A friend of mine, who just signed up with the National Academy of Sports Medicine to become a certified personal trainer, told me she was interested in overhauling her diet. I’m not sure about the particulars of her diet, but I know she already does a lot of things right and that she was thinking about going vegetarian.
I told my friend to start thinking differently about her meals. The most important rule is to have sources of protein, phytonutrients, and healthy fats in every meal.
Phytonutrients are plant compounds. You should have some sort of fruits/vegetables/greens with every meal, preferably raw or steamed. Don’t boil or cook the shit out of your veggies or you’ll kill off the vitamins and enzymes.
Healthy fats are unsaturated fats: think olive oil, salmon, avocado, nuts. These are the best sources of energy for your body.
Protein can be fish, chicken, beans. Nuts and nut butters provide some protein. Almond butter is a healthier choice than peanut butter. Quinoa is also an excellent source of complete protein as well as an extremely versatile and easy-to-prepare food. Consume soy only occasionally, and only if organic.
If meat is a big portion of your diet, and you eat a lot of red meat, going vegetarian or flexitarian could indeed be good for your health. Provided you replace the meat in your diet with healthy foods. Trading meat for lots of bread, pasta, other processed carbs and processed foods will not help you lose weight or improve your overall health.
I think it’s awesome that Kelsey is changing her diet, and I know she has already seen some unexpected results, like less sinus congestion and an improved sense of smell. But vegetarianism isn’t for everyone: some people (me included) have a hard time meeting their protein needs without meat.
Personally, I don’t think consumption of lean meats (read: fish, chicken) is a problem, as long as you keep your portions small and consume a predominantly plant-based diet. (Think of veggies as the main dish as meat as a side, instead of the other way around.)
Also, avoid processed sugar. No baked goods, cookies, cake, etc. This also includes bread and other processed carbs, which are converted into sugar by the body.
Depending on how you currently eat, these rules may represent a major shift for you. If your meals revolve around processed carbs (bagel for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, etc.), you may have a hard time giving up these foods. Breakfast can be an especially difficult adjustment as many breakfast foods consist of processed carbs (cereal, toast, bagels, waffles, etc). The best breakfast option is to get in the habit of making smoothies that meet the above requirements. See my post on sugar-free breakfast options for more info.
Following these rules also takes a lot more forethought than you may be used to. I don’t always follow them 100%: sometimes I get sick of salads and I just want a sandwich! But if you stick to these guidelines most of the time and allow yourself some occasional cheats , you’ll be doing wonders for your overall health.