How to Become a Vegetarian, the Easy Way
While being a vegetarian isn’t for everyone (and neither is Pamela Anderson), I talk to lots of people every day who tell me they’d like to become vegetarian, but it...
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While being a vegetarian isn’t for everyone (and neither is Pamela
Anderson), I talk to lots of people every day who tell me they’d like
to become vegetarian, but it seems like it would be too hard, and they
don’t have the willpower.
But becoming a vegetarian, for me and for many others, is the easiest thing in the world.
If you’re not interested in becoming vegetarian or vegan, please
skip this post (and don’t flame me in the comments). But I’ve had
numerous people, just in the last week or so, ask me to post about
becoming a vegetarian, as I seem to have become a poster boy for
vegetarianism (move over, Pamela Anderson!).
So in this post we’ll look at some suggestions and tips for becoming
a vegetarian without too much difficulty, and some reasons you might
Why Become Vegetarian?
Again, let me state that vegetarianism isn’t for everyone. If you are
fanatically devoted to meat (and I was at one time, so I understand),
you might not be interested. If you already eat healthy, or you’re not
interested in your health, you might not be interested.
But there are some reasons, for the rest of us, to consider it (and these are just a few — see these 49 reasons or these 21 reasons for more):
- Cut the fat. While meat provides a lot of protein,
it also provides a ton of fat — especially saturated fat. Which means
that by cutting out meat, you’ll be cutting out a lot of bad fat, and
replacing it with things that are probably not only lower in fat, but
that contain some good fats. This greatly reduces your risk of heart
disease, and in fact numerous studies have shown that vegetarians tend
to have a lower risk of heart disease, as well as hypertension,
diabetes, cancer and other diseases. Read more here.
- Less food poisoning. Food poisoning gets millions
of people each year — and many of them from meat, which is a good
breeding ground for harmful bacteria, especially if not stored,
prepared or cooked exactly right. Cut out meat and you lower your risk
of food poisoning (especially if you also cut out eggs and dairy, but
- Reduce the suffering. You probably don’t want to
hear about the horrific treatment of animals that are raised for food,
even before they are slaughtered for our benefit. But suffice it to
say, there are great amounts of suffering involved, and by cutting out
meat, you are reducing your involvement in that. Read more here.
- Help the environment. There are actually numerous
ways that the meat industry harms the environment, from a waste of our
resources (animals raised for food eat enough grain to feed the world),
to a waste of fuel, to the pollution caused by their waste matter, and
much more. Read more about that here.
- Help your weight loss. It’s possible to be
vegetarian and eat very unhealthy foods, including Coke and fries and
fried stuff and pizza and chips. But it’s much more difficult. Studies
repeatedly show that vegetarians are slimmer and are less likely to be
obese than meat eaters. If you’re trying to lose weight, being a
vegetarian can be a good part of your program.
- Get more nutrition. In general (though not
necessarily), vegetarians replace meat with more nutritious foods, such
as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and so on. If you do that,
you will be getting more of the nutrients your body needs, giving you
better health, less illness, and more energy.
20 Tips for Becoming a Vegetarian
So, if you’d like to become a vegetarian, without too much trouble, here are my suggestions:
- Have good reasons. If you just want to become
vegetarian for kicks, you probably won’t stick with it for long — not
because it’s hard, but because any lifestyle change or habit change
requires a little bit of motivation. You need to first think about why
you want to become vegetarian, and really believe in it. The rest is
- Read up. Before starting anything new, I tend to
read as much as possible about whatever it is that I’ll be doing. I
suggest you do so with vegetarianism. Check out a couple of good books
from the library (or better yet, borrow from vegetarian friends). And
there are tons and tons of good sites on the Internet. One of my
favorites is GoVeg.com.
- Find good recipes. You don’t need to go out and
buy a bunch of new cookbooks, although that’s certainly an option. But
again, there are many great recipes online. Try GoVeg.com … another
favorite of mine is Post Punk Kitchen (also see their forums).
In fact, it can all be a little overwhelming … but don’t worry, you
don’t need to decide on anything. Just look through the recipes, take
note of a few that look really good, and decide to try a few of them.
You have the rest of your life to test out other recipes!
- Try one recipe a week. My suggestion is just to
try one new vegetarian recipe a week. If you like it, add it to your
collection of staple recipes that you eat on a regular basis. If the
recipe isn’t that great, try another next week. Soon, you’ll have a
good list of 5-10 great recipes that you love to cook and eat. And
really, whether you’re vegetarian or meat eater, that’s probably all
you really eat on a regular basis anyway (for dinner, at least). Most
people only have 7-10 recipes that they cook regularly. Once you have
that many vegetarian recipes, you are good to go.
- Substitutions. Also try your regular recipes that
you love, but instead of using meat, use a meatless substitute. So if
you love to eat spaghetti or chili, for example, substitute a
ground-beef alternative from Bocca or Morning Star and just cook it the
way you normally would. There are alternatives for just about any kind
of meat, and some of them are quite good. You can go on eating what you
normally eat, but meatless.
- Start with red meat. I suggest a gradual
transition into vegetarianism … although you can do it all at once,
I’ve found that for many people, a gradual transition works better.
There’s no need to give up all meat at once. Try a few new recipes,
maybe eat one vegetarian meal for the first week, two for the second,
and so on. If you do this, start with red meat, as it is typically the
- Then the other meats. After a couple of weeks of
going without red meat, try cutting out pork for a couple of weeks.
Then cut out chicken, the seafood. With this two-week approach (and you
can even make it 3 weeks or a month for each stage if you want to go
more slowly), you’ll hardly notice the difference. I’ve found that I
don’t crave meats anymore, although I did for about a week.
- Consider dairy & eggs. Vegetarians vary widely
on this, so there’s no mandate to give up dairy or eggs if you’re
giving up meat. Do what feels right for you. But if you go meatless for
awhile, and want to try to go a little further (in terms of health, the
environment, and helping animal suffering), consider these foods. For
one thing, they are often high in saturated fat, especially compared to
soy alternatives. It was easy for me to give up eggs, as I’ve never
been a huge fan, but transitioning to soy milk took a few days to get
used to … although I can’t stand the taste of milk now. :)
- Think about your staples. A useful exercise is to
make a list of foods you regularly eat, for breakfast, lunch, dinner,
desserts and snacks. Not meals, but ingredients. And then think about
vegetarian alternatives, and make a new list. For example, instead of
eating chicken in a stir-fry dish, you might try tofu. With a new list
of staples, you should have no trouble stocking your fridge and pantry.
- All in one go. Some people prefer to give up meat
all at once. While this takes a little more determination than the
gradual solution I advocate, it’s not that hard, really. Just prepare
yourself by taking some of the steps above (finding recipes,
substitutes, a new list of staples, and reading as much as possible),
and then give it a shot. It should only take a few days to get used to
it, and then you’ll have very little trouble after that. The only
issues you’ll have to work out, once you’re used to going without meat,
are things like eating out, eating at others’ houses, and other similar
issues. Read on for more on these.
- Adequate protein. One myth about vegetarianism is
that you don’t get enough protein. Actually, meat eaters usually take
in way more protein than they need. Protein requirements for the
average adult are lower than people think. If you eat a varied diet
(not just junk food, for example) that includes vegetables, grains,
beans, nuts, soy protein and the like, you will be fine. It would hard
to create an eating plan where you’re getting inadequate protein (the
junk food example would be one). Another myth is that you need to eat
different types of protein within a single meal (or even a single day)
to get complete protein from plants … actually, as long as you eat
varied proteins (such as those listed above) over a few days, you’ll be
fine. And soy protein is a complete protein, just like meat.
- Junk food. Again, you can be a vegetarian and be
very unhealthy, if you eat junk food. Being a vegetarian is not a
license to eat junk food (although you can probably indulge yourself a
little more often now that you’re not eating meat). Try to stick with
fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, soy protein, low-fat
dairy and other nutritious foods for the most part.
- Ethnic food. One of the great things about
becoming a vegetarian is that it often spurs people to try new and
interesting ethnic foods (or reminds them of foods they love but don’t
eat much). Great vegetarian dishes can be found all over the world,
from Italian pasta to many Indian dishes to spicy Thai food to Chinese,
Ethiopian, Moroccan, Mexican, South American and more. It can be
interesting to do a series of theme weeks, trying vegetarian dishes
from a certain country for one week, and then moving around the world
and sampling other great ethnic foods.
- Tell friends & family. If you’re really going
to become a vegetarian, you’ll have to talk to the people you know and
love about it. You’ll still be dining with them, at restaurants, at
their homes, at social gatherings, at work, and so it’ll be better for
everyone involved if they know what you’re doing (they might prepare a
vegetarian dish for you, or you might bring one for them to try), and
if they know the reasons why. Some people might have a hard time with
it. Just try to explain it to them, without getting defensive or
argumentative, and ask them to be understanding (and maybe to give some
of your food a try). Don’t try to force vegetarianism on anyone, or
sound preachy, but do give them more information if they’re interested.
- Have fun. Most of all, don’t make becoming a
vegetarian be a restrictive, grueling ordeal. If you feel like you’re
depriving yourself, you won’t last long. But if you feel like you’re
doing something good, and trying out some great-tasting food, you’ll
stick with it for much longer (for life, I hope). Have a great time
along the way.
- Plan ahead. Often what gets in the way of new
vegetarians is that they go somewhere, and don’t think of what they
might have to eat. Going to a party or a dinner can be much better if
you prepare a great dish and bring it along (let the host know about it
first). An errands trip doesn’t have to result in you going to
McDonalds, starving, if you pack a lunch or bring some snacks.
- Cook ahead. Another problem is when we don’t have
any vegetarian food ready to eat, and so we resort to whatever is
easiest (if we don’t feel like eating or are too hungry to wait).
Instead, you could cook a big pot of vegetarian chili or soup or
something, and have it in the fridge for when you’re hungry and don’t
have time to cook.
- Vegetarian snacks. I love to eat fruits and cut-up
veggies, but there are lots of other great snacks you can eat. Roasted
(or raw) almonds, hummus and pitas or veggies, blue corn chips and
salsa, low-fat granola, berries with soy yogurt, whole-grain cereals,
Kashi crackers … dozens and dozens of snacks, actually, if you take a
look around. Have plenty on hand, at home, at work, and on the road.
- Vegetarian restaurants. There’s only one
vegetarian restaurant on Guam, and unfortunately it’s closed on nights
and weekends (it’s a Seventh-Day Adventist joint, open for lunch on
weekdays, and it’s great). But you might live in an area with dozens of
great vegetarian restaurants. Give them a try! You might discover some
wonderful food, and thank your lucky stars you decided to give
vegetarianism a try. Otherwise, most restaurants will have some
vegetarian options, or can cook you a vegetarian dish on request.
- Vegetarian convenience foods. In your
supermarket’s frozen section, you’ll probably find a lot of vegetarian
foods that can be microwaved. You might give some of these a try (I
love the Amy’s brand). Beware that, like most convenience foods, these
are more expensive than home-cooked stuff, and most likely not as
healthy. But you can find some fairly healthy foods there too. At any
rate, it’s always good to have a couple of convenience foods in the
freezer, just in case.
There are tons of other good resource out there that cover way more
ground than I can do in this post. Here are just a few to start you out:
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