Maybe you’re one of those guys or gals who find yourself  facing a plate filled with proteins in the form chicken, or beef, or pork, and think to yourself “next week… next week, I’m going vegetarian”. Then you wake up for a whole other week and repeat the process all over again. Before you know it, those weeks become months, those months become years, and somehow you lose track of it at all.

I think a lot of us have been there.

But maybe that’s not your story. Maybe you are on the path of vegetarianism, and constantly try to convince your peers and family of how fulfilling and great it feels making that significant and arguably necessary change in your diet. It’s great that you’ve made such a huge step to achieve the healthy body and lifestyle most people daydream about.

But…are you doing it right though?

You didn’t think you were going to throw your t-bone steak through the window — plate, knife, fork and all, and grab you a nice stalk of callaloo and call it a day did you? On second thought that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea…

Here are some tips that can help you on the path to developing the ultimate healthy diet. Vegetarianism, like most things, has levels to it, and it’s about time you started eating like a pro.

Don’t Ignore Protein

Die-hard meat lovers will tell you, there’s no way on earth vegetarians can get their hands on some protein. While it might prove a bit trickier for vegetarians, this is nowhere near the truth. Beans and peas are great sources of protein; so much so that this applies to meat lovers as well. And no, there aren’t limited options. You can go with nuts if you like, or substitute that with soy products (like tofu). Heck, why be picky? Go with the whole lot and mix things up!

Keep up with Your Calcium

Protein isn’t the only nutrient you want to prioritize. Calcium should be right up there at the top of your list as well. You know, if you value your teeth and bones and stuff like that. Calcium is important for building healthy bones and teeth, and there are a few ways vegetarians can include this in their diet. Some vegetarians are okay with consuming dairy products. Count yourself among them? Great!  Dairy products are good sources of calcium. In the event that you aren’t on the dairy train, then you can try orange juice and vegetables like collard and turnips. Don’t forget green and leafy vegetables like bok choy. Calcium-fortified cereals are also an option.

Say no to multi-vitamins

Credit to the many misconceptions surrounding being a vegetarian, you may believe that multivitamins are going to be your saviors. You might be itching to grab one of those bad boys right off the shelf at your local pharmacy because there’s no way your vegetarian diet is enough to sustain you right? Wrong. Contrary to what some people think, multi-vitamins aren’t really healthy. At all. In fact, they don’t do much except cost you money. On the other hand, vegetables are straight out nature and are packed with enough nutrients to help you lead a healthier life IF you do it right.

And even in the event that multi-vitamins were the saviors some of us want them to be, it is very important that you try and get your nutrients primarily through your diet. What’s the point in changing up your lifestyle to live healthier and eat healthier meals, if we’re just going to depend on pills to keep us going? See my point?

Be creative with your meals

I’m sure you’ve heard that there are vegetarian counterparts to great meals that are meat-based. You’ve probably seen the countless vegan and vegetarian videos where pro chefs whip up a hamburger made purely out of peanuts (kidding). If it’s a case where you haven’t seen these videos you’re definitely missing out. This content is interesting even if you’re NOT trying to go vegetarian. If you’re a fan of that (meat) flavor, but aren’t particularly fond of cholesterol, and saturated fat, you’re in luck. Bean burgers and chickpea patties can make for a great dinner, and there are countless meals you can get creative with for breakfast, like soy-based sausages.

Herbs and spices are your friends

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has anything against butter and salt (unless medical reasons are involved). But truth be told, they are not the be all and end all of making your meals delicious. Actually, herbs and spices play a MUCH bigger role in whipping up mouthwatering meals.

You’d be surprised to see what steaming, and boiling different foods with the right herbs can do for your cooking experience.

Sure, it can take a while to get used to to this approach, especially if the right combination of herbs and spices seem super elusive. Just give it some time. You’ll be the vegetarian iron chef in no time.

Experiment with raw meals

No one is saying to go all the way left field and start avoiding cooked foods. A lot of the times it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it, and besides, some raw meals are pretty great. And you’ve got options and options, from salads comprised of raw fruits and veggies, to raw veggie burgers with onion, carrots, almonds and pecans. Sounds delicious doesn’t it? That’s because it is!  

Throw refined sugar out the window

Sure, sugar tastes great, whether it comes in a packet, or bags in the supermarket. But sugars in fruits and vegetables are also great. And what’s more, the latter doesn’t ruin your body or overload your liver. Refined sugars are even bad for your teeth, offering the mouth’s bad bacteria easily digestible energy. Yeah, that’s bound to suck in the long run. My advice? Stick to natural sugars, save a liver.  

Spread the Vegetarian Love

We all know how important it is to eat right, and take care of our bodies. That doesn’t mean you have to treat your diet like it’s school work. Here are some ways you can make your vegetarian experience that much better.

Veggie Cookout

Remember those counterparts to meat dishes we talked about? Why only chef that stuff up in your kitchen? There are literally no meat dishes that can’t be replicated: burgers, sausages, vegetable-tofu stir fry. Don’t be afraid to throw some grilled veggies in the mix too.

A different restaurant experience

Yes, there are restaurants out there that will cater to your dietary needs; even if they are the sometimes particular needs of a vegetarian diet. In fact, most restaurants should be fine with this. What this means for you is — meatless sauces, and beans and tofu to replace the meat in certain dishes. However, each restaurant is likely to be different, so don’t be shy about it, and ask them what are your options.

Snack it up with legumes

Do you love snacks, but want to avoid the salty, or sugar-glazed options that usually saturate a menu or supermarket aisle? Well, nuts make for tasty and healthy alternatives. They don’t cost an arm and a leg, and you can eat them on the go. Even better, you can add them to meals, and make things more interesting for salads and main dishes. Almonds, walnuts and pecans are great substitutes for cheese and meat in green salads.

Don’t become stagnant

No matter how epic your current diet is, no one is trying to sit down to the same set of meals everyday. Especially since certain diets can be challenging, it makes sense that we try and keep things exciting. Going vegetarian is supposed to be a fun learning experience, that enriches your body and your mind. The aim is not to have you sitting at the dining table having flashbacks of a steak you ate last year and how delicious it was. Keep on pushing boundaries. Go out and try new meals that continue to intrigue you and your taste buds: quinoa, buckwheat, yucca. The possibilities are (literally) endless. I mean, how much can one person eat?

What about vitamin B12?

Here’s where things get a bit trickier. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products, at least naturally. If a vegetarian wants vitamin B12, they’re going to have to rely on fortified foods. And these can range from cereals to soy-based products. Of course, you can always take a vitamin B12 supplement, if you are trying to avoid animal products like it’s the plague.  Checking the nutrition facts label to know what products contain vitamin B12, is sure to help out.Conclusion: Do what works for you

This may be the most important bit of advice I can offer you. While there are a million ways to eat healthily and take care of your body, no one thing is going to work for everyone. Following any diet can be a challenging, and sometimes daunting experience. That taken into account, you want to choose something that is great for your body, improves your life, and won’t give you anything but headaches in the long run. I’ve seen people live to 100 years old on a strict diet of cigarettes, liquor, and heartache, and look as if they hadn’t aged a day since fifty. If another person tried that, they’d probably be dead at fifty. Moral of the story, find what works for you, and stick to it. Switch things up when necessary, and always remember to keep things fun and healthy.