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If you haven't yet made the switch to a plant-based diet but are curious, you might want to consider trying it for a month, like Chicago's Dr. Mason —or even one day a week. Meatless Monday, for example, a popular initiative backed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, works to inspire Americans to do just that for the sake of their health and that of the planet.

The good news is that in recent years it's gotten a lot easier to make the change to a plant-based diet. "Five years ago, if you wanted soymilk, you had to go to

Whole Foods. Now, you've got Ralph's, Albertson's, and Safeway asking: 'What kind?'" says Nancy Berkoff, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, California.

Whatever the motivation, new and aspiringvegetarians should be gentle with themselves as they strive to give up meat. "Very few people become vegetarians overnight. It all depends on what they ate to begin with," says Berkoff. "Usually, it's a gradual process."

When Diana Rein, who is training to become a yoga teacher, first went vegetarian, she found she gained weight because she was eating a lot of stuff she hadn't previously indulged in —including sweets and foods made with refined flours. "I just thought, 'This is vegetarian,'" she says. Over time, however, her tastes have changed. "It's hard at first to clean up your diet, but once you do, you really do stop craving the other stuff that you thought you wanted."

Katharine Mieszkowski is a freelance writer in Kensington, California.

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