Removing meat from your diet completely can pose a few challenges from time to time. After all, we live in a meat-eating world in which there is a huge demand for chicken, beef, pork and lamb. And depending on your current diet, you may need to look for substitutes in order to ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs.
These 10 tips should make the initial transition to vegetarianism as smooth as possible.
1. Make sure you eat enough protein
If you’ve been a regular meat eater for a long time, the chances are the vast majority of the protein you consume comes from meat. Make sure you have a plentiful supply of protein-rich foods in your new vegetarian diet, including nuts, legumes, avocado, eggs and tofu.
2. Start with simple changes to your favourite dishes
The first days of your switch to vegetarianism could be tough, so try to make small changes to your diet gradually. For instance, if you eat a lot of stews, substitute the meat with tofu, mushrooms, aubergine or anything that gives the dish a tasty base.
3. Embrace legumes
Peas and beans are packed with essential nutrients, including the all-important protein vegetarians need. Experiment with legumes in pizzas, curries, chilli and soup.
4. Eat calcium rich foods
If you’re not eating dairy products, you should look for alternative sources of calcium. Leafy greens such as bok choy and collard are packed with it, but you can also get large doses from certain calcium-fortified foods such as breakfast cereal and orange juice.
5. Don’t forget vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 can only be consumed naturally through meat, so it’s important to find it in other places. You can take a vitamin B12 supplement, or ensure that you’re eating foods fortified with the vitamin; these foods include breakfast cereals and tofu.
6. Go nuts over nuts
Pecans, almonds, walnuts and the like are great sources of protein, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. They make a great snack when hunger strikes between meals, but they can also be added to salads, stews and roasts as a source of added flavour and texture.
7. Look for meat-free alternatives
The number of vegetarians in Europe is growing fast, and food manufacturers are finally catching up with demand for meat-free products. For instance, there are some high quality soy-based sausages and burgers on the market today. A meat substitute such as Quorn gives you the freedom to cook pretty much any recipe made with ground beef — just make sure you use vegetable stock.
8. Get a little more demanding at restaurants
Any vegetarian will tell you that, when it comes to vegetarian options, most restaurants leave a lot to be desired. If you’re not impressed with what you see on the menu, ask your server if there are any vegetarian options not listed. Depending on how a dish is constructed, you can have the meat left out or substituted for a vegetable. In many cases, meat is simply added to the “base” just before serving, which means leaving it off could give you an added vegetarian option. A lot of pasta dishes are made this way.
9. Don’t avoid barbecues!
There is nothing to fear from the family barbecue. You don’t need to worry about offending your host by refusing sausages and hamburgers, just take your own vegetarian alternatives. Grilled vegetables, soy-based hot dogs and vegetable-based burgers are just some of the grilling options at your disposal.
10. Find a diet that works for you
Removing meat from your diet almost overnight can be tricky at first. You might struggle to stay fulfilled during the day, or you may lack energy. However, you’ll only experience these symptoms if you haven’t thought about your nutrition properly. Work out how and what you’re going to eat in order to get the nutrients you need, and your life as a vegetarian should be happy, healthy and satisfying.