The Ins & Outs of Vegetarianism

For the past four years of my life, people have been telling me what I should eat, what I shouldn’t eat, how much I need of this and how much I need of that. It seems like everyone’s an expert on vegetarianism and that nothing you ever do will be right. Making the switch to a mostly plant-based diet was daunting, but not impossible. All it took was a willingness to learn, willpower and a lot of patience.

Luckily for me, I was stubborn and all it took was one person telling me I wouldn’t last a week for me to ultimately have the strength to make one of the biggest changes of my life.But it’s not always that easy. When it comes to the topic of vegetarianism, and even more so veganism, people don’t always know how to approach it. For some reason, the discussion of another person’s diet is seen as taboo.

It’s time to change that. Here are some of the dietary concerns associated with vegetarianism and simple meals that can help make sure you get the nutrients you need.

Protein intake

If I had a dime for every time my mum asked me if I was getting enough protein, I’d be able to afford my tuition. This is one of the biggest concerns of a plant-based diet. Luckily there are plenty of veggie-friendly foods that are great sources of protein!Take chickpeas for example: In 100g of chickpeas, or about half a cup, there’s about 19g of protein. There’s also a variety of lentils ranging in protein values of about 22g to 26g of protein per half cup of uncooked lentils. Both can be bought dry and then cooked in boiling water to rehydrate. Mix the two thoroughly with a bunch of veggies and you’ve got a lovely medley of a meal. I personally like mixing chickpeas, brown lentils, corn and peas.

Iron intake

When eliminating meat from your diet, you must be wary of your iron intake. A lot of vegetarians, including me, take an iron supplement along with a vitamin C tablet. The last time I donated blood, the nurse even mentioned this during our discussion on anemia and getting your iron levels up to par for donation. Vitamin C, along with being an immune booster, helps your body to absorb iron.

Even if you aren’t particularly worried about your iron intake, it’s good to prepare meals with iron-rich foods, since when you go vegetarian you are eliminating one of the most common sources of iron. When I’m in a hurry, I usually grab a handful of spinach to add to whatever my meal is, seeing as spinach is high in iron. Legumes are also a good source of iron, so I suggest the recipe mentioned in the section about protein intake as well. You could always make scrambled eggs, though it is debated on whether eggs are considered vegetarian or not.Because most vegetarian iron sources contain iron in the non-heme form, the form that’s harder for our bodies to absorb, it’s important to eat iron-rich foods with foods that are high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits. So if you happen to really like orange juice, here’s your excuse to go crazy.

Lack of vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is something I didn’t realize I needed to make sure I was getting enough of when I became vegetarian. I didn’t actually do much research when I first made the switch to eating vegetarian and when I started to look into it, quite a while after I’d been vegetarian mind you, I realized this was really important! B12 helps with the formation of red blood cells, the creation of DNA and neurological functions. Once again, meat happens to be the typical source of B12 for most people, so finding adequate substitutes is necessary.

One of my personal favourite meals with a higher quantity of B12 is vegan mac and cheese. The cheesy taste comes from fortified nutritional yeast, which contains a decent amount of B12 and other B vitamins. The texture is different from something like Kraft Dinner, but it is so good.Of course, there are more things you need to consider when switching to a vegetarian diet. But eating vegetarian is just like eating on any other diet, including when you eat meat. There’s a right and wrong way to do it, and if you do it right you’ll be just fine. It’s like how if someone with no dietary restrictions is only eating junk and fast food with the occasional vegetable, they’re going to have deficiencies. As long as you focus on eating properly, being vegetarian is easier than you’d think!