A whole food*, plant-based diet can promote health and longevity, fight cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, is great for the environment, can help with weight loss, and, not surprisingly, is extremely economical (think beans, lentils, whole grains, and in-season veggies...the book Eat Vegan on $4 a Day gives some great recipes, too!). I recently became vegan, and I have found it to be a lot of fun, and quite liberating! I have so much energy, the last few pounds of my weight loss was a breeze, and meals leave me with energy, not heavy and drained. Plus, simple and nutritious meals taste great!
*The term "whole food" refers to foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed, and are the closest thing to nature. Think of foods that come from the ground, tree, or vine! Whole foods includes fresh produce, nuts, seeds, and whole grains in their natural state, like brown rice, quinoa, and millet. Whole foods usually don't have an ingredient list ;)
The American Dietetic Association (ADA), the nation’s largest organization of nutrition experts, states that "vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
Here's The Power Plate, created by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:
You can see there are 4 main food groups: Fruits, Grains, Legumes, and Vegetables. Click on each food group to read important information about each group! At the bottom of the plate, it says, "Be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as any common multiple vitamin or fortified foods."
Why The Power Plate? Click here to find out: http://pcrm.org/health/diets/pplate/why-power-plate
The USDA Choose My Plate also has some great tips for vegetarians:
*The one thing I DON'T agree with when they mention calcium is this statement: "Consuming enough plant foods to meet calcium needs may be unrealistic for many." This is not true, as long as you plan carefully and also consume calcium-fortified plant-based milks, such as almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, soy milk, and flaxmilk. Most of these non-dairy milks are calcium-fortified, so please read labels carefully.
The USDA also has a PDF with more tips for vegetarians. In this one, they did say to "include calcium-fortified soy milk." Just so you know, soy milk is high in protein, but can be rough on certain stomachs (mine!) so I avoid most soy products except the whole food source: soybeans, a.k.a., edemame! Here's the PDF:
If you stick to all the advice and tips above, as well as trying to make most of your food choices whole, unprocessed foods, you'll be assured that you are getting enough carbohydrates, healthy fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids! This way, you can stay active, experience optimal health, build a strong immunity, and have plenty of energy!
If you're worried about getting enough Omega-3s, here's a list of foods to include in your diet: walnuts, ground flaxseeds, flax milk, flaxseed oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, soy foods, and hummus.
If you wish to get a direct source of DHA, which is the component found in fish and fish oil that aids in brain health and the prevention of Alzheimer's disease, look for VEGAN DHA supplements. These supplements contain the algae that the fish end up eating! Get the direct source, minus the fishy aftertaste and possible mercury poisoning! You can choose to take one 200 mg capsule daily, or take one every few days.
One last thing about food and supplements. If you wish to become a strict vegan, take Vitamin D2 supplements. Vitamin D3 can contain sheep's wool or fish. Vitamin D2 is vegetarian. Also, strict vegans do not consume honey, because it comes from an animal/insect...bees! For a sweet replacement, try brown rice syrup or agave nectar.
MORE PLANT-BASED DIET/VEGAN RESOURCES:
Eat plenty of plant foods containing the amino acid, lysine: http://www.theveganrd.com/2011/01/vegan-food-guide-protein-and-new-book.html
It's easy for vegans to get the recommended amount of the amino acid, tryptophan! http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/09/tryptophan-milk-and-depression.html
All you need to know about calcium, and getting plant-based sources of calcium: http://www.vegkitchen.com/nutrition/calcium/
Vegan recipes, diets, and information: http://www.vegan.com/
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: http://pcrm.org/health/