons or otherwise, you’re losing out on a whole host of nutrients that your body needs. And while the vast majority of those nutrients are available in non-meat sources, it takes a little bit of research, effort, and habit changing to make sure that you replace them into your new diet.
One of the biggest mistakes that well-intentioned but ultimately ill-informed new vegetarians make is to double down on the amount of potatoes they eat. “French fries are still vegetarian! Hey, this whole veg lifestyle is a lot easier than I thought!”
The problem is, of course, that you can really harm your body by thinking this way. Instead, nutrition experts have a very simple reminder to keep in mind to help point you in the right direction: try to make your meals as colorful as possible. Healthy veggies, fruits, grains, and other vegetarian options will naturally be more colorful (generally speaking) than less healthy options like french fries. Trying to make every meal colorful is a simple but highly effective way of pointing your diet in the right direction.
The other main trap to avoid is the processed food trap. Again, many things that are technically vegetarian are actually loaded with tons of preservatives that many scientists believe are strongly correlated with cancer. Always read your ingredients carefully and be mindful and conscious of what you put in your body… whether you’re a vegetarian or not!