So does meat-free mean unhealthy?
Not necessarily. According to Sue Dieffenbach, Registered Nurse and Certified Nutritional Consultant, the only difference between a healthy meat-eating diet and a healthy vegetarian diet is the primary source of protein. That's it.

Since non-meat-eaters usually consume far more wholesome, natural foods and (hopefully!) much less saturated fat than most people, there are many health benefits associated with these lifestyles: lower blood pressure, lower rates of heart disease, type two diabetes, hypertension and colon cancer.

So, then what's the deal with the protein?
Women need about 45 grams of protein a day, (think a six ounce chicken breast and an egg). “The key for both meat and non-meat-eaters alike, is to focus on nutrient-dense whole food choices and avoid nutrient-poor processed and fast foods,” Dieffenbach advises. “A vegan diet is centered on grains, legumes, beans, veggies and fruit. Foods such as tofu, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and flax are all high in protein, but many people don’t know this,” says the vegan.

“Healthy” pitfalls.
Jenny Geyser, certified personal trainer, nutrition and lifestyle coach, cautions women considering meat-free diets to beware of overdosing on certain overly processed products. “They tend to consume far too much soy and processed soy products, which lately had been shown, through many studies, to possibly be harmful.” Informed veggie gals should avoid all processed soy, including the “soy protein isolate” found in powders, bars and all those fake soy hot dogs, soy patties, ice creams and so on. Geyser cautions: “There has been much research coming out to show that these are not healthy food choices!”

How do you go meat-less in a healthy way, then?
Jackson, Dieffenbach and Geyser all agree that the best way to approach a meat-free diet is to become informed. Read up as much as you can on the subject and, if possible, consult with a nutritionist or dietician. “Vegans must be even more careful about planning their meals to avoid creating deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins B12 and zinc, which are commonly found in animal products,” says Geyser. Most experts suggest that vegans take a B12 supplement.