The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
In October of 2018, I made the decision to go vegetarian. It wasn’t an easy choice by any means; it was a rough transition at first after being a huge meat eater. My go-to snacks and meals were all meat-based such as chicken wings or a plate of ribs. But after much research about the meat industry’s impact on the environment, I decided to try it out. The amount of methane produced by breeding cows simply to cook a hamburger was too much for me to handle. It required too much land use, transportation emissions and harmful chemicals to create a meat-based meal. In a household of five, one person going vegetarian might not seem like much, but it cut down the meat purchased which made me feel like I was making an impact. The only thing to figure out then, was what was I going to eat instead? I found that being a vegetarian, many people ask the same questions revolving around protein intake and getting specific vitamins only found in meat. As someone who is certain to have navigated my way around this, here are some tips for transitioning to being a vegetarian.
- plant-based meats are delicious
With the interest in vegetarianism increasing, many brands are making alternatives to meat including plant-based chicken, burgers and even breakfast sausages. While beginning my vegetarian journey, there were few options out there for me. However, in 2022 almost every meat you can think of has a delicious, plant-based alternative. Beyond Meat brand burgers in my opinion taste better than the real thing and do not leave me feeling as sick as regular beef burgers used to. Yves creates good breakfast sausages, hot dogs and sandwich meats that allow me to eat almost the same meals as I used to. Gardein chicken fingers are an amazing alternative to the real thing and with the right dipping sauce, I can barely tell the difference. The best part about these alternatives is that you are still receiving a high protein intake and almost the same vitamins and benefits as real meat.
- Protein sources are easier than you would think
I began tracking my protein intake after becoming worried that those who said I would not be receiving the right amount of protein as a vegetarian began to scare me. However, after tracking for a bit, I realized this was not true. Some of my favourite meals and snacks contained more protein than I thought. Eggs are a great source of protein and adding additional egg whites to a meal will give you a great deal of protein. Plant-based sources of protein consist of legumes such as chickpeas, beans and lentils. My favourite protein source must be Greek yogurt. It comes in a variety of flavours, and when topped with frozen fruit and chia seeds is my favourite snack. Greek yogurt has an insane amount of protein and can be very delicious. A person is supposed to receive 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight as maintenance, and more if one is working out to gain muscle. Therefore, it is easy to be a strong and healthy vegetarian and still receive a good amount of protein.
- Learn new recipes
One of the downsides of the vegetarian lifestyle is the inability to eat whatever I want from a restaurant menu. Oftentimes, I find myself scanning a menu prior to eating at a restaurant to ensure there are suitable options for me. This means that I end up eating in more and creating different, more unique meals. Especially once I began to live alone at university, the need to learn different go-to meals was necessary and I found myself enjoying the aspect of making different vegetarian meals. Pinterest was key to finding good recipes for soups, tofu stir-fries and more delicious meals. I started storing specific recipes in my camera roll and creating a grocery list to match the meals I wished to make often. This ensured I was eating as healthy as possible while also learning some fun new vegetarian recipes. A plus to this is that you can share the meals with your non-vegetarian friends and family members and allow them to cut down on their meat intake as well.
- STart slow
Nobody ever said you had to cut out meat cold turkey. You can start slow by eliminating specific meats one at a time until you are completely vegetarian. Even limiting your meat consumption to specific days of the week until you feel comfortable doing it fully will allow you to see if being vegetarian is right for you. Often, I find that people eliminate red meats to begin with and only consume poultry in the beginning. Or if you are worried about specific aspects, go pescatarian and only consume fish rather than meat. There is no right or wrong way to become a vegetarian.
- Supplements are key
Even though every vitamin and mineral is available to vegetarians, there are still times when you will not be tracking your consumption of these vitamins and might become deficient. In this case, taking supplements readily found in meat can help. Most vegetarians I know take vitamin B-12. It is highly recommended you take this vitamin, as it is specifically found in meat. Another option could be Iron or Omega-3 if you lack daily vegetable intake or choose not to consume fish for these vitamins. However, being recommended by a doctor or being tested on deficiencies prior to taking these vitamins may be helpful, as you do not want to be taking an excess of anything that you do not need.
Becoming a vegetarian is a big step and a huge lifestyle change, but it does not have to be a difficult one. With the right background knowledge and research, it can be a fun way to change up your eating habits, while positively impacting the environment at the same time. With the growing popularity in plant-based and vegetarian lifestyles, it is becoming easier and easier to consume mindfully and adapt to this sustainable diet. It is important to remember that even the smallest of changes can make a big impact overall.