Whether you are thinking of going vegetarian or vegan for animal welfare reasons, or just want to eat less meat for health reasons, there are several things you can do to ease the transition.
Following the tips below will help you make the change in a sustainable and healthy way.
1. Getting the Right Nutrients
You need to make sure you’re getting enough protein, iron, calcium and other vitamins like vitamin B12 once you stop eating meat, or even cut right back on it. A good way to do this is to make sure you’re eating other foods that are rich in these essential nutrients, such as Greek yoghurt, beans, eggs, nuts, cheese, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.
2. Lentils and Pulses Fill You up
Start researching recipes that involve beans or lentils. Beans and lentils are great sources of protein and iron, and a little goes a long way towards making you feel full. If your meal is satisfying, it will make you miss meat much less.
3. Meat Alternatives Aren’t for Everyone
A lot of people who give up meat seem to assume that they’ll automatically enjoy eating tofu or quorn as meat replacements. This isn’t always the case – perhaps the texture or taste will make it difficult for you to enjoy them. Try them out before you stop eating meat, and if you don’t like them, you’re going to have to get extra creative with your meal choices.
4. Eating Out Can be Difficult
If you live in a major city, chances are there are plenty of restaurants that serve delicious vegetarian or vegan meals. If you live elsewhere, though, it can be hard to find tasty meal options. Most seem to revolve around salad, pasta with vegetables, or quinoa with vegetables, which can get boring very quickly.
5. Telling Other People of Your Diet Change
Be prepared for some strange reactions from your family and friends! Some of them will happily accept your choice to stop eating meat, but there are usually one or two who start citing health concerns.
More strangely, there are those who get angry and upset about it, and there may be the odd person who will try to trick you into eating meat again by giving you food that they have cunningly hidden some form of meat or meat stock in! Remember, it’s your choice, and you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.
6. There Are More Protein Options Out There
Meat isn’t the only form of protein. Do your research and you will find a wealth of protein rich and tasty foods out there. Chia seeds, peanut butter, chickpeas and many others are good alternatives. For good recipe ideas, visit the vegetarian food bloggers on Instagram.
7. You Will Probably Start to Feel Good
Once you cut meat out of your diet, you may find that you have more energy and your digestion improves. Turning vegetarian or vegan isn’t an immediate ticket to good health, though, so keep that in mind.
8. You May Feel Like a Burden When You Eat With Friends
If your friends or family are meat-eaters, you may feel awkward when you go to eat with them at their house, because they may have cooked a special dish just for you while everyone else is eating meat, or changed the entire meal to accommodate you.
One way round this is to offer to bring a vegetarian dish with you to dinner, or realize that sometimes you’ll have to eat plain salad at a restaurant they choose because there’s no vegetarian option.
9. Be Careful With Dairy Foods
Often people who stop eating meat eat a lot of cheese, milk and other dairy. While they are great in moderation, too much of them could cause problems with your cholesterol levels and digestion. Nowadays there are good milk alternatives such as almond or rice milk available in most supermarkets.
10. Watch Your Carb Intake
People who are new to a meat-free diet often overcompensate with carbohydrates such as pasta, pizza and bread. Overindulging in the carbs can make you gain weight quickly and feel sluggish and tired.
11. Isn’t the Only Source of Calcium
If you’re looking to cut down your milk and dairy intake too, there’s plenty of calcium in sesame seeds, seaweed, broccoli and almonds.
12. Iron Rich Foods
You need to substitute the iron from meat in other ways to stay healthy. Some foods rich in iron include nuts such as pistachios, beetroot, lentils, spinach, and broccoli.
13. Your Grocery Bills May Become Cheaper
Meat costs a lot of money these days, even chicken is expensive, and good quality, organically farmed meat is through the roof. When you cut meat out of your diet and replace it with whole grains and veg, you might be pleasantly surprised when you reach the supermarket checkout.
14. You Don’t Need to Stop Eating Meat Overnight
Change can be scary. You don’t need to give up meat all in one go, so easing yourself slowly into it may be the answer. Start by trying to include one or two meatless meals a week and go from there.
15. You Could be Helping the Environment
Even a small change can have a big impact. Decreasing your meat intake by just one less burger a week can have the same environmental benefit as taking your car off the road for 320 miles, according the the Environmental Working Group.
16. Check the Ingredients Labels
Meat or fish can be lurking as a hidden ingredient in foods you wouldn’t expect them to be in. Foods such as jellies, yoghurts and cheeses can have gelatin or other animal fats in them. Always check the packaging before buying.
17. Decide About Fish
Is it just meat you want to stop eating, or fish too? If you’re ok with eating fish, it does give you a little more leeway when it comes to meal choices and ingredients. Protein and iron may still be an issue, so make sure to get plenty of foods that are rich in those nutrients.
18. Equip Your Kitchen
Have a look round your kitchen. Will you need more storage jars for lentils, beans etc? Do you need a decent blender for making soups or smoothies? Before you take the plunge into a meat-free life, make sure you’ve got the kitchen essentials to make cooking and storing your food easier.
19. Happy Snacking
You may want a vegetarian snack that doesn’t involve an apple or a banana, so keep boxes of cashews and packets of popcorn on hand. You can also try making your own energy balls out of dried fruit, coconut oil and sesame seeds.
20. Combine Iron With Vitamin C
Your body absorbs more iron when you combine your iron-rich foods with vitamin C. For a great way to boost your iron intake, try adding blueberries to your porridge, bell peppers to brown rice or indeed any vitamin C rich food with iron rich food.
21. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin D is found in meat, and sunlight has a lot to do with your body getting enough of this essential vitamin. If you stop eating meat, you should take a vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter months when there isn’t much sun around.
22. Get Creative With Hummus
Hummus is a great source of protein and iron, and you can make your own tasty versions very easily with a blender. You can use any type of tinned beans; it doesn’t have to be chickpeas. Why not look for recipes for Greek hummus, pesto or beetroot hummus? They’re just a few of the many different types of hummus you can make yourself.