Do you currently eat meat, but want to start eating a vegetarian diet? Cutting out meat can seem intimidating at first, but if you take it one step at a time, you will be a vegetarian in no time. Here are our top seven tips for going vegetarian for beginners:
Choose what type of vegetarian you want to be
If you are new to vegetarianism, you might not know that there are different ways to be a vegetarian. The three main types of vegetarian to know are:
- Lacto-ovo Vegetarian: eats both eggs and dairy as part of a vegetarian diet.
- Lacto Vegetarian: eats dairy but not eggs as part of a vegetarian diet.
- Ovo Vegetarian: eats eggs but not dairy as part of a vegetarian diet.
There is no single right way to be a vegetarian, so you can pick which one of these speaks to you the most. If you are new to a vegetarian diet, it is often easiest to start off as a lacto-ovo vegetarian so you are not trying to cut out eggs and dairy at the same time as meat. Then later, you can work on reducing your dairy and/or egg consumption if that is a goal of yours. Some vegetarians also try to eat low dairy diets, so they limit their consumption but do not totally eliminate all dairy products, which is also an option.
Decide if you want to ease into it or go cold turkey
A lot of people get very excited about vegetarianism and want to jump in with both feet — cutting out all meat products at once. While this works for some people, most find it easier to slowly ease into eliminating their meat consumption. For instance, they might go one day a week without meat, and then two days and so on until they are not eating any meat at all. Some people also cut out different types of meat at different times. Usually they eliminate red meat first, then white meat and finally fish until they are eating a completely vegetarian diet. Indeed, being pescatarian (eating a mostly vegetarian diet plus fish and other seafood) often serves as a stepping stone to going fully vegetarian.
Figure out how you will get your protein
Just because you are no longer eating meat, it does not mean that you can forget about your protein intake. Indeed, getting enough protein is one of the biggest concerns of a fully vegetarian diet. Explore different protein sources, including beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, tempeh, eggs and yogurt (if you eat dairy products). When meal planning for the week, try to incorporate a source of protein into at least your lunch and dinner — and breakfast as well if you can manage it. Eating enough protein will help you feel fuller for longer and help to ward off cravings for meat. If you miss the taste of meat and find these proteins a bit bland, use flavored vinegars, spices and other condiments to dress them up.
Prioritize your favorite produce
Eating more fruits and vegetables is an adjustment, especially if you were not doing a lot of that before you become a vegetarian. Make a list of fruits and vegetables that you enjoy eating and choose recipes that center around those so you will look forward to your meals. If there are certain vegetables that you really dislike (Brussels sprouts and eggplants are common), do not try to force yourself to eat them right out of the gate or it might put you off vegetarianism altogether. Once you feel adjusted to your new diet, try incorporating some new fruits and vegetables and preparing them in new ways to add variety to your diet, such as roasting them in olive oil or coating them in a spicy raw honey dressing.
Experiment with vegan meat substitutes
If you really struggle with cravings for meat, then trying out vegan or vegetarian meat substitutes can help bridge the gap without breaking your vegetarian diet. Keep in mind that these substitutes are not any healthier than their real meat counterparts and should only form a small portion of your overall diet. Instead, you should be trying to get the bulk of your protein from the other sources that we outlined above. However, occasionally eating these meat substitutes can help keep you from going back to meat and ensure that you are not left out at the next family barbecue or holiday meal.
Do not be a ‘french fry vegetarian.’
A “french fry vegetarian” is a term that refers to people who simply do not eat meat and instead load up on carbs — especially unhealthy carbs such as those delicious fried potato slices. When going vegetarian, you need to focus on eating an overall healthy diet and make sure that you are getting enough protein and healthy fats in addition to carbs. Furthermore, not all carbs are created equal. Some carbs, such as raw fruits and vegetables, are better for you than refined grains. When going vegetarian, make sure that you are not eating only unhealthy, refined, processed carbs and are instead getting a balanced diet.
Go easy on yourself
Going vegetarian is a huge life change, and it is normal to crave meat and even eat it occasionally in the early days — especially when you are traveling, at a friend’s house or in another situation where the food is not 100 percent under your control. When this happens, do not beat yourself up, and instead focus on all the other healthy changes you are making. Even if you never cut out meat completely, it will still have a big beneficial impact on your health as well as the environment, and that is what matters the most. If you have to eat meat a couple of times, you have not failed at being a vegetarian. It is just part of the journey.
Follow these steps and you will be eating a vegetarian diet before you know it. Good luck on your new dietary journey and remember to always keep the bigger picture in mind when going vegetarian!
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