Base your diet around five key food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas), and nuts and seeds. Drink plenty of water.
What should I eat?
Base your diet around five key food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas), and nuts and seeds. As long as you eat a variety of different foods from each of these groups, you should get all the nutrition you need. Aim to get several portions of vegetables and at least three portions each of whole grains, fruits, and legumes every day. Drink 6-8 cups of water every day.
Do I need any extra vitamins?
If you’re eating a wide variety of foods, you will get almost all of the nutrients you need naturally. The only ones you must take as supplements are vitamin B12 (the only nutrient absent from plant foods in today’s world) and vitamin D (because most of us don’t get enough sunlight). If you worry that your diet isn’t varied enough, by all means get these nutrients along with others in a good one-a-day multivitamin pill that covers all the bases.
What are some familiar meals I can eat?
If you’re thinking “Help, I don’t eat any of these foods right now!” you’ll be surprised how easy it can be. Here are a few meal ideas to get you started:
A Bean burrito includes beans, vegetables, and whole grains (the wrap). Add a salad to boost the vegetables.
- A Veggie burger includes beans, vegetables, and a whole grain bun. Add a salad to boost the vegetables.
- Pasta Primavera can include whole grain pasta, and lots of vegetables and tomato sauce. Add some cannellini beans for extra nutrition.
- Vegetable pizza on whole grain crust. Replace the cheese with extra tomato sauce. Add a salad to boost the vegetables.
- Thai tofu curry can include tofu (soy bean), vegetables and brown rice.
- Indian lentil or garbanzo bean curry, with rice and vegetables.
Where do vegetarians get their protein from?
Most Americans have been trained to believe that the only sources of protein are meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. These foods do have a lot of protein, but you may be surprised to learn that many vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts and seeds also have lots of protein too.
Protein is shown here as a percentage of calories
|Vegetables||Protein||Legumes & Grains||Protein|
|Pumpkin||15%||Oatmeal – cooked||15%|
|Potato||11%||Rice – brown||8%|
Is it necessary to combine plant proteins to get “complete protein”?
The idea that you have to combine plant proteins is a myth that was popularized back in the 1960s and ’70s. Dietitians now know that our bodies can store the amino acids that make up protein for a few days, so as long as you eat a range of different foods over the course of a day or two, you will get all the protein you need.
What about soyfoods?
Many people may have heard rumors about soy causing all kinds of health and hormonal problems. Don’t believe them! Soy products are perfectly nutritious and have been eaten for thousands of years by billions of people. These rumors, such that it will cause homosexuality or breast cancer, have no basis in science whatsoever, and most were started by a single organization, which just happens to be funded by the meat industry. See The Facts about Soy for more information on this.
If I don’t eat dairy products, where will I get my calcium from?
The table below shows how much calcium different plant foods contain, and how much of the calcium is absorbed by our bodies. You’ll see that many plant-based sources of calcium are better than dairy products, and the absorption rate is often much higher too:
Calcium amount per 100 calorie serving
|Food||Calcium (mg)||Absorption Rate|
|Collard greens||609||Not known|
|Orange juice (calcium fortified)||320||52%|
|Tofu, set with calcium||287||31%|
|Green leaf lettuce||240||Not known|
|Cow’s milk (for comparison)||188||32%|
Should I eat eggs?
There are many good reasons to avoid eggs. They have more cholesterol than any other food. They also contain some saturated fat, which encourages our livers to produce even more cholesterol. Eggs are also renowned as a breeding ground for salmonella.
There are many great substitutes for eggs. Try a tofu scramble, mashed bananas, or ground flaxseeds to replace the moisture of eggs in a baking recipe.
For the answers to many more questions, see our book Say No to Meat.