Becoming a Vegetarian – Step by Step for Beginners
Whether you are new to the idea of being a vegetarian or becoming a vegetarian is something you have been thinking about for a while, it can be a bit overwhelming. This is especially true if you grew up in a meat culture and have a hard time imagining a meal that doesn’t contain meat.
While many believe being vegetarian is difficult, others are convinced you cannot opt for a meat-free existence and still be healthy. Neither of these is true.
Becoming a vegetarian does not have to be difficult and getting the nutrition you need and want is not hard either when you choose to be meat-free.
How Do You Start Becoming a Vegetarian?
Here, we’ll share with you our best tips for easing your transition to vegetarianism, including ways to rethink what you may already know about this lifestyle. Let’s examine the reasons you may have for wanted to cut meat from your diet.
First, though, a word of caution. Like any other approach to nutrition, though, being a vegetarian does not automatically equate to healthy eating. After all, there are tons of unhealthy foods that are meat-free. Cake, beer, French fries, and Oreos are all meatless, but if your diet is made up of only these things, you will not be getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
So, just like with any other way of eating, it is still vital as a vegetarian to:
- pay attention to what you are eating,
- how much you are eating,
- what nutrients your body needs. (Source)
Choosing vegetarianism does have benefits. Some of these may help you decide to take the plunge and completely eliminate all sources of meat from your diet.
Making a significant lifestyle change can be difficult. If you are not clear with yourself about why you are doing it, it may be difficult to sustain such a big shift. Knowing what is important to you will help you stick with your decision. Here are our favorite reasons for becoming meat-free.
What are the benefits of being vegetarian?
1. You Can Improve Your Health
Diets high in red meat and other sources of animal protein are also higher in cholesterol and saturated fat, which are not good for your heart. Vegetarians, in general, have lower incidences of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases. (Source)
When you choose a healthy, meat-free diet, you are likely eating healthier fats and foods that are lower in fat, and you can see improvements in many aspects of your health. Unless you choose to overdo sugar, desserts and pasta, a plant diet is naturally lower in calories.
2. Fewer Animals Will Suffer
Animal rights and advocacy are a significant reason many people choose to stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy. We won’t go into all the gory details here, but many excellent documentaries and books chronicle the treatment of animals who are raised to feed people.
Suffice it to say, their lives are usually not pleasant, to say the least. Besides dying to feed humans, most feed animals are treated very poorly from the minute they are born. By eliminating meat from your diet, you are reducing your involvement in these inhumane practices.
Understanding where your food comes from, how it is raised, and how it ends up on your table is a significant reason many opt to become vegetarian.
3. Your Food Will Likely Be Safer
Food poisoning affects millions each year, and meat and animal products are a significant source of food-borne pathogens. Meat is an excellent environment for breeding bacteria. Restaurants and grocery stores do not always handle these products properly. That is leading to increased health risk for people.
While becoming a vegetarian will not eliminate these types of pathogens from your diet, your risk will be significantly lowered. (Source)
4. Your Impact on the Earth Will Decrease
The amount of land and water that is used for raising livestock as well as the feed that keeps livestock alive is staggering. The impact of livestock waste on our waterways is also astounding.
When you chose to stop eating meat, your carbon footprint is reduced significantly. You are no longer contributing to this unhealthy system that has severe negative effects on our planet.
5. You Can Eat More Nutrients
When you replace meat with healthier, plant-based options (vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruit), you are eating more nutrient-dense food. It will benefit your body in many ways. These foods contain more fiber, which is beneficial to your digestive and immune systems. You are getting more vitamins and minerals that animal-based foods alone can offer.
So, you are finally ready to take the plunge and become a vegetarian. How do you even begin? What’s the best way to start? Here are some helpful tips that can make your transition smooth, tasty, and healthy.
How Do You Start a Healthy Vegetarian Diet? [12 Tips]
Vegetarian Tip #1. Start with a few meatless nights a week
Instead of changing everything about all the foods you eat at once, start with a slow transition. Take one or two nights a week to make a conscious choice to abstain from meat. Use these as opportunities to explore and try new recipes.
While some enjoy creating meat-free versions of their all-time favorites, others enjoy trying something new. But, start simply and build from there. After a few meatless nights, try modifying your lunches for a week, then adding more meat-free days to the mix. Before long, meat will be completely eliminated from your diet.
When you start eliminating meat from your diet, try eliminating beef and pork first. These tend to be the unhealthiest of the meats, and you are still left with many choices from poultry and marine animals. Once you’ve gone without cows or pigs in your life for a bit, eliminate another group of animals, whichever you feel more confident you can live without.
Finally, over time, you will have eliminated all sources of animal flesh from your diet. Making a big change is a lot easier when it is just a series of many small changes combined together, and becoming a vegetarian is no different. (Source)
Vegetarian Tip #2. Become more educated about vegetarianism
- Visit your local library,
- talk with friends who are meat-free,
- consider watching a documentary or cooking show focused on being a vegetarian.
It’s important to understand how skipping meat can affect your nutritional needs. Learn what are the best sources for all the macro- and micro-nutrients your body needs. (Source)
Vegetarian Tip #3. Pick a new grain, bean, or vegetable each week to try
One of the critical points about eliminating meat is you need to find quality sources of protein that you enjoy eating. Nearly every food has some amount of protein. It is very rare for anyone in the US to have an actual protein deficiency. Getting the right amount of high-quality protein can make a difference in how you feel and how much energy you have.
Beans, whole-grains, and vegetables are excellent sources of protein. If you’ve never eaten quinoa, wheat berries, teff, or adzuki beans (to name a few), you are missing out of some delicious sources of protein in your diet. Pick a new food to try each week. Experiment tofind new sources you enjoy eating that match your protein needs.
This is a process, so be patient. Not everything you make will be a hit, and you may make some things that you really don’t like. That’s okay because you don’t know until you try. When you try a new food or recipe, be sure to keep notes on what you liked (and didn’t like) about it, so you know for next time. You will slowly add to your repertoire of foods and recipes, and you’ll be exploring new territory with each attempt.
Vegetarian Tip #4. Explore new cuisines
Once you make the leap into eating no meat, you start to realize there are whole cultures for whom vegetarianism is the norm. Countries like India, Thailand, Taiwan, Jamaica, Singapore, and Israel have rich culinary histories that include many non-meat dishes.
Learn how other countries approach vegetarianism by:
- eating out at new restaurants,
- taking a few cooking classes,
- trying new recipes from unfamiliar cuisines.
Once you’ve tasted how great meat-free eating can be, you’ll feel more confident about cooking for yourself and trying new foods, too.
Mexican, Italian, and Chinese restaurants have excellent vegetarian options, but you may not have even noticed these before. The next time you eat out, opt for a meatless meal you’ve never tried. (Source)
Vegetarian Tip #5. Look for replacements for things you think you’d really miss
Once you’ve started avoiding meat on a more regular basis, you may begin to crave a few of your old favorites. It’s okay to want some of those comfort foods still but being to consider a meatless substitute that will keep you satisfied without needing to eat meat.
There are some excellent meat substitutes on the market today, as well as protein alternatives like tempeh and seitan that offer meat-like texture without the animal flesh. Try a few until you find one that satisfies your desire.
Vegetarian Tip #6. Make new lists
Consider all the dishes and foods you usually eat in an average week. Make a list of these foods, including all you eat regularly for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts. Think beyond the meal as a whole to the actual ingredients you use in each dish. Now, for every animal product on that list, consider a plant-based alternative. Some swaps are simple, like substituting vegetable broth for chicken. Instead of chicken in your next dish, what about mushrooms or tofu?
As you run out of your old pantry and refrigerator staples, make some changes in what you purchase. Make a new list of all the foods you will need to prepare meals for the next week. Start restocking your pantry and refrigerator one ingredient at a time. (Source)
Vegetarian Tip #7. Decide for yourself how you will approach eggs and dairy
Not all vegetarians agree on eating eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products. You must make the choice that works best for you and is aligned with your reasons for choosing vegetarianism in the first place. Vegans abstain from all animal products, including honey and products made from leather.
Vegetarians must decide for themselves if they will continue to drink milk, eat cheese or eggs, or purchase products containing any animal products at all. Do what makes sense for you.
Vegetarian Tip #8. Understand your protein needs
A lot of people have misconceptions about how much protein you need and what foods actually contain protein. Most people who eat meat consume more protein than they need. By eating a varied diet that is rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based sources, you will get plenty of protein as well as all the other macro-nutrients you need.
If you are concerned with getting what is known as “complete proteins” in every meal? Rest assured that this is not necessary. Eating the type of varied diet described above will give you all the amino acids you need across your day and week to support your body’s health.
If you are at all concerned that you will not be getting the protein or other nutrients you need from a vegetarian diet, educating yourself will be an important part of your process. Again, information is power, so read, watch, and discuss sources about vegetarianism, and talk with your doctor or a nutritionist if you are in doubt. (Source)
Vegetarian Tip #9. Keep a journal about your journey
Making a significant lifestyle change can be difficult. Write about your experiences and how you are feeling along the way. That can be very helpful for maintaining your focus and motivation toward becoming a vegetarian.
Record how you are physically feeling, if you are noticing any struggles or cravings, and how your new approach to eating is affecting your mental attitude or energy levels. It’s helpful if you begin this process before you make the transition, as it will give you some good comparisons later, to help you determine what adjustments, if any, you may need to make.
Vegetarian Tip #10. Watch out for nutrient deficiencies
While it is less common than most think, some who opt for a vegetarian lifestyle can become deficient in one or more essential nutrients, especially iron and B12. Women are especially susceptible to iron deficiency. If you notice you are feeling muscle weakness or overall fatigue when you start eliminating meat, be sure to pay attention. Signs of anemia and other deficiencies should be noted and addressed.
This is another reason why educating yourself about being a vegetarian is essential. You may not realize which foods are the best sources of iron or B12. Eating foods with high concentrations of Vitamin C can help you absorb iron better, so reading about nutrition is vital.
Your journal can really help you stay on top of how you are feeling. You can analyze and address any possible deficiencies through your diet or by adding a nutritional supplement if needed.
Vegetarian Tip #11. Share with others what you are doing
Talk about your choices and the reasons behind them with those you love. This will help reiterate to yourself why you chose this lifestyle, and it will help others understand why you have made this change.
There is no need to try to “convert” others to your decision nor be defensive about why you are choosing a new approach to eating. So, don’t approach these conversations as argumentative. But, if people ask, feel free to talk about becoming a vegetarian is people express interest.
If someone regularly or even occasionally cooks for you, you will want to let them know if your new eating habits, as well. If they are in doubt as to how to modify their cooking to fit your needs, offer to give them recipes or even to cook a meal for them. Help them see how tasty and fun meat-free cooking can be.
Vegetarian Tip #12. Practice, like any other new habit
The only way to start being a vegetarian is to start being a vegetarian. Whether you commit to it fully from day one or build up slowly to a meat-free lifestyle, you just have to make a choice and start. Be sure to revisit frequently why you made this choice, what is working, and what needs to change so that you can make adjustments that will fit your needs.
Like anything new and important in your life, you will have setbacks. You’ll slip from the meat-free wagon in the beginning. Tomorrow is a new day, and you can decide to recommit yourself as many times as you need to this new way of eating. Just remember that it’s your journey and stay focused on the many reasons you chose this path in the beginning.
How to Go Vegetarian While Eating At Home or Out?
When your diet involves any type of restriction, whether it be meat, gluten, dairy, or something else, it makes cooking and eating out a little more challenging than for those who eat anything and everything. Here are some helpful tips that will help you get by in the kitchen better as well as navigate the sometimes meat-heavy world of eating out.
Have a Plan
For those who are transitioning or are already vegetarians, it can be challenging to find something to eat if you have not thought ahead for the situation. For example, if you are going to friends for dinner or your office is having a party, it can be stressful not to know if there will be anything there you can eat.
Prepare a vegetarian dish to bring or ask what is going to be served, so you can ensure you can partake. For parties, it may also be helpful to eat a small meal or large snack before you go, just in case you are stuck not being able to partake.
When you are going to be out running errands or away from someplace where you can prepare your own food, take a lunch or snack with you, so you don’t end up in a drive through with no options for a meal.
Having a plan for your nightly meals as well as your lunches is also very helpful. While there are more vegetarian ready-made meals now than ever before, many of these are not always healthy choices, so preparing food ahead of time that you can easily grab and go is helpful.
Cooking large batches of rice, beans, soup, or other meal staples, or making a large salad you can enjoy all week, are great ways to cut meal-prep time and still have plenty of healthy options for your meals.
Don’t Forget Snacks and Convenience Foods
It’s a good idea to always be well-stocked with plenty of meat-free snacks at home and work. Create a draw in your refrigerator and a shelf in your pantry dedicated to healthy snacks. That way you will never have an excuse to reach for something unhealthy or that contains meat.
There are many different meat-free convenience foods today, including frozen foods and refrigerated options. While some of these are not the healthiest choices, it’s nice to have something for when your time is really pressed, and you just need to get a meal on the table.
From ready-made meals to meat-free substitutes for burgers, chicken nuggets, and much more, the options for herbivores are more plentiful than ever, so why not test a few out?
Seek Out Vegetarian Restaurants
One of the easiest ways to try new recipes and food options is to go to a place that specializes in meat-free cooking. While not all towns will have many choices for vegetarian fare, it’s highly likely yours has more than you think. Try out a few and test out specialties and ingredients that maybe you haven’t tried before or are interested in making for yourself. You will likely be pleasantly surprised at how exciting and varied vegetarian food can be in the hands of a skilled chef.
When eating at restaurants that don’t have a specific vegetarian focus, ask about making substitutions or alterations to dishes on the menu to make them vegetarian. Most places are happy to accommodate, and it’s always worth trying. (Source)
Have a Back-Up Plan
When you cook for yourself, you have complete control over your meal and ingredients. It’s easier to maintain a new lifestyle choice like vegetarianism under those circumstances. When you are going out to eat or visiting family or attending an event, it’s hard to know what you’ll be able to eat and what your options may be. There will be times when it feels like there is nothing you can eat, and these are the times that test your resolve to continue with this lifestyle.
You can’t always have a plan, but you can make the best of any situation. Here are three suggestions for these sticky situations that can help you stick to your plan and also be able to eat.
- Always carry a shelf-stable snack that will tide you over. This could be a protein bar or bag of nuts. Make sure there is always an option in your bag or car that will help you out of a jam when needed.
- When possible, inform your host ahead of time so they know you have different needs. This will help them be a better host and will ensure you won’t leave starving.
- If food is already prepared, and there are not options for you, ask to talk to the staff. Many times, there are things they can make using ingredients they already have. Most people will at least attempt to offer you something if you explain your situation.
Why You Should Become Vegetarian? [Conclusion]
If you approach vegetarianism as a new way of eating that is exciting and healthy, you will be more successful than if you approach it as depriving and restrictive. Instead of focusing on what you cannot eat as a vegetarian, instead, focus on all the new foods that this lifestyle is exposing you to. This will help you stick with these significant changes and commit fully to a meat-free life.
There are plenty of unhealthy food choices that are also free of meat. It’s still up to you to make the best decisions for your nutritional and energy needs. Focus on eating whole foods that are plant-based, with occasional indulgences in processed and packaged products.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, either. When eating out, you are not likely to really know every single ingredient in your dish. And anything that makes up less than a percent or two of your meal is just not worth stressing over.
At home, you can control your food to a more significant extent. When eating out, try to focus on what matters most. Don’t worry so much if your mushroom was cooked on the same grill as a burger.
These are the moments that cause others to really dislike vegetarians. Set a good example of saving animals and the planet without making a scene every time you go out to eat.
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