Advice for new vegetarians
People have lots of questions about becoming vegetarian, including what to eat and what foods to avoid, diet, getting enough nutrition, and meal options or choices.
Sponsored Links

If youíre thinking about or have recently become a vegetarian, you may be confused about what to do next. And youíre probably hearing scary things from your friends and family trying to convince you itís unhealthy and not a good long-term lifestyle choice to eliminate meat from your diet. Some of them maybe trying to keep you from going vegetarian because they think itís weird or they donít want to have to cook you special meals. Others may be genuinely concerned that there are health issues involved with vegetarian diets.

Though there is a lot of information out there about vegetarianism, many people donít know the facts about what this diet entails. Here are answers to some of the basics for you or to share with someone you know who has questions about your new lifestyle.

What is a vegetarian?

While the basic definition of vegetarian is people who donít eat meat, there are actually several different kinds of vegetarians out there today. Some vegetarians still eat fish and shellfish and are called pesco-vegetarians. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat milk and eggs but reject other animal products. Some people who eliminate certain meats (usually beef and pork) but still eat others (fowl and fish) call themselves semi-vegetarian. And then there are vegans, who do not eat anything that comes from an animal: no milk, eggs, honey, marshmallows or other products. They donít wear leather or hide and many do not eat refined sugar or other products that may not strictly come from an animal but use animal parts in their production.

How does one make the switch to a vegetarian lifestyle?

The reasons and ways people choose to become vegetarians are often quite individual. Some people are instantly struck with the desire to never eat meat again and thus transition quickly, others may ease into a vegetarian lifestyle by first cutting out beef and pork, then chicken and fish. It is up to you how much eat or animal products you are comfortable with consuming. There is no right and wrong way to become a vegetarian, as long as you follow a healthy diet.

What should vegetarians eat?

The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is much the same as the key to a health meat-eating diet: all things in moderation, eat a variety of foods and eat the freshest produce grown as close to home as possible. Becoming a vegetarian and starting on a junk-food diet because you donít know what else to eat is not a healthy option.

Many people think that vegetarians on the whole have problems getting proper nutrition, particularly protein. Thatís because most people think the main sources of protein are animal products, but there are many beans and grains that contain sufficient protein to keep anyone healthy. It used to be thought that foods with different components of protein needed to be eaten at the same time in order for the body to absorb them (beans and rice, for instance). This is no longer thought to be the case, so as long as you get a variety of foods throughout the day you should have no problem staying healthy.

The only vitamin your body needs that is not available from plants is vitamin B-12. This vitamin, crucial for cell division and the formation of blood, is found only in animal products and contaminated plants. Nutritional yeast (which is not the same as yeast used for baking) is a good source of B-12, and you can often find fortified soymilk or other products to meet the very small need for B-12. If you donít use any of these foods, a supplement will be needed.

How do vegetarians eat out?

More and more restaurants all over the country are providing vegetarian options, from salads to veggie burgers, soups to pasta dishes. You can often order a salad or pasta dish without meat or other animal products. If you arenít sure if a dish comes with meat (or if the Caesar dressing is made with anchovies) donít be afraid to ask. Restaurants are in the business of catering to their customerís needs. Donít be cranky or expect the restaurant to devise a special dish just for you, but know that most establishments are willing to make dishes without meat.

Of course there are also many restaurants that only serve vegetarian food these days. If you donít happen to live in a city where there is one, know that your best bets for vegetarian meals are Thai and Chinese restaurants (where you can order almost anything with tofu, beware of duck sauce, though) Italian restaurants, especially those catering to families (which will always have cheese ravioli with marinara on the menu) and pizza. If youíre looking to try out a new restaurant you can always call ahead and make sure there are vegetarian options on the menu.

What about holidays?

American holidays all revolve around food, and that food is a big hunk of dead animal flesh. While you donít want to boycott Christmas just because your mother insists on making ham, you want to make sure thereís enough on the table for you to eat. This often means bringing a hearty side dish of your own (something with protein) to supplement those on offer for everyone else. Make enough to share and donít make a big deal about the fact that you donít want to eat the meat. If someone at the table is hostile or makes fun of you because of what you arenít eating, try not to tell them about the putrefying carcass sitting in their intestines. Say that you have made a personal choice not to destroy other lives so that you can live and you appreciate people being respectful of that choice. Being calm instead of hostile may not get rid of all of your critics, but it might just give you a chance to educate others.

Changing to a vegetarian diet is a big decision and it should not be taken lightly. It can take a long time to change your diet and lifestyle to a completely vegetarian one, and you many not want to transition completely. You may decide to save meat for special occasions or eat vegetarian during the week and meat on the weekends. Or you may find that vegetarianism is just right for you. It will give you a chance to try many new foods and flavors and develop a healthier attitude about food and life.