Beginning your vegetarian journey can be daunting as there are hundreds of questions in your mind. From its effects on your health (and possibly your social life), having such concerns is understandable. In this guide we show you how to become vegetarian step-by-step and answer all of the important questions a beginner vegetarian might have.
How to Start Becoming Vegetarian
What type of Vegetarian Would You Become?
The most important thing to learn about vegetarianism is that there isn't just one type. As the number of vegetarians has increased worldwide, we have seen a lot of variety in what they consume.
Hence, vegetarianism has around 8 different diets today depending upon the inclusion or exclusion of certain foods. Before embarking on this, you should understand the type of vegetarian you want to become. Even if you are in no rush, it is still better to learn about these types as they will help you down the road.
Lacto-vegetarianism, or simply vegetarianism, is vegetarians' most common dietary preference. It doesn't involve any meat, but dairy products such as milk, yogurt, etc., are allowed. When people usually refer to vegetarianism, they are talking about Lacto-vegetarianism.
Lacto-Ovo-vegetarianism allows the consumption of dairy as well as eggs. Mostly, it is adopted by those who love eggs or don't want to compromise adequate protein intake.
Ovo-vegetarianism allows the consumption of eggs but restricts dairy and meat. It is a practical modification of vegetarianism for lactose intolerants who still want to consume adequate nutrients such as protein.
Pollotarianism refers to vegetarians who eat seafood but don't eat other types of meat such as beef, pork, poultry, etc. People adopt this diet for environmental, health, and personal reasons, such as their place of upbringing.
People brought up in coastal areas mostly rely on fish and other seafood and may not consume any other type of meat. Similarly, those who want to avoid bad fats would rely on the good fats found in fish.
Flexitarianism is for those who find the transition to vegetarianism daunting and want something flexible. It is a simple form of vegetarianism in which you can consume meat too. However, the overall consumption of meat should be reduced to smoothen the transition. Similarly, dairy products can be added or removed according to your preferences.
Lastly, veganism is a form of vegetarian diet which avoids all animal-based products. A further sub-type of veganism, raw veganism, involves eating only uncooked, raw fruits and vegetables.
Learn About the Ingredients
Surely, there will be days when you won't like the food cooked at home or don't feel like cooking yourself. You will need to head to the grocery store to buy processed food that you can readily consume on those days.
However, buying processed food is a daunting task, as you need to know the ingredients used in those products well. Sometimes, products mentioned as vegetarians contain animal-based ingredients that you should avoid.
However, uninformed vegetarians buy and consume them regularly. When buying food from the grocery store, make sure you read the ingredient list thoroughly and check out for the following ingredients:
Depending upon the type of vegetarian you are, you may tolerate some or most of these ingredients. For instance, lacto-vegetarians have no problem with dairy ingredients in their food.
Properly Plan Your Diet
Some vegetarians substitute their meals with pasta and call it a day, but that's bad and unhealthy diet planning. Going vegetarian is to improve your health, not to make it even worse. So, to gain maximum benefits from vegetarianism, you need to have a proper diet plan which takes care of your nutritional needs and improves your health.
A solid diet plan also controls your cravings as you eat your meals at proper intervals instead of following arbitrary eating patterns. Moreover, you will also need to adjust your family in your plans, as they might not be vegetarian and cook food that you cannot eat.
It is better to make a weekly diet plan where you know what your family is eating on a particular day at a particular time. If you know the schedule, you can plan ahead of it.
Make Vegetarian Friends
Many forget or underestimate the importance of having vegetarian friends. Switching to a vegetarian diet can be taxing on your body in many ways. You may feel anxiety because everybody around you isn't a vegetarian or unsatisfied because of poor meal planning.
In any case, having vegetarian friends can be a lifesaver strategy. They'll make the transition much easier for you as you can share your progress with them and take their advice if they're experienced.
Similarly, you can also exchange dishes and find out what works best. If other people around you aren't supportive, your vegetarian friends will stand with you and ensure that you keep moving successfully.
What to Eat
Many beginner vegetarians feel confused about their diet, as they don't know much about what to eat and what to avoid. Vegetarianism is much more than just eating plants and avoiding meat. It is also about consuming the important nutrients your body requires through a well-balanced diet.
From fruits to whole grains, vegetarians should eat many foods to meet their nutritional requirements and enjoy the variety that nature has provided them. Here's a detailed description of what should be on your list as a vegetarian.
Fruits & Vegetables for Fiber and Other Nutrients
Fruit and vegetables should form the bedrock of your vegetarian diet and must be eaten in adequate amounts. You should consume around 400g of fruits and vegetables divided into 5 80g portions every day to meet your nutritional requirements.
Fruits and vegetables provide healthy nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Similarly, they also contain phytochemicals and antioxidants. These nutrients found in fruits and veggies are highly beneficial for your health as they improve immunity, control cholesterol levels, reduce constipation, improve heart health, and counter diabetes.
In addition to that, eating fruits and vegetables will help you replace unhealthy foods high in fats and sugars. Similarly, high amounts of fiber in fruit fill you up for longer, helping you control your cravings and manage weight.
Starchy Foods for Energy
Starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, bread, etc., are an important part of the vegetarian diet. However, you shouldn't just rely on them and add some whole grain varieties wherever possible. Starchy foods provide energy and nutrients such as vitamin B, fiber, iron, and calcium.
Dairy, Pulses, and Eggs for Protein
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are excellent sources of important nutrients such as proteins, vitamin B12, vitamin A, and calcium. Those who don't like dairy products can try alternatives such as soy milk, oats drinks, etc. Try to consume milk and yogurt that are low in fat and have minimal amounts of sugars.
Pulses constitute a crucial section of vegetarian diets, including peas, beans, and lentils. This trio contains amazing nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals and is low in fat. Usually, vegetarians looking to fulfill their protein requirements rely on pulses as they have a good amount of protein inside them as far as plant-based foods are concerned.
However, there are other sources of protein that vegetarians can rely on, such as eggs, tofu, tempeh, etc. Besides that, nuts and seeds are also available for those who like the more conventional options. It's important to have multiple protein sources in your diet as you need different amino acids to form the right combinations.
Always try to consume unsaturated fats because they are much healthier than saturated fats. Some prominent vegetarian sources of unsaturated fats are sunflower oil and olive oil, and all those of saturated fats are butter, ghee, etc. However, fats are rich in calories, whether saturated or unsaturated, so they should be consumed with some caution.
Focus on Important Nutrients
Getting the important nutrients in the right amounts from vegetarian sources can be tough as sometimes they aren't available in the adequate amounts in what you eat or aren't absorbed as easily. Not planning your diet properly can result in deficiencies of some nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, etc.
Vitamin B12 is another important nutrient required for growth and general health. However, it is naturally found in animal products only. Adding a small amount of animal-based products to your diet can give you enough vitamin B12, but you might need to use a supplement if you avoid animal-based products altogether. Some quality vegetarian vitamin B12 sources are:
Omega-3 fatty acids
How to Reduce Meat in Your Diet
Planning is the key to reducing your dependency on meat and becoming a successful vegetarian. However, planning isn't just about adding a vegetarian meal here and there. It's also about ensuring that your meat replacements give you crucial nutrients such as protein and healthy fats.
Nobody becomes a vegetarian overnight, and neither should you try to become one. Take it easy and replace meat gradually. The most practical way of doing it is to go meatless one day a week. One important benefit of going slow is that you don't have to figure out what to eat too quickly.
Replacing meat for just one day in the beginning can be managed easily. Similarly, replacing all of the meat suddenly with plants creates a serious increase in your fiber intake, resulting in all sorts of issues such as bloating and gas. Going slow means your body can adjust to the change properly and isn't overwhelmed.
Start from the Breakfast
Breakfast is the easiest meal of the day where you can avoid meat altogether. In addition to that, replacing meat with veggies in the morning can give you the motivation to stick to your vegetarian diet throughout the day.
Luckily, there are excellent vegetarian breakfast options that you can try, such as oats with milk, fruit, and nuts. You can use non-dairy milk such as almond milk if you're vegan. Other breakfast options include pancakes with peanut butter, veggie burrito, scrambled tofu, etc.
Think About Adding, Not Reducing
Break the psychological barrier by thinking about all the food you're adding to your plate instead of constantly mourning the loss of meat from your diet. When you add lots of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods to your diet, you'll gradually forget about the lack of meat.
Slowly, plant-based foods will replace meat altogether. For instance, when making a pizza at home, you can always throw some more broccoli or spinach on it. Similarly, you can make sauces and soups that can make you forget about meat.
Try Tofu & Tempeh
The combination of tofu and tempeh can replace the meat in your diet. Although many people find both bland, it's not a bad thing. Being bland means you can add things to make them taste the way you like.
Extra-firm tofu is the best option for replacing meat as it has the most meat-like texture. Try different herbs, spices, and seasonings to make them as delicious as possible. You can put tofu in the oven and add it to sandwiches and salads.
Similarly, tempeh can serve as an excellent alternative to ground meat and poultry if you cook it well. Always make it golden and crisp, and add your favorite seasonings and chilies. Let it soak the goodness of all the ingredients slowly.
Utilize Lentils as Ground Meat
Lentils can be an excellent substitute for meat in your diet. Treat them as ground meat, and you'll see how they seamlessly fit in several of your favorite dishes, such as lasagna, stuffed peppers, etc. The quick-cooking lentils have an excellent texture that can replace ground meat and are rich in protein and iron.
Most people cook lentils in water. However, to get the maximum taste out of them, try cooking them in vegetable broth, and if you're left with some, store it in the freezer.
Get Help from Friends
Abandoning meat can be a tough decision because people all around you might be eating it non-stop. That's where your vegetarian friends come in. Try making friends who have also set themselves the goal of ditching meat and share your experience with them regularly.
It'll help you learn about the process and motivate and encourage you for the future. Similarly, they can also help you navigate the menus of different restaurants so that you get the best non-meat meals without too much effort.
What to Expect
After switching to vegetarianism, you can expect to see both physical and social changes, and both are important in their own right. Let's discuss them in detail here.
Improvement in Heart Health & Reduction in Cancer Risk
Similarly, the Omega-3 found in foods like flax seeds and canola oil has an anti-inflammatory effect on your body. Besides that, healthy fats inside nuts and seeds are also beneficial for your overall health.
Change in Bowel Movement
Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, improving bowel function and tackling problems like constipation. A vegetarian diet regulates your bowel function much better, resulting in regular bowel movements.
On the other hand, you might witness bloating and gas, especially initially. When you increase your fiber intake, it takes time for your body to adjust to it and manage it. However, some foods certainly increase the chances of bloating, such as cabbage, broccoli, peas, etc.
Avoid these problematic foods while consuming the rest if you have excessive bloating after becoming vegetarian. Staying hydrated is also crucial because it can negate the bloating effects of some fruits and vegetables.
Compromise in Social Interactions
After becoming vegetarian, you'll need to compromise to keep your social connections intact. You'll need to reevaluate your social interactions to learn how to accommodate others who don't share your worldview.
For instance, you may have to sweeten your tone a bit at gatherings to let others feel comfortable around you. Otherwise, they may think you're judging them based on their dietary choices.
Braving the Attitudes of Others
Some people may not be convinced with your vegetarianism and call it a fad for various reasons. Many vegetarians revert to their older diets after some time, so it is natural for people to be skeptical of your commitments.
However, you should try your best to stick to your convictions to prove them wrong. Similarly, many people think that animal-based foods are necessary because they provide nutrients that plant-based foods cannot. However, that's not true, as a vegetarian diet contains all your required nutrients. You can always use supplements if you're missing some important nutrient.
Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Vegetarianism — The Takeaway
Success in any journey depends on whether you're enjoying it or not. Once you start your vegetarian journey, it is important to enjoy it by experimenting with different dishes and learning something new every day.
And if you falter along the way, don't worry and keep moving. Find what works for you best and stick to it for a while to become a successful vegetarian.