By Marc Courtiol
Becoming a vegetarian seems like it should be simple. You just stop eating meat, right? That is of course true, but if you want to do it right-in a way that is healthy and sustainable-it is important to think about how to make the transition. After years of eating one way, the body cannot simply change course without some side effects. Plus, being a vegetarian is about more than simply cutting out meat. One must be careful to eat a full and balanced diet, or else there is a risk of poor health. Junk-food vegetarians may live ethically, but such diets are not good for the body.
There are a few things you might want to do before actually making the leap into vegetarianism. Some elements of these are optional, but they will all be helpful in the future:
- Educate yourself. If you have not already done research into the nutritional issues surrounding your transition, take some time to do so now. Find out what types of vitamins and nutrients meat has brought to your life, and figure out how you can replace them on a vegetarian diet. Also, take this opportunity to expand your overall health by diversifying your diet and bringing in new foods that give you a more complete health picture.
- Gather recipes: Especially during the early stages of your vegetarianism, you may sometimes feel an overwhelming desire to give up and go back to meat. At these times, it will be great to be able to turn to some of the most delicious vegetarian meals and snacks for comfort. Have ready a good collection of recipes for vegetarian foods that are not just healthy but also delicious and filling.
- Know why you are changing. For your own purposes, it is just fine to simply have a strong feeling that you do not want to eat meat anymore. But keep in mind that you are going to be confronted regularly by meat-eaters skeptical of your choice, and if you do not have clear reasons for your choice you may face ridicule. So think carefully about why you are making this change, and make sure you can clearly articulate your reasons.
Making the transition
Although you may feel strongly that you want to be finished with meat, you might consider making the transition in stages. Instead of going cold turkey and cutting yourself off from all meat products, do it by stopping one type of meat at a time. For example, you might start by eliminating all types of beef from your diet, followed by all types of white meat, followed eventually by fish and other seafood. If you spread this process out over a couple of months, it will be less shocking to the body.
Much has been made about the supposed lack of protein in a vegetarian diet, but the claims on this subject are overinflated and often plain wrong. It is very possible to get enough protein as a vegetarian, and in fact it is quite easy. Protein from meat is undoubtedly good, but it is actually inferior to the range of complete proteins you can get from eating a diverse vegetarian diet. For example, if in one day you have tree nuts, beans, dark leafy green vegetables, eggs, and whole grains, you will get much more and better protein than someone who eats lots of meat and few vegetarian foods. So, as you are transitioning to vegetarianism, do not get caught up on the protein issue. Just have a diverse diet, and you will be fine.
Meanwhile, there are other vitamins and nutrients that you should make sure to have daily. Here are a few important nutrients that vegetarians often do not get enough of:
- Iron, which is abundant in beans and legumes, seeds, dried fruits, and many dark green vegetables.
- Calcium, which one can get by eating plenty of healthy dairy foods such as yogurt.
- Vitamin D is generated by the body when the skin is exposed to sun, and the nutrient is also found in eggs and cheese.
- Vitamin B12 is tough to get because it only rarely occurs in vegetables, but vegetarians can get it through eggs and other dairy as well as through vitamin-fortified foods.