So – you’re thinking about going vegetarian? Maybe you already don’t eat that much meat and you just want to take that final step towards becoming a fully fledged vegetarian, or perhaps you cannot imagine a live without meat but for whatever reason want to cut it out of your diet. Hopefully this guide will shed some light on why people go veggie and give you some tips on how to get started.
First off – what exactly is vegetarianism?
Vegetarianism is the practice of excluding the consumption of animal meat from your diet. This includes meat, poultry, fish, seafood and game. There are two kinds of vegetarians:
1. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians (the most common kind): They eat both dairy products and eggs.
2. Lacto-vegetarians: They eat dairy but not eggs.
Meanwhile, vegans do not consume any animal derived products, including meat, dairy, eggs, gelatine, etc. You can see our guide to a vegan diet for more information on veganism.
Why go veggie?
1. Ethical: Probably for the majority of vegetarians, ethical reasons are why they decide to turn to a vegetarian diet. If this is the case, it can simply seem like the ‘right’ thing to do. Ethical vegetarians believe that the animals we slaughter for meat consumption deserve the right to live, and that it is morally unjust for us to consume meat simply because we find it tasty. For many, vegetarianism (or veganism) is not simply a diet, but a way of thinking and a way of life.
2. Health: As a vegetarian diet is naturally lower in saturated fat, many turn to a vegetarian diet in order to reduce the risk of heart disease. Packing your diet with protein-rich nuts, seeds, and vitamin filled fruits and vegetables can have huge benefits for your overall health and energy levels and can contribute to weight loss as part of a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise.
3. Personal preference: For some – vegetarianism is simply the answer to their dislike of the taste of meat. There may be absolutely no ethical reasons involved, it can simply be that you do not like the taste or texture of meat and choose to exclude it from your diet.
4. Environment: Another reason some people go veggie is due to environmental reasons. The meat and dairy industries use up an incredible amount of the world’s land and water resources.
Whatever your reason is – a vegetarian diet can be a truly beneficial part of leading a fulfilling, delicious and nutritious lifestyle.
So, here are our top tips on how to go vegetarian:
1. Go easy on yourself. When you make that decision to to begin your vegetarian diet, it can seem overwhelming and you may find yourself wanting to immediately exclude all animal products from your diet. It is important to remember that it is perfectly okay to take things at your own pace. Perhaps during the first few weeks of your transition you just try to eat one or two vegetarian meals a week, with the occasional meat. That is fine – you can gradually reduce the amount of meat until you feel completely ready to leave it behind.
2. Try meat-free alternatives. There are lots of brands, as well as many supermarkets with their own brands which offer meat-free products mimicking the texture and taste of meat to make transitioning to a veggie diet easier. You can get veggie herb and rosemary sausages, veggie nuggets, veggie burgers, etc. Although you may not wish to always eat these meat-free alternatives, it’s definitely a great place to start if you’re used to eating meat.
3. Eat more of the foods you love. Going vegetarian need to be a diet focused on ‘excluding’ anything, but simply a diet full of delicious foods. Turn your favourite meals into vegetarian versions, packing your meals with your favourite vegetables. Why not add green and red peppers with kidney beans to a curry, green beans to a fresh pesto pasta, or cauliflower and broccoli to a risotto. Try adding tofu, kidney beans, pine nuts and of course even more vegetables for extra nutrition.
4. Try lots of recipes. Try enough, and you’re bound to find plenty that you love. We’ve got plenty to get you going – homemade vegan pizza; tofu and peppers with rice; courgette, spring onion & lime fritters; creamy quinoa with crispy spicy tofu or butternut squash with fresh pesto. Try making smoothies with your favourite fruits, such as this one with spinach for a burst of green goodness. Psst, don’t forget dessert.
5. Buy ingredients for your favourite veggie meals in bulk so you always have something in the fridge/cupboard ready to make. Get whatever you find you like best, for example perhaps stock up on tofu, rice, pasta, frozen vegetables, pizza bases, cans of beans and peas, seeds and nuts, etc.
6. Buy a nutritional wall chart from a local health food shop to put on your kitchen wall. It an be helpful to remind you which minerals and vitamins you needed to make sure are in your daily diet.
7. Keep in mind the reasons why you switched to a veggie diet in the first place, this will help you keep on the right track. Don’t feel like you need to defend yourself to people, diets are very personal, and as long as you are happy with the choices you’ve made, you shouldn’t let other people’s negative opinions of your choices affect your decision.
8. Make sure you’re getting enough B12 in your diet! Some soy-based products and drinks are fortified with it, but it’s important to take a supplement if you’re not consuming these products 2-3 times a day to avoid anaemia and nervous system damage.
9. If you’re female, it can be helpful to take an iron supplement around your time-of-the-month to avoid feeling tired and worn out. It’s also important to make sure you eat plenty of legumes, sunflower seeds, dried fruits and leafy greens, such as spinach, to make sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet. Red peppers, citrus, and broccoli are also essential as they help aid iron absorption.
10. If you’re planning on eating out, phoning ahead to let the restaurant know about your dietary requirements is a good idea, and you’ll find that many places are understanding and helpful when it comes to adapting items from the menu. Happy Cow is also a great website which helps you find vegan eateries near you if you want to find places to eat.
Have you recently started a vegetarian diet? What are your top tips? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear about it!