The Simple Way to Become a Vegetarian
While being a vegetarian isn't for everyone (nor is Pamela Anderson), I chat to a number of people every day who say they'd want to go vegetarian but don't think it's possible because it's too difficult and they lack the willpower.
But, for me and many others, being a vegetarian is the simplest thing in the world.
Please skip this post (and don't flame me in the comments) if you're not interested in becoming a vegetarian or vegan. But, in the last week or so, I've had many people ask me to write an article about how to become a vegetarian, since I've become something of a vegetarian poster boy (move over, Pamela Anderson!).
So, in this article, we'll look at some recommendations and techniques for becoming a vegetarian without too much trouble, as well as some reasons why you would want to do so.
Why Should You Become a Vegetarian?
Let me emphasize once more that vegetarianism is not for everyone. You might not be interested if you are a meat aficionado (as I was at one point, so I understand). You might not be interested if you currently eat well or are unconcerned about your health.
However, there are some compelling reasons for the rest of us to think about it. Trim the fat. While meat is high in protein, it is also high in fat, particularly saturated fat. That is to say, by eliminating meat from your diet, you will be eliminating a lot of bad fat and replacing it with foods that are likely to be lower in fat but still include some beneficial fats. This lowers your risk of heart disease significantly, and several studies have shown that vegetarians have a decreased risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses. More information may be found here.
- There will be less food poisoning. Millions of people suffer food poisoning each year, and many of them get it from meat, which is an excellent breeding ground for dangerous germs if not kept, prepared, or cooked properly. If you don't eat meat, you'll be less likely to get food poisoning (particularly if you don't consume eggs or dairy, but that's optional).
- Reduce the amount of pain. You probably don't want to hear about the inhumane treatment of animals reared for food, even before they are murdered for our use. But, suffice it to say, there is a tremendous deal of misery involved, and taking out meat reduces your participation in it. More information may be found here.
- Make a difference for the environment. The meat business affects the environment in a variety of ways, including a waste of resources (animals bred for food consume enough grain to feed the whole globe), a waste of fuel, pollution produced by their waste, and much more. More information may be found here.
- Assist you in losing weight. It is possible to be vegetarian yet consume extremely unhealthy foods such as Coke, fries, fried meals, pizza, and chips. However, it is far more challenging. Vegetarians are thinner and less likely to be fat than meat eaters, according to several studies. Being a vegetarian can help you lose weight if you're attempting to lose weight.
- Increase your dietary intake. Vegetarians, in general (but not always), substitute meat with more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and so on. You'll obtain more of the nutrients your body need, leading to improved health, fewer illnesses, and more vitality.
How to Become a Vegetarian in 20 Steps
So, if you want to become a vegetarian quickly and easily, here are some suggestions:
- Have excellent reasons for doing so. If you merely want to go vegetarian for the sake of it, you won't last long — not because it's difficult, but because every lifestyle or habit change requires some reason. You must first consider and truly believe in why you want to become a vegetarian. The rest is simple.
- Take a look. I want to read as much as possible about anything I'm going to do before I start something new. I recommend that you try vegetarianism. Get a couple of nice novels from the library to read (or better yet, borrow from vegetarian friends). And there are a plethora of useful websites available on the Internet. GoVeg.com is one of my favorites.
- Look for delicious recipes. You don't have to run out and purchase a bunch of new cookbooks, but it's a good idea. However, there are a plethora of fantastic recipes available online. Try GoVeg.com, and Post Punk Kitchen is another favorite of mine (also see their forums). In fact, it can be a bit daunting... but don't worry, you don't have to make any decisions. Simply browse the recipes, make a mental note of a couple that appear particularly appealing, and decide to attempt a few of them. You've got the rest of your life to experiment with new dishes!
- Once a week, try one new recipe. My recommendation is to attempt at least one new vegetarian recipe every week. If you enjoy it, make it a regular part of your repertoire of go-to dishes. If you don't like the recipe, try another one the next week. You'll soon have a list of 5-10 fantastic dishes that you enjoy cooking and eating. And, whether you're a vegetarian or a meat eater, it's likely that's what you consume on a daily basis (for dinner, at least). Most individuals only make 7-10 recipes on a daily basis. You're good to go once you have that many vegetarian dishes.
- Substitutions. Also, instead of using meat, consider utilizing a vegetarian replacement in your favorite dishes. So, if you like spaghetti or chili, for example, use a ground-beef replacement from Bocca or Morning Star and prepare it the same way you would usually. There are meat substitutes for almost any type of meat, and some of them are extremely tasty. You can continue to eat as usual, just without the meat.
- Begin with the red meat. I recommend making a gradual transition to vegetarianism... although you can do it all at once, I've found that a gradual shift works better for many individuals. There's no need to stop eating meat all at once. Try a few different dishes, and for the first week, eat one vegetarian dinner, then two the next, and so on. If you're going to do this, start with red meat because it's the least healthful.
- Then there are the other meats. Try cutting off pork for a couple of weeks after you've gone without red meat for a couple of weeks. Then remove the chicken and seafood. You'll barely notice the change if you use this two-week method (or three weeks or a month for each step if you want to proceed more slowly). I've discovered that I no longer want meats, despite the fact that I did for approximately a week.
- Take a look at dairy and eggs. There is no requirement for vegetarians to give up dairy or eggs if they are giving up meat. Make the decision that seems right to you. However, if you're going vegetarian for a time and want to take it a step further (in terms of health, the environment, and alleviating animal suffering), these meals are worth considering. For starters, they are frequently rich in saturated fat, particularly when compared to soy alternatives. It was simple for me to give up eggs because I've never been a big lover, but switching to soy milk took a few days to adjust to... and now I can't tolerate the taste of milk.
- Consider your staples. Making a list of the items you eat for breakfast, lunch, supper, sweets, and snacks is a good practice. Ingredients, not meals. After that, consider vegetarian options and create a fresh list. You might, for example, substitute tofu for chicken in a stir-fry meal. You should have no problem filling your fridge and pantry with a fresh list of basics.
- All at once. Some people prefer to eliminate meat from their diet entirely at once. While this requires a bit more dedication than the gradual approach I advise, it's actually not that difficult. Simply follow some of the procedures outlined above (finding recipes, substitutions, a new list of basics, and reading as much as possible), and then give it a go. It should only take a few days to get used to it, and after that you should have no problems. Once you've gotten used to not eating meat, the only difficulties you'll have to deal with are dining out, eating at other people's households, and other similar concerns. Continue reading to learn more about these topics.
- Protein in sufficient amounts. One popular misconception about vegetarianism is that you won't receive enough protein. Actually, meat eaters consume far more protein than they require. The average adult's protein needs are lower than most people believe. You'll be OK if you consume a diversified diet (not just junk food) that includes veggies, grains, beans, nuts, soy protein, and other foods. It would be difficult to devise a diet that included insufficient protein (the junk food example would be one). Another myth is that to receive full protein from plants, you need to eat multiple forms of protein at a single meal (or even a single day). In reality, as long as you eat a variety of proteins (such as those listed above) over a few days, you'll be good. And, like meat, soy protein is a complete protein.
- Junk food is what it is. Again, if you consume junk food, you may be a vegetarian and yet be unhealthy. Being a vegetarian does not give you permission to consume junk food (though you may certainly indulge a little more now that you aren't eating meat). For the most part, adhere to fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, soy protein, low-fat dairy, and other healthy meals.
- Ethnic cuisine. One of the best aspects of becoming a vegetarian is that it encourages individuals to explore new and fascinating ethnic dishes (or reminds them of foods they enjoy but don't eat frequently). Vegetarian meals may be found all over the world, from Italian pasta to various Indian dishes to spicy Thai cuisine, as well as Chinese, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Mexican, and South American cuisines. It may be fun to do a series of theme weeks, where you taste vegetarian cuisine from a specific region for one week and then travel the world eating other excellent ethnic foods.
14. Inform your friends and relatives. If you're serious about becoming a vegetarian, you'll need to talk to the individuals you care about. You'll still be eating with them at restaurants, at their homes, at social events, and at work, so it'll be better for everyone if they understand what you're doing (they might make a vegetarian dish for you, or you might bring one for them to taste) and why. Some people may have difficulty with it. Simply explain it to them without being defensive or combative, and beg for their patience (and maybe to give some of your food a try). Don't try to convert someone to vegetarianism or seem preachy, but if they're interested, offer them additional information.
15. Have a good time. Most importantly, don't make being a vegetarian a punishing process. You won't survive long if you feel like you're starving yourself. However, if you feel like you're helping others and eating new foods, you'll be more likely to continue with it for a longer period of time (for life, I hope). Enjoy yourself along the journey.
16. Prepare ahead of time. New vegetarians are frequently stymied by the fact that they go somewhere and don't consider what they'll eat. Going to a party or supper may be made much more enjoyable if you cook a delicious meal and bring it with you (let the host know about it first). If you pack a lunch or bring some snacks, an errand trip doesn't have to end with you famished at McDonald's.
17. Prepare ahead of time. Another issue arises when we don't have any vegetarian food on hand and must rely on whatever is most convenient (if we don't feel like eating or are too hungry to wait). Instead, make a huge pot of vegetarian chili or soup and keep it in the fridge for those times when you're hungry but don't have time to cook.
18. Snacks for vegetarians. Fruits and cut-up vegetables are my favorites, but there are plenty of other tasty snacks to choose from. Roasted (or raw) almonds, hummus with pitas or vegetables, blue corn chips and salsa, low-fat granola, berries with soy yogurt, whole-grain cereals, Kashi crackers... there are literally thousands of snacks to choose from. At home, at work, and on the road, have plenty on hand.
Restaurants that cater to vegetarians. On Guam, there is just one vegetarian restaurant, which is sadly closed on nights and weekends (it's a Seventh-Day Adventist restaurant, and it's fantastic). However, you may live in a region with a plethora of excellent vegetarian eateries. Give them a chance! You could come upon some delicious meal and thank your fortunate stars that you opted to try vegetarianism. Otherwise, most restaurants provide vegetarian alternatives or will prepare a vegetarian dish upon request.
20. Convenient vegetarian meals. You'll probably find a number of vegetarian dishes that can be microwaved in the frozen area of your store. You could try some of these (the Amy's brand is one of my favorites). Be aware that, like other convenience foods, these are more costly and, more importantly, less nutritious than home-cooked meals. However, you may find some rather nutritious dishes there as well. In any event, it's usually a good idea to keep a few convenience meals on hand in the freezer just in case.