Vegetarian Start-Up Guide

As a member of the Best Years Group, we know you have an open mind. In this series focused on heart health, we’re suggesting that you open your heart to a plant-based diet–-and this can mean different things for different people. Whether you decide to simply incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet, or to go totally meatless, here’s the place to start!

First, let’s imagine eating as a rainbow, with a Standard American Diet at one end, and a whole food, plant-based diet at the other end. As you journey into this dietary lifestyle, you will slowly move along this spectrum toward more plant based foods, and processed, packaged and animal-based foods will be left behind at the other end.

Next, think of what you’re REALLY giving up. Eating more plants has been proven to lower your risks of many chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Finally, let’s uncover some of the misconceptions around transitioning into a plant-focused diet. 

Myth #1: I’ll miss the taste of meat if I go without.

Got Umami? 

“Umami” is the fifth flavor alongside salty, sweet, bitter and sour. Umami is the savory flavor often associated with meat. A few vegetables naturally provide umami flavor: mushrooms, soybeans, miso and other fermented foods, tomatoes, potatoes and sea vegetables.

Ideas from the BYG Recipe Library for adding an Umami taste:

Myth #2: Protein — more is better.

Protein is an essential nutrient, however, there is a common misconception that one cannot obtain necessary protein intake without meat. There are a plethora of protein powerhouses in the plant world. Focus on including a variety of plant protein sources in your diet including grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. 

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein for a healthy adult with minimal physical activity is currently 0.8 g protein per kg body weight per day. That is about 58grams for a 160-pound adult.

High protein plants and their corresponding protein counts (in grams):

Tempeh (4 oz.)31gSoy milk (1 cup)8g
Lentils (1 cup, cooked)18gEgg (1 large, cooked)7.5g
Black beans (1 cup, cooked)15gCheddar cheese (1 oz)7g
Chickpeas (1 cup, cooked)12gWheat bread (2 slices)7g
Edamame (½ cup, cooked)11gAlmonds (1 oz)6g
Tofu (4 oz)10gYogurt (6 oz)6g
Green peas (1 cup, cooked)9gSpinach (1 cup, cooked)5g
Quinoa (1 cup, cooked)8gBroccoli (1 cup, cooked)4g
Peanut Butter (2 tbsp)8g

Myth #3: Dairy products are the best sources of calcium.

The Plantrician Project is a physician-based group leading the way on plant-based eating research. They suggest that one small change can make a big difference. When it comes to dairy, eliminate it, or make it a rare exception to your dietary rule. After all, milk is for growing babies! Again, we must dispel a common misconception here, that dairy sources of calcium are superior to calcium-rich plants. Here are some common dairy products and their vegetarian substitutes.

DairyNon-Dairy Replacement
MilkNon-dairy milks like soy, almond and rice easily replace dairy milks in most cases. 
ButtermilkMix non-dairy milk with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or brown rice vinegar and let stand for 5-10 minutes. 
CreamCashew cream beautifully imitates the creamy texture of dairy cream. Combine raw cashews with water and blend in a high-speed blender until completely smooth. Coconut cream is another option.
CheeseSprinkle nutritional yeast on meals for cheesy flavor and Parmesan texture. Most nutritional yeast is also fortified with B12, a vitamin essential for good health. Try this Sauteed Greens recipe from the BYG Recipe Library, or sprinkle it over stove-top popcorn on movie night!
Butter“I can’t believe it’s not butter” doesn’t have to mean Margarine (the worst thing that ever came from the low-fat trend). Try quality oil-based spreads like Earth Balance and Coconut Oil.
Ice CreamFruit-based sorbets, non-dairy products from numerous companies are readily available in local grocers. 

Now, let’s set yourself up for success!

The following are some tips to begin incorporating plant-based foods into your daily routine.

Step 1:

Start with meals you already like and take the meat out: 

Step 2:

Schedule one or multiple “meatless” meals within your weekly menu. 

Examples from the BYG Recipe Library:

Step 3:

Focus on what you eat, not what you avoid. When you start from this positive approach, you have a much better chance of progressing towards a plant-focused diet. Think about adding more “good” rather than taking away the “bad”. As we push past labelling something as “healthy or unhealthy”, we can open up a whole new world of eating well and enjoying it. For inspiration here, check out our blog: “Salad Bad/Pizza Good!

By planting a few “seeds of change” in your new, plant-focused diet, you’ll help your health as well as the health of the planet!


Wu, Guoyao. (2016). Dietary protein intake and human health.

Plantrician Project Quick Start Guide Manual. (2015). 

Center of Mind-body Medicine Conference. Nutrient Rich Foods chart. 2011