If you've become mesmerized by all of the veggie-focused recipes floating around Instagram recently, welcome to the club. Veg culture is becoming more and more mainstream, and while this could possibly be just a passing trend as a direct result of the rising popularity of plant-based bloggers and gone-viral documentaries, there are so many health benefits to swapping animal meat for whole foods. If you've been mulling over how to become a vegetarian after eating like a born and bred carnivore for the past 20 or so years, it's easier than it looks.
The first step to making the transition from meat to plant-eater is to understand why this could be the right decision for your body's well-being. Sakara Life founders Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle told Elite Daily,
The plant based diet is arguably the best diet for optimal wellness. Vegetables pack more nutrients per bite than most foods and help the body combat inflammation, eliminate yeast, get rid of belly fat, balance your pH, quiet your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cut your risk of colon cancer in half, boost your energy, lose weight, banish your bloat, and glow from the inside out. Aside from feeling the effects of high energy, a plant-based diet has been scientifically proven to be connected to lower risk of cancer, heart disease and autoimmune disorders like colitis and arthritis, as well as fewer fertility problems. Lastly, eating plants in their natural state puts you close to the source with minimal processing.
The next step is to commit. Now, not everyone can go veg cold-turkey (no pun intended), and that's OK! If you're struggling, these are a few tiny steps that can make a big difference in the long run.
1. Instead Of Eliminating Foods You Love, Find Their Plant-Based Substitutions
I know this can be almost impossible when you are literally deleting staple foods from your diet, but instead of focusing on what you're giving up, think of all you are about to gain.
One of the coolest things I've found through my transition from a carnivorous to a plant-based diet is that if you're struggling or find yourself craving animal meat, there are so many options.
There are meat substitutes like Tofurkey and veggie dogs, but you can also finagle legumes, beans, and tofu to taste like meat. Make a top 10 list of food items you're not ready to let go of and take full advantage of the millions of veg recipes around blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube to find a mock version.
2. While You're At It, Give Tofu A Fair Shot
For starters, let's address the elephant on the page here. You should not be swapping soy for meat at every meal, however, once or twice a week offers herbivores a significant source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, according to Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson.
I was a junior in college the first time I tried tofu, and I did not enjoy it one bit. The batch I sampled was squishy, wet, and tasted like it had been seasoned with weeks-old marinade. It wasn't until almost five years later when my husband convinced me to give it a second chance. Baking it with barbecue sauce made all the difference. It was delicious, and is now a favorite for football nights with a plate of baked french fries.
The key to tofu is experimentation. Gather up your favorite spices, read a few recipes, and I promise it can become a staple for your meal plan.
3. Add Fruits And Vegetables To Your Favorite Meals
I think it's a common misconception that vegetarians strictly chow down on fruits and vegetables alone, but we can have our fun and be healthy, too! The thing to remember is, this is not a diet, it's a lifestyle, and in order to keep up with it, you have to train yourself to a) try new things and b) find vegetables and fruits you want to eat, and implement them into meals outside a salad.
For example, instead of sausage and pepperoni as a pizza topping, try peppers, onions, mushrooms and broccoli, or even pineapple for a sweet treat. If you eat pasta on a weekly basis, swap traditional spaghetti with lentil noodles (Cybele's is a personal fave), or add spinach leaves to your sandwiches.
4. Swap Cow's Milk For Non-Dairy Alternatives
A lot of vegetarians are not only plant-based, but dairy-free, too. Instead of pouring a cup of cow's milk into your cereal bowl every morning, start swapping a serving or two per week with a non-dairy option like Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Vanilla Almond Cashew Milk, Lifeway Kefir, or rice milk instead.
5. Depending On The Type Of Vegetarian You Are, Eat Fish To Make The Transition Easier
Another branch of vegetarianism is pescatarianism, in which case you would give up all beef, pork, and poultry, but still eat fish. The upside to this is that fish is easy to cook, contains less fat than animal meat, can stimulate your brain, and is an all-around excellent source of protein.
So rather than taking a turkey sandwich for lunch, try canned tuna or salmon. Cut out chicken strips for dinner and bake fillets in the oven with a zesty lemon marinade instead.
6. Experiment With Marine Or Plant-Based Powders Over Tubs Of Whey
Another easy way for vegetarians to meet their protein requirements is to supplement animal products with powders in a smoothie or shake.
Personally, I love the Vital Proteins Marine Collagen powder as it blends in with the flavors of fruit and is easy to digest (they just launched a vegan line, as well), but if you're practicing a solely plant-based diet, Naturade's Vegan Smart Vanilla Shake powder is super flavorful, filling, and even helps repair muscles after a hard workout.
7. Test Vegetarian Take Out
Prior to becoming vegetarian, I had a love affair with a cheeseburger and fries combo at least once a week. Upon switching to plant-based options, I felt lost in a world saturated by fast food. What the heck was I going to order now that beef and chicken were off the table?
Luckily we are living in the 21st century where, despite a traditional Western diet being the norm, plant-based options are plentiful. The easiest way to know what you can and can't eat out is by simply doing the research.
Look up your favorite restaurants online and browse their menus to decipher which establishments are more or less veg-friendly. To give you a head start, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, and Italian cuisine all have a ton of delicious indulgences that are 100 percent vegetarian-friendly. (Here's looking at you, Chipotle.)