It’s funny how the word “vegetarian” makes some people react. Some recoil in disgust with a “I could never give up meat” – as if eating meat was some sort of badge of honor. Others treat the word as the holiest of holies, like the mere word will make then a better person in all ways.

A nice healthy veggie burger... or is it?

A nice healthy veggie burger… or is it?

But being a vegetarian takes work and effort. You have to use your head because there are seven very common mistakes people make on their vegetarian diet.

Vegetarian junk food

“These potato chips are cooked in vegetable oil, so they are good to eat.” Yep. Not even kidding a little here. People go to the vending machine and order all kinds of unhealthy items under the claims of being “vegetarian.” Well not only are those Red Vines Vegetarian, but they are also Fat Free! Seriously, you have to put some thought forward. Vegetarian doesn’t make a food healthy any more than “all natural” or “fat free” does.

Eating the same 5 meals

The important part of any diet is variety. If you don’t have multiple options to choose from, you will get bored with that diet and quit. Trying new foods is the cornerstone to any diet you choose to follow – even the SAD diet. Often times your cravings will be caused by the need for something different, and if you keep feeding your body the same foods you always eat, that craving will never go away.

Relying on fake meat

There are many great “fake meat” products on the market. They are tasty and go with a wide variety recipes. However, there are two main problems – they are nothing at all like meat, and most of them aren’t the healthiest thing you could be eating. These products should not be treated as a replacement for meat, but as a new food to try separate from their “meat counterpart.” You will never be happy if you think that soy burger will replace your hamburger. And a lot of these products contain soy and oils that aren’t healthy, especially if eaten in large quantities.

Overdue juicing

Juicing is all the rage. There are movies about people who go on all juice fasts and lose lots of weight. Well, fresh squeezed juice is a nice complement to a vegetarian diet, there is something you need to remember – juice is sugar water with vitamins. Juice has a lot of calories for a drink, and while the vitamins are good, there it none of the complementary fiber to temper the sugar’s effects on your body. If you want to juice, do so in moderation. Me, I prefer smoothies.

Not planning ahead

Okay like many other things on this list, this one applies to vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. If you don’t plan ahead, you will be stuck in a situation where you are starving, the kids are going nuts in the back seat, and the traffic is slowly crawling by a McDonalds. In that situation, I wouldn’t fault anyone for pulling off and ordering a quarter pounder and a couple of happy meals. You need to be prepared. If you are at home, exhausted after a long day at work, and you are missing one or two key ingredients for the dinner you had planned. Your choices are trudge out to the grocery store, fight through the crowds, and come home just so you can be rewarded with the job of cooking your meal… or you can order a pizza. Thinking ahead is the key to any good diet – not just for meals, but also for snacks. You know the kinds of foods you crave; make sure you having something to fit all your different tastes.

Not reading nutrition labels

This ties in with junk food and fake meat. You have to know what you are eating. Read the labels, the macronutrient content plus the actual ingredients. Learn what they different things mean. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, be it soy, corn, or whatever, is a clever way of hiding MSG in the ingredients. It is important that you read the labels because the food manufacturers are interested in your dollar, not your health.

Overloading on the three whites

Again… one that applies to everyone. If you don’t know, the three whites are white rice, white flour, and white sugar. They are used as a cheap filler for so much food out there. And they are all vegetarian. Pasta and rice are very popular filler items for vegetarian meals. Just be aware that both hit your stomach almost like pure sugar, and sugar doesn’t fill you up for long. If you want to include rice and pasta, get the brown rice and whole wheat pasta. The added fiber and other nutrients makes it a much healthier options. Not as healthy as spinach or kale, but, you know, baby steps.

Look, I am not a saint. I make some of these mistakes from time to time. I don’t always remember to read labels. I skip going shopping and am stuck with several bad choices to pick from. Life isn’t about perfection, it’s about improvement. Constant and never ending improvement.