Becoming a vegetarian or vegan is not an easy thing to do, especially if you are used to incorporating meat in your diet your whole life. This article is the ultimate “becoming vegetarian blog” guide for beginners who are considering cutting off meat from their diet.
A study shows that there is an increase of 300% for the last 15 years of Americans following a plant-based diet. Currently, there are about 9.6 million or 3% of the population in the United States.
Why do people choose to become vegetarians?
There are several reasons why people opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet. This includes the following.
Our parents have a huge influence on our diet. They are our first dieticians and they guide us on what we should and should not eat. Our parents imposed what dietary customs we should follow, and there are parents who choose that their children should become vegetarians.
Religious or other beliefs
Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism are just some of the religions that discourage their followers from eating meat. This is their way of promoting non-violence and helps them with their spiritual development.
People who have existing ailments or chronic diseases choose to go vegetarian because of the health benefits this lifestyle offers. Vegetarians have a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and they reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.
Concern over animal rights or the environment
Most vegetarians have compassion for animals and the environment. They believe that animals are like humans and that they have their rights deserve to have their best interests taken into consideration. For them, we should not take advantage of animals for selfish human needs, i.e., food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment.
Also, raising animals for human consumption has negative effects on our environment. An excessive amount of water and methane from raising animals or animal agriculture contributes to global warming.
Research suggests that vegetarians save at least $750 a year than a meat-eater. Meat can be an expensive source of protein. Vegetarians combine protein from plants with grain products to add amino acids into their diet.
Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
As previously mentioned, some people opt to adopt a vegetarian diet to address health concerns. The fact is that you don’t have to have a specific health condition for you to enjoy the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Below are some of the healthful effects of observing a vegetarian diet:
Studies have shown that vegetarians are less likely to acquire heart disease compared to meat-eaters. That’s because meat may contain a lot of saturated fats that are bad for overall heart health. Conversely, plant-based foods are more likely to contain high amounts of soluble fibers that contribute to a healthy heart.
Choosing foods that are high in soluble fiber can help decrease your cholesterol levels and make you less likely to suffer a heart attack. When going vegan, go for the foods that contain the following:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and legumes
- Fruits and vegetables
In the year 2020, about 1.8 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a ruthless disease that can be very painful and may cost you your life. Consuming large amounts of fruits and vegetables can help decrease the likelihood of cancer, according to various studies. In fact, there are fruits that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants called superfoods that claim to have the ability to fight off cancer.
A healthy adult should consume about five servings of fruit and vegetables a day to meet the health and cancer-busting benefits of these food-types. Going vegetarian makes it easier for a person to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables because it will likely become the main component of their diet.
Control type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease characterized by increased blood sugar. This condition makes you more prone to diseases such as eye damage, kidney problems, and poor wound healing. Many people with type 2 diabetes find that it is easier to keep their blood sugar under control with a vegetarian diet.
For as long as you maintain a diet with foods that have a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, legumes, and leafy greens, you will have no trouble controlling your blood sugar; although, you might have to limit your intake of sweet fruits such as ripe mangoes. For people who do not have diabetes, a vegetarian diet is also ideal if you want to prevent developing the condition in the first place.
Lower blood pressure
One of the ways a vegetarian diet prevents heart disease is by lowering blood pressure. People with hypertension or high blood pressure usually have the condition because their blood vessels become clogged with fat that comes from an unhealthy diet that is rich in fat, usually found in animal products and meat. It does not help that meat products usually contain high amounts of salt, which can cause your body to accumulate more fluid, therefore further increasing your blood pressure.
If you consume plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, they can clean up your system and “unclog” your blood vessels, resulting in better blood pressure. Having healthy blood pressure makes sure that your other organs, especially your heart, are in good shape.
Fewer asthma attacks
People who suffer from asthma may also experience some alleviation in terms of the gravity of their symptoms and the frequency of attacks. A Swedish study, in particular, pointed out that out of 24 subjects, 22 of them reported fewer attacks and less dependency on medication for their asthma after sticking to a vegan diet for a year.
A theory that explains this is that meat and other animal products may contain more allergens or inflammation-triggering substances as opposed to plant-based foods. Since asthma is an inflammatory response in the airways, it only follows that consuming less inflammatory foods (such as meat and animal products) lessens the occurrence of asthma attacks.
It is now a debate that animal products can force calcium out of the bones. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, drinking too much milk can actually make your bones brittle instead of stronger, making you more prone to osteoporosis and fractures.
Although it is true that milk and cheese are rich in calcium, there are vegetarian alternatives to fill up your calcium needs, such as green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini, and fortified foods such as bread, tofu, and plant-based milk.
Types of vegetarian diets
According to an article in Vegetarian Nation, America’s hub for all things vegetarian and vegan, there are seven types of vegetarianism.
This type of vegetarian diet means that you don’t eat any meat, poultry, or fish. They also don’t consume any of those animal products like eggs, broths, gelatin, honey, cheese, milk, and so on.
2. Lacto vegetarian
This diet is a variation of vegetarianism that excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products but includes certain dairy products such as cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.
3. Ovo vegetarian
Ovo vegetarianism is the contrast to Lacto vegetarianism. This diet allows you to consume eggs, but not dairy products.
4. Lacto-ovo vegetarian
This is probably the most common type of vegetarian. This diet excludes meat, fish, and poultry but includes dairy and eggs.
5. Pescatarian (Pescetarian)
Pescatarians do not consume red meat but incorporating seafood into their diet as the main source of protein.
This diet is considered semi-vegetarian. A proletarian does exclude meat, fish, and seafood consumption but includes poultry in their diet.
Flexitarianism has a less strict diet pattern. This diet encourages eating mostly plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal products consumption in moderation.
Ingredients to watch out for
Not all non-meat foods are vegetarian or vegan-friendly. This is especially true for vegans since they avoid not only meat products but also all animal-derived products. Here are a few ingredients you should watch out for the next time you do your grocery shopping.
Gelatin is an odorless, colorless gelling agent that usually comes from animal collagen extracted by boiling animal bone. It is a common ingredient in jelly-products such as gelatin, marshmallows, fruit snacks, and jelly or gummy candies.
These candies may appear like they do not have any animal product in them because they obviously do not contain any meat. However, if you take a closer look at the ingredients, you will quickly see the animal-derived gelatin at the top of the list.
Honey is yet another animal-derived product that strict vegans avoid. It is a common ingredient found in supermarkets sold in bottles or incorporated into sweets like candies and baked goods. If you are still open to consuming animal products except for meat, honey is a safe ingredient. However, if you want to avoid all animal products at all costs, you will want to steer clear of honey and beeswax.
Honey and beeswax are both used in cosmetic products as well. Although beeswax is not technically food, it is a product of bees that make up the structure of a honeycomb, thus technically making it an animal product.
Casein comes from cow or sheep milk, although people usually classify it as a non-dairy product. It is a key ingredient in the production of cheese and other products such as soy cheese and coffee creamer.
Vegetarians may still consume casein, but vegans prefer not to since it is still animal-sourced. If you want to become a vegan or observe a strict vegan diet, watch out for this ingredient which may appear on ingredients lists as “casein,” “caseinate,” or “sodium caseinate”.
Whey is a byproduct of cheese-making. When making cheese from milk, the solid particles which make up the cheese separate from the fluid which makes up the whey. It is a cloudy liquid that separates from the cheese curds in the production process of cheese. It is a common ingredient used to make bread and some candies. Whey is rich in protein, so it is a common ingredient in protein supplements such as protein shakes.
If you are a vegan, you need to be more aware when buying packaged bread products or baked goods. Usually, packaged loaves of bread use l. cysteine as a dough conditioner. This particular ingredient is sourced from human hair or feathers, thus making it a non-vegan ingredient. Be sure to check the ingredient list on the bread packaging whenever you are buying white or even wheat bread.
Isinglass is used in clarifying beer or wine. It comes from fish bladders, thus making it a non-vegan ingredient. Although it comes from fish, it does not leave your beer or wine with a fishy taste, and so it can be hard to tell if your beverage was filtered with isinglass.
To know for sure, check with the distillery or the winery to verify that they use a different and vegan-friendly clarifying process. Usually, distilleries and wineries have their own website listing their product ingredients.
You might be concerned that you might not meet all the nutritional needs you have with just a plant-based diet. Fortunately, there are plant-based alternatives for just about any needs you might have when foregoing meat. Taste-wise, and when it comes to ingredients, you will also find a lot of substitutes that will suit your palate just as well as meat-based products.
Meat protein substitutes
The primary nutrient that you gain from meat is protein, so you might be concerned that if you cut out meat from your diet, you might lose all your protein. This could not be farther from the truth as there are a bunch of meat substitutes you can try to maintain your protein intake.
To substitute for meat, fish, and poultry, you can instead opt for tempeh, tofu, lentils, mushroom, seitan, textured vegetable proteins, and even jackfruit.
Vitamin B12 substitutes
Another nutrient you need from meat products is vitamin B12. This particular vitamin is responsible for helping the body produce more red blood cells, therefore preventing anemia. If your intake of meat is low, you might have an increased risk of developing anemia.
Fortunately, there are some substitute ingredients that are rich in vitamin B12 sources. If you are ovo-lacto vegetarian, eggs, milk, and cheese are great sources of vitamin B12. Cheeses include Swiss, cottage cheese, mozzarella, gruyere, brie, cheddar, provolone, fontina, feta, and gouda.
However, if you are strictly vegan, eggs and milk may not be applicable to you. The good news is that there are a lot of vegan ingredients that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as nutritional yeast, soy burgers, meatless lunch slices, and fortified plant-based kinds of milk such as soy, oat ad almond milk.
You can commonly source your Omega-3 from fatty fish. It is a fatty acid that helps in maintaining cardiovascular health and immunity. It helps ward off heart disease and control conditions like eczema. It is also an essential fatty acid that is essential for brain development.
Even if you no longer eat fish or other seafood, there are other plant-based alternatives you can try to meet your Omega-3 needs. Seeds such as chia, flaxseed, and hemp are all good sourced of this fatty acid. You can also drizzle a bit of flaxseed oil or rapeseed oil to fortify your salads with Omega-3. Alternatively, you can simply snack on walnuts are they contain 2.5 grams of Omega-3 for every ounce.
Cheese may not be meat, but since it is animal-based, it is a restricted ingredient among vegans. Luckily, cheese is often just an add-on ingredient to a meal, such as a topping for extra flavor. You don’t really need it to fill you up. However, you might miss the flavor or texture of cheese.
Instead of succumbing to temptation and reaching for that bar of Parmesan, sprinkle some fortified nutritional yeast on your pasta instead. Soy and cashew also have similarities that make them acceptable cheese substitutes. Alternatively, you can make your own or look for aquafaba-based cheeses if you want something richer like mozzarella cheese.
Beef, chicken, or fish stock is a staple in every home pantry. Unfortunately, they also are animal-based products as manufacturers make them by boiling animal parts for prolonged periods to extract that meaty umami flavor.
If you are going to make a soup or stew and need a good broth to wet it, simply using hot water will have to do. If you want something that packs a bit more flavor, good vegetable stock is best. You can make your own vegetable stock by boiling carrots, celery, onion, and other spices to make it more flavorful. You can even add in some mushrooms for a deeper and earthier flavor.
Nowadays, there are so many milk substitutes that do not contain any animal dairy. The most popular beverages that substitute for milk are soy milk and almond milk. A growing number of plant-based dieters are also looking into oat milk as a milk substitute. The common denominator between these beverages is that they are whitish and thick in consistency, somewhat mimicking that of cow’s milk.
Eggs for baking
If you are a fan of baked goods, or if you like baking, you might be worried that you may not be able to let go of eggs since it is one of the most fundamental ingredients in making pastries. The great news is that there are several options to choose from when it comes to egg substitutes.
You can replace one egg with a tablespoon of ground flax meal or chia seeds mixed with warm water. You will notice that once the seeds and the water combine, it will form a runny gel-like substance with a consistency that is close to egg whites.
Another substitute for eggs would be purees of silken tofu, ripe banana, sweet potato, or applesauce.
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own egg, you can simply look for an egg replacer or egg substitute that is readily available in supermarkets.
How to become a vegetarian: A beginner’s guide
If you want to become a vegetarian without too much trouble, follow these tips:
1. Have a concrete reason why you should go vegetarian
As mentioned earlier, becoming vegetarian is hard, and you would not probably stick with it for too long if you are not serious about it. Therefore, you must have a good reason why you want to become a vegetarian and stay committed to the chosen lifestyle. You may consider the reasons mentioned in this article’s previous section.
You need to read and do thorough research about the vegetarian lifestyle before you start. This is because this lifestyle will affect your health and the overall way you will live your life.
3. Gradually phase the meat out of your diet
A shocking change is effective for some people to help them get out of their old habits. But the most effective way you can do to stop eating meat is to transition smoothly. You can start by eliminating meat from your diet, followed by poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.
You can also start by becoming flexitarian, then transition to becoming a proletarian, pescatarians, Lacto-Ovo vegetarian, Ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, until you become a vegan.
4. Swap ingredients
You can still cook your favorite meal by substituting the meat ingredients with vegetarian meat substitutes.
Here are simple ingredient swaps for vegan options:
- For your protein sources like meat, poultry, or fish, you can swap those ingredients with tofu, mushrooms, lentils, jackfruit, tempeh, seitan, and textured vegetable protein (TVP).
- Substitute beef or chicken stock or broth with vegetable stock or broth.
- Need milk? Use soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, and flax milk instead.
5. Find good vegetarian recipes
The secret for enjoying vegetarian meals is finding a good vegetarian recipe that your palette will truly enjoy.
These days, you don’t need to buy a bunch of vegetarian recipes/cookbooks, although it can still be an option because you can find a lot of vegetarian recipe resources online.
It can be overwhelming at first to find a recipe that you will like, especially when you are not familiar with how a certain vegetable tastes like. But you don’t have to pressure yourself so much in finding the right recipe. Just find some recipes that look appealing to you and give it a try. You could try one vegan recipe a week, and when you liked it, add it to your vegan recipe collection.
6. Resist temptation
You might find that at the beginning of your vegetarian jersey, you encounter a lot of temptations. This is totally normal as you are still getting accustomed to plant-based foods while still remembering the taste of some of your favorite meat-based meals.
The good news is that there are now so many vegan and vegetarian alternatives that you can reach for whenever you feel your craving kick in. There are shops that sell vegan burgers and supermarkets where you can find vegetarian chicken nuggets, meat substitutes, and even vegan ice creams.
The key to resisting temptation once you decide to go vegan is to focus on new and exciting vegan dishes that you haven’t tried yet instead of the old favorites that you crave. This will shift your focus on widening your vegan menu so that you have more options for different cravings such as spicy foods, international cuisine, and desserts.
What if you slip?
It is sometimes inevitable to “fall off” a vegetarian diet either by accident, or you just could no longer resist the temptation, or there was no other vegan option available. Don’t beat yourself up over a slip-up. Remember the main reason why you started your vegetarian diet and pick yourself back up again. Was it to experience better health? Help minimize the world’s meat and animal product consumption?
Remember that it does not take just one chocolate bar to gain weight. It is the daily habit of eating too much unhealthy and processed sugars that can do that. The principle is the same for vegetarianism. Take things one meal at a time, and you’ll be surprised how the diet is no longer just limited to the food you eat but extends to your entire lifestyle.
Must-try Vegetarian Recipes for New Vegetarians
Here are a few vegetarian recipes that are quick and easy enough for new vegetarians to try. These are also recipes that are top-rated by other vegetarians, so you can be assured that they taste great.
If you like eggs on toast for breakfast, you might be worried that you won’t be able to have your daily morning welcome once you let go of eggs. This recipe substitutes eggs with tofu, so you still get your fill of protein on top of your toast. You can choose to finely mash the tofu or keep it chunky, depending on how you usually like your eggs. It is a hearty first meal of the day that will fill you up and give you a much-needed energy boost in the morning.
If you think vegetarian diets and salads are all green and boring, you obviously haven’t tried this salad yet. It is a filling and flavor-packed salad of corn, black beans, and feta (dairy-based). It also contains avocadoes, tomatoes, and spring onions to make things even more interesting with the added flavors and textures that you can experience in every single bite.
You’ll be surprised at how filling this salad is. The corn and beans are high in fiber, and the avocado and tomatoes fill you in with healthy fat and vitamins.
Don’t be intimidated by the exotic-sounding name of this dish. It is simply a squash curry that uses coconut cream and coconut milk instead of the usual heavy cream. This vegetarian dish is appropriate even for your full vegan friends as it does not contain any milk, unlike other curries. It is a hearty dish that you can spice up to your liking and will fill you and warm you up. It is a perfect dinner stew for colder seasons because of its spiciness and thick consistency.
One of the things that you would not have to worry about letting go of when you venture into vegetarianism is pasta. Of course, you should not eat too much of it as it will overload you with carbohydrates and, over time, contribute to weight gain, but having pasta in moderation will fill you up without costing too much.
This recipe is easy to make because it eliminates the tedious process of having to layer the lasagne and baking it after cooking the filling. All you need to do is simply top the cooked lasagne with the yummy leek and pea mixture, and your dinner is ready.
Just like pasta, noodles are also accepted in vegetarian and vegan diets. That is why you would not have to miss out on your favorite Japanese-inspired ramen bowl even if you decide to go vegan. Even without the meat, you will still be able to savor the umami of an authentic ramen soup with the dried mushrooms and miso paste in this recipe. It may take a few extra steps, but assembling this vegan dish is definitely worth it.
If you want something to want your belly before hitting the pillow, this rich bowl of spiced carrot and lentil soup will do just that. It takes under half an hour to prepare, and you can even make it with a slow cooker. This soup recipe is high in iron and low in fat.
A burger is usually fat and filling. However, this vegetarian falafel burger recipe maintains the filling aspect of the burger while cutting out the fat. The patty in this burger recipe is made out of chickpeas and other herbs and spices. You can serve it hot in a slice of pita bread with some green salad and tomato salsa. It is a handy meal that is complete and packed with so many good nutrients to fill you up and power you through the rest of your day.
If you think vegetarian recipes are too complicated, you’ll be surprised that you can actually whip something out of a microwave that is fully vegetarian. All you need to do is to mix up all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke away. Of course, you still have the option of making the dish on your countertop, but if you feel like you can’t be bothered with washing pans for the night, this microwave chili is a vegetarian-safe pick.
If you have a bunch of friends coming over and you want to give them a taste of vegetarian food, this tartine is a great option. These are open-faced toasted sandwiches with vegetarian ricotta and tomatoes. The great thing about these sandwiches is that it is easy to make a lot if you have an oven, so you can easily serve a crowd. You can create bite-sized pieces for hor-d’oeuvres or make full-sizes to go with a salad for brunch.
Online courses for aspiring vegetarians
There are online courses to guide you on vegetarian cooking and living the vegetarian lifestyle, like these two Skill Success courses:
This online course will guide you in making an informed choice as to whether you want to be vegan, semi-vegetarian, or something in between. You will learn the basics, tools, and benefits of going vegan, vegetarian, or at least semi-vegetarian.
Lastly, you will learn how to find delicious recipes for FREE and get a basic understanding of the nutritional components needed for health and what are the common issues with a vegan diet.
It can be challenging to feed children with vegetarian meals. Learn how to cook healthy vegetarian meals not only for yourself but for your family as well. This course will help guide you, step by step, to create a healthier lifestyle for your children. Discover recipes that are plant-based or have vegan options that will accommodate vegan and vegetarians, but the entire course can be used for any diet.