“Veg Out” in 10 Easy Steps
We’re a decade into the new millennium, and going vegetarian has never been easier! Never before in human history have there been so many products for those of us wishing to avoid meat and animal-sourced foods. You may be surprised how easy it now is to find many popular vegetarian (and vegan!) options right on your supermarket’s shelves. And there are a variety of organizations eager to help you get started on the path to vegetarianism!
If you are interested in becoming a vegetarian, check out our top ten tips!
1. First, you must decide what kind of vegetarian you will be – based upon the types of foods that you do wish to eat.
The terms herbivore, omnivore and carnivore are often taken out of context and misunderstood. Instead, use terms which are very specific to help other people understand your choices.
- The most common type of vegetarian is the lacto-ovo variety. Lacto-ovo vegetarian people will eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, dairy products and eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat or fish. They also typically do not consume broth from animal foods, so if you decide to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian, make sure to ask about the broth before ordering the minestrone!
- From there, varieties of vegetarianism branch in many directions. Some are ovo-vegetarians, eating no animal-sourced foods other than eggs. Others are pescetarians, eating fish, but no meat, dairy or eggs. You can imagine the different varieties of vegetarianism, and choose for yourself.
2. Know the rules!
Make sure to read up on exactly what you can and cannot eat for the type of vegetarian diet you choose. This is especially important with the strictest variety of vegetarianism, called veganism. To be vegan (pronounced vee-gan) is to choose only plant-sourced foods – fruits & vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes. Vegan people may also choose to supplement with meat-like packaged foods as well as dairy substitutes. To truly qualify as vegan, processed foods cannot contain gelatin from animal sources (including sealife) or honey (as it is sourced from bee activity) in a dish or in a product. Vegans also choose not to purchase products containing silk protein (because it is sourced from silkworm activity), beeswax (again, sourced from bee activity), lanolin (a waxy substance which naturally occurs on sheep’s wool as a water repellent), collagen, animal fur (like boar-bristle hairbrushes) and skin (like leather), or natural sponges (as in loofah type). Either plant-sourced or synthetic materials are preferred for a vegan lifestyle. Alcohol must also be vegan, and vegan wine is becoming more accessible.
3. Go slow!
Going cold turkey (no pun intended!) and giving up all meat and other animal-sourced foods might seem like the best thing to do when you first decide to become a vegetarian. But many vegetarians suggest taking your time, so that you don’t get sick. Because your body is accustomed to getting many of its nutrients from animal-sourced foods, completely cutting them out all at once can cause a shock to your system. To become vegetarian takes time – so if you decide to do it, you must be careful not to rush into it.
4. Don’t become a “junkitarian”.
Many processed foods qualify as vegetarian, but that doesn’t make them healthy. As any smarter vegetarian knows, avoiding animal-sourced foods does not justify eating junk food. You will not feel healthier if you choose to become a “junkitarian”! Eating a wide variety of fresh, seasonal produce, nuts, legumes and grains is important. Here is what Whole Foods Market, a great resource for vegetarians, has to say about becoming a vegetarian:
“Good planning and forethought are essential. While it’s true that several key nutrients found primarily in animal products cannot be obtained as easily from plant-based foods, there are ways to maximize your absorption and utilization of these important vitamins and minerals.”
5. A nutritionist’s advice, and vitamin and mineral supplements, can help maintain balance.
You may not take supplements now, but it’s important to consider the need for supplements if you begin to transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Talk to someone at the vitamin supply store or supplement counter at your favorite natural foods store to learn more about what vitamins and minerals you may need to supplement when switching to a vegetarian diet. Do not skip this step! For example, B12 is a common supplement for the vegan diet because it is otherwise only found in fish, eggs and dairy – and B12 is crucial for the health of your nervous system. Because it is bound to the protein in foods and released into the bloodstream by our natural stomach acids, make sure to ask if you should take the supplement with protein-based foods.
A nutritionist is an important resource whenever you are making a change in your diet – especially a drastic change like converting to vegetarianism and especially veganism. What we eat affects everything in our bodies and it is important to have a professional’s help when choosing to make this major change.
6. Talk to others.
Whenever you make a major life decision, you talk to others about it, right? Friends and family who are there for you, no matter what – those are the ones to discuss this with. They can help you by lending an ear and being supportive. They may have advice for you. You never know what they’ll say – you might be surprised to learn that Aunt Mildred was a vegetarian in the 70’s when she shares her story, or that your best friend has been considering the same thing for a while and wants to try it with you. You will never know until you ask. And find people who have been living the vegetarian lifestyle for a while. They will have experience to speak from that will be helpful to you.
7. Be prepared to slip up.
You won’t like this, but the best advice for anyone considering a diet change is to be ready to accept mistakes. Don’t be hard on yourself if you give in to a meat craving. Don’t beat yourself up if you accidentally eat something that was made with eggs. There is no point in getting upset over spilled milk (another pun!), just make sure you understand what happened so that you can learn from it. Remember that you’re making a lifestyle change and it can be permanent. That means it won’t always go the way that you’ve planned. Let life happen and try not to worry about it too much.
8. Simply start cooking!
Cooking is going to be absolutely essential to living without meat and other animal-sourced foods. In order to get a necessary amount of nutrients and vitamins, vegetarians must have a wide variety of plant foods on their plates at each meal. It’s vital to health that various vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains and fruits are part of the diet. Knowing how to cook is going to make it much easier to access the nutrition needed for a healthy body on a vegetarian diet. If you’re unsure where to start, there are a plethora of cookbooks available aimed at vegetarians and vegans. Instead of spending money on new books, check the local library – chances are very high that you’ll find a vegetarian or vegan cookbook with an assortment of tasty recipes and easy instructions. Also, check out Vegetarian Times for a fabulous collection of vegetarian recipes!
9. Be careful to balance… and try new things!
One of the reasons to go slow when converting to a vegetarian lifestyle is to maintain balance. Relying too heavily on grains, soy-based foods, sugar-laden and processed foods can throw off your balance. You know better than to eat too much of one thing, no matter what diet you’re on – and a vegetarian or vegan diet is the same way. We all know that eating too many of the same kinds of foods can often lead to health problems. Variety is the key to balance. Want to know a secret? Make sure to stock your kitchen with color – red, green, yellow, orange and even purple! Fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and grains come in all shapes and sizes. So branch out and try something new!
10. Soaking & sprouting!
Have you ever experienced that indigestion or scratchy throat after eating raw almonds? Does consuming legumes leave you gassy and bloated? Switching to an all-plant diet means relying more heavily on these kinds of foods for protein. In order to get the most nutrition (and dramatically reduce an upset stomach), try soaking and sprouting grains, nuts and legumes. This is a traditional practice that is increasingly making a comeback. It’s easy to do and there are a variety of books and blogs that provide different techniques for different foods. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is and how much better you’ll feel when eating these foods.