Vegetarianism: A Basic Guide

by Editorial Team | March 24th, 2021 | Cooking Basics
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With the latest information on a plant-based diet’s benefits, many people opt to go vegetarian or vegan, or merely plant-based. With 18% of the earth’s population being vegetarian and counting, it is clear that this is a little more than just a fad diet; vegetarianism has become a lifestyle.

What is a vegetarian?

Vegetarianism is an ethical lifestyle. There is quite a lot of confusion about what it means to be vegetarian; here is a quick break down of the different kinds of plant-based dietary choices:

  • Lacto-vegetarian diets do not contain any meat, fish, poultry, or eggs. Dairy products and vegetables are eaten and allowed. 
  • Ovo-vegetarian diets are similar; however, instead of dairy products, eggs are consumed. The diet excludes and any meat, fish, poultry, and dairy. 
  • Ovo-Lacto-vegetarians consume both eggs and dairy products; no meat, fish, or poultry is consumed. 
  • Pescetarians include fish and can include eggs and dairy.
  • The Vegan diet is also known as a strict vegetarian. The diet has no animal products whatsoever. Veganism is a lot more than a diet; it is an ethical lifestyle choice.  
  • Plant-based diets are a little more flexible as they are mostly not for moral reasons and health purposes. Plant-based eaters sometimes feel the need to eat meat, as they are not plant-based for ethical reasons. 

Beginners guide to vegetarianism

When going vegetarian or plant-based, it is essential to figure out why you are ditching the meat. If you opt to go meat-free for health reasons, it is highly advisable to speak to a dietician to assess your individual needs and test your vitamin levels. 

While many people go vegetarian with no issues, there is a risk of not getting adequate nutrition from your food if you are not aware of your vitamin levels. Many people who eat meat are also deficient in vital nutrients such as iron, vitamin B, zinc, and vitamin K. Understanding your body’s needs and giving it what it needs to function is a step to being a healthy vegetarian!

Meal Plan

Becoming a vegetarian is quite a lot to process all at once if you are someone that loves food and cooking. It is crucial to plan your meals for you to make sure you get enough nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are, after all, key to being healthy whether you eat meat or not. 

Try planning a week’s meals to ensure that you include nuts, seeds, fruit, leafy green vegetables, protein, and of course, the right amount of carbs. Some new vegetarians tend to live on peanut butter sandwiches or fries when starting. While you could live like that, it is not healthy in the long term, and you might end up feeling sickly and restricted.

Eating out

Eating out is terrifying for new vegetarians. Many stumble and feel completely overwhelmed and end up eating fries every time they head out to dinner with friends. Calling the restaurant ahead of time to find out whether they have any dishes that cater to your new vegetarian diet is always a great idea when making a booking. 

Most restaurants these days have a vegetarian menu or have meals that they can adapt to your needs. Alfredo pasta is easy to make without the ham; pizza is also an easily adaptable meal. You never have to be stuck with dull, bland fries or grilled mushrooms. 

But, what about the protein?

A new vegetarian is often bombarded with questions like “where do you get your protein from?” and “Are you certain you eat enough iron?”, another widely used phrase “You need calcium for strong bones!”. Many plant-based sources of protein and iron-rich foods are readily available. Ditch the meat alternatives and stick to whole foods to ensure you have enough clean protein and iron. 

Here are some of the most healthy foods to include in your meals:

  • Broccoli – protein, calcium, vitamins C and K, Iron, and Potassium are all abundantly found in the humble broccoli. If cooked broccoli isn’t always a household favorite, try a raw broccoli salad instead! 
  • Tofu – Talking about protein and calcium, one of the best sources in the vegetarian diet is Tofu. Tofu is made from soybeans. It is perhaps the most versatile vegetarian meat substitute out there, with many meat-eaters and vegetarians including it in their diets. Grab a tofu press (check out this Tofubud one) and some tofu, be prepared to impress your tastebuds. 
  • Peas – Where do vegetarians get their protein? It is in the peas! Peas are a fantastic source of protein, aside from dairy and eggs. Most plant-based protein powders are made with pea-isolate powder as they are not just little green balls! 
  • Leafy greens – There are few things more critical than leafy greens. These iron-rich foods are vital to calcium uptake and iron absorption. Be sure to include spinach, kale, arugula, collard greens, chard, and watercress in your diet! 
  • Beans  – Beans, beans good for your heart, eat your beans to get a good start! Beans are another excellent source of clean protein and are great for heart health! Tasty beans include the famous black bean, pinto beans, kidney, and fava beans! 
  • Nuts and seeds – Omegas and amino acids are the building blocks for your body, be sure to include them in your new vegetarian diet! Nuts and seeds are a healthy source of the good fats that you need. They help regulate weight and burn energy. 
  • Whole grains – Brown rice, barley, buckwheat, bulgar, oats, whole wheat, and popcorn are a few of the whole grains you should try to include in your diet. Whole grains provide fiber and roughage needed to keep your stomach regular and help reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and lower high blood pressure.
  • Eggs – Eggs are a fantastic source of quality protein, with all 9 essential amino acids and omega 3s. Eggs are a good source of vital Vitamin B12 and form part of a healthy vegetarian diet. 
  • Dairy – Products such as cheese, milk, and butter are all calcium, vitamin D, and protein sources. 

The easy way

The vegetarian diet is easier than you think. If you look at your daily diet and begin converting your recipes to vegetarian versions, it will make your life easier. It is easy to stay healthy if you make better food choices, without a drastic change to your daily life. For example, if Wednesdays are lasagna nights, don’t change completely; make a roasted Mediterranean veg lasagna. 
Here are a few recipes that are easy to make:

  • Crispy tofu nuggets – The chicken nugget of plant-based eating, these are tasty tofu cubes, dipped in batter and deep-fried to perfection; even a meat-eater would indulge in these! 
  • Ratatouille – Naturally vegetarian, this dish is hearty, wholesome, and packed full of antioxidants! 
  • Lentil Mince spaghetti bolognese  – Lentils cooked until they are soft and tender in a tomato sauce, served on a bed of delicious al dente spaghetti!

Turning over a new leaf

Never restrict yourself to the point where your diet suffers. A new plant-based diet is not something that should make you panicked at every mealtime. With a little planning and research, you will find yourself fast becoming a foodie. Re-learning to enjoy your food and how it is made is only one of the benefits of not eating meat!

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