Starting Out as a Vegetarian

In the United States, there are approximately 12.4 million vegetarians. There are many reasons people consider a vegetarian diet including health, animal welfare, concerns about the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock, or to conserve environmental resources and help with climate change.

The switch to a vegetarian diet is easier than you might imagine. The key is to take things slow. Some people start out abstaining from red meat. After a few weeks or a few months, they remove chicken from their diets, and eventually give up fish and other animal products. Others do well jumping in cold turkey. It all depends on your personality and level of preparedness.

To prepare, find appealing recipes online – especially from our website – or in a cookbook (you can get many from the library) and shop to get all the necessary ingredients. Studies show the average family usually eats the same eight to nine meals repeatedly. Start off with eight or nine good recipes that will allow you to vary your meals and not get bored. Replace any recipes that you didn’t like and add new recipes when you are feeling adventurous. Use processed meat substitutes in moderation as they can be high in calories, fat, and sodium. Make sure you read product labels or make your own vegetarian burgers – they are easy to make and you can control of all the ingredients.

One of the fun things about becoming vegetarian, is that it often spurs people to try ethnic foods that they may not have been bold enough to try before. Great vegetarian dishes can be found from Italy, India, Thailand, China, Ethiopia, Morocco, Mexico and South America.

If you have kids, try pairing a dish from Thailand with a discussion about the country, the people, and the spices to connect it to the food you are eating. You may find less resistance and more open minds to new restaurant and dishes.

If you are cooking for others that may not be eating vegetarian, then you can easily modify some of the dishes you are making to allow for a vegetarian portion. For example, if you are you making pizza, simply substitute meat for vegetables on part of the pizza. If you enjoy pasta, make it primavera style or substitute marinara for meat sauce for your portion. Taco night can be substituted with a simple and incredibly flavorful black bean enchilada casserole. Breakfast can consist of yogurt, substituting almond or coconut yogurt if desired, and protein muffins with fruit. When family members are having sandwiches, make a delicious Italian style pepper and egg sandwich – you won’t miss the meat!

One last thing. Be sure to let your family and friends know that you are becoming a vegetarian and the types of food you eat and what you now avoid. When they invite you over for dinner, offer to bring a vegetarian dish so they don’t have to worry about making a dish that may contain products you do not consume. Be prepared for questions on why you are becoming a vegetarian – some people are naturally curious, while others will like to debate – it’s definitely not something that should be a divisive issue.

You may want to site the following benefits of being a vegetarian to help them understand your choice.

Better Heart Health
Going vegetarian can reduce your chances of heart disease by 42%. If you have a history of heart disease in your family, this is an important consideration. Vegetarians have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower risk of ischemic heart disease

Reduced Cancer Risk
Large studies in England and Germany demonstrated that vegetarians were 40% less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.

Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Risk
A predominantly plant-based diet can reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes by 50%.

Healthy Weight
Research shows that vegetarians are leaner than their meat-eating counterparts and that eating a vegetarian diet can help with weight loss as well as help to maintain a healthy weight over time.

Better Mood
Arachidonic acid found in Omega 6 was found to cause neuroinflammation which increases the risk of suicide and depression. Those who followed a vegetarian diet were less likely to suffer from depression. Switching to a vegetarian diet is also associated with better mental health.