Whether you want to stop eating meat for spiritual, environmental, or health-related reasons, the process to become a vegetarian remains the same. If you want to remain properly nourished, you have to do more than just cut all meat or animal products out of your diet. Instead, the focus should include getting the appropriate level of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for optimum physical wellbeing.
Before you do anything else, determine what type of vegetarian you intend to become.
Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Lacto-Ovo, or Vegan
When you first decide to become a vegetarian, you still have more considerations to take into account. Multiple forms of vegetarianism exist, which allow or disallow different types of animal-based foods. Although people come up with various names for even more precise divisions, these four represent the basic varieties.
At its most basic, a vegetarian is a person who does not eat any meat. They still may eat any other type of animal products including eggs, milk and cheese, and honey.
If a person calls themselves a pescatarian, they also add fish, shellfish, and crustaceans to their diet. Technically, these are not classified as vegetarians because fish is meat.
Often used synonymously with the simpler vegetarian term, lacto refers to dairy products and ovo refers to egg products. You can choose to eat or avoid both, or just one or the other. For example, if you eat dairy products but not eggs, you would be a lacto-vegetarian.
If you avoid all animal products, byproducts, and meat, you are a vegan. These individuals also avoid leather, wool, and silk, and animal-based ingredients in skin care or other products. This is the strictest form of vegetarianism that exists.
How To Get Started With Vegetarianism
The easiest way to begin your journey to true vegetarianism or veganism is to simply cut meat out of your diet and replace it with another protein source.
Instead of having chicken with dinner, you may have tofu, chickpeas, or seitan, which is a type of textured vegetable protein.
Many supermarkets and online shops have a wide variety of products to choose from specifically created for a meatless way of life.
While you try out new foods that can replace ones that came from animals, take time to educate yourself about nutrition, health benefits, and recipes. After all, trying to make your mother’s fried chicken with a chunk of tofu may not work.
Luckily, you can find thousands of vegetarian and vegan recipes online that provide in-depth nutritional information for your new lifestyle.
What Do You Eat?
If you eat meat, eggs, and dairy foods regularly, you can become completely mystified when trying to figure out what you can eat now. While heading to the freezer section of your local store for veggie burgers is one option, it does not allow you to explore the full range of possibilities. You just might find out that meals without meat tastes a lot better than your old favorites.
When determining what you will eat as a vegetarian, you must decide if you are eating eggs and dairy products first. After all, making an omelet with spinach and onions instead of sausage and ham is not too big of a stretch.
If you decide not to eat eggs, you cannot just eat the vegetables and get appropriate nutrition. Unless you were a die hard carnivore before, you can undoubtedly still eat many of your favorites. Salads, pasta, casseroles, and stir-fry’s do not have to change very much.
When adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, consider these substitutions:
- Use rice milk or soy milk instead of cow milk
- Soy cheese tastes and melts similar to real cheese
- Mashed bananas or applesauce can add moisture to baked goods instead of eggs
- Vegetable broth replaces chicken or beef stock
- “Veggie” versions of burgers, chicken patties and nuggets, bacon, sausage, and more
- Use beans and legumes instead of meat in recipes
- Eggplants and mushrooms are highly versatile meat substitution
Many people have the erroneous idea that you cannot get certain nutrients or enough protein from a vegetarian or vegan diet. Yes, eating a chicken breast automatically gives you plenty of protein that you cannot ignore if you start avoiding meat. However, plenty of options exist when it comes to incorporating complete nutrition into your new way of eating.
Getting Sufficient Protein and Other Nutrients
Becoming a vegetarian is simple.
You just stop eating meat or other animal products.
Becoming a vegetarian in a completely healthy way takes more consideration and knowledge. This is one reason why the most important part of the process includes reading, studying online, looking at recipes, and talking with other vegetarians or vegans who have already made the switch.
People who have lived their entire lives without consuming animal products also provide a wealth of information for you.
The number one concern of people transforming their eating habits has to do with getting enough protein.
In the standard modern diet, most of our protein comes from meat, eggs, dairy, and related ingredients. There is plenty of protein to be had outside the animal kingdom, however.
How much protein do you need anyway?
According to generally accepted health guidelines, and the average adult needs a minimum of approximately 50 grams of protein per day.
The vast majority of people get more than that no matter how they eat. Of course, unhealthy individuals who live off of potato chips and snack cakes do not. Even new vegetarians who are trying to be incredibly healthy may not get enough if they simply switch to spinach, broccoli, and apples.
Try out these protein-rich foods as a vegetarian or vegan:
- Tofu – soybean curds pressed together in a variety of textures
- Seitan – a gluten-based meat substitute that looks and feels similar to the real thing
- Beans and legumes – chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, and more
- Nutritional yeast – some sprinkle it on other dishes to add a boost of protein and flavor
- Ancient grains – spelt, quinoa, and amaranth
- Nuts and seeds – walnuts, cashews, and chia seeds preferably in raw form
Other nutrients you need to focus on include vitamin B-12, which comes from eggs, cheese, and soy, and omega-3 fatty acids, which comes from flaxseed oil and walnuts.
Make a Drastic Change or Ease Into It?
Ultimately, the decision to change everything to a vegetarian or vegan way of life all at once or to make gradual changes over time is up to you.
This depends on your particular reasons for changing your diet and how enthusiastic you are about learning new recipes and food substitutions.
There is no health-based reason to wean yourself off of meat or animal products.
You can eat chicken, beef, and eggs one day and tofu, lentils, and soy milk the next with no problems.
Some people may experience a bit of digestive distress in the first week or so as their system gets used to new fuel sources. However, barring any allergies, this passes quickly, and you can continue on with your regular way of life.
Taking things gradually is quite possible, too.
Have one or two less meat-based dinners every week. Substitute vegetable broth for chicken stock the next time you make soup. As you learn new recipes, get creative and try out new products based on recommendations or things you find at the grocery store. It is up to you.
Is Becoming a Vegetarian Worth It?
The answer to this question also stems from a very personal place.
If your decision to become a vegetarian or vegan has anything to do with religion or spirituality, the change would definitely be worth it to you.
Likewise, if you are drawn to this cruelty-free way of eating due to how food animals are raised or treated, switching to a plant-based diet will give you peace of mind. Being a vegetarian or vegan is also healthier for the environment at large.
If your reasons for giving up eating meat, fish, eggs, or dairy focus on health, you may find different opinions and experiences in your life.
While some people believe that being vegetarian is the only way to achieve optimal health, research and anecdotal evidence does not find this to be true. People who eat animal products can absolutely have a high degree of health and well-being.
In the end, you must weigh all the factors that affect your personal life when it comes to determining if being a vegetarian is worth it or not.
Whatever you decide to do, just make sure that you eat a well-balanced and healthy diet to protect your body for many years to come.