Even if you're someone who swears you could never give up steak or a good hamburger, it's very possible to transition to a vegetarian diet.
It won't be easy, of course — especially at first. In fact, even five or 10 years into it, you might find yourself craving various meat products. But in the end, many vegetarians find a healthier and more socially conscious diet makes the sacrifice well worth it.
If you're thinking of moving to a vegetarian diet, here are some tips to get you headed down the right path.
Know what you're getting into.
Conventional wisdom says a vegetarian diet is better for the environment, but the reality is much more complicated than that. The issue is seriously debated in the scientific community, and recent research from Carnegie Mellon University shows diets that include more fruits and vegetables can actually take a greater toll on the environment.
At the same time, however, there is also an abundance of evidence that eating beef specifically can have a negative impact on the environment.
The point is that it's not a black-and-white situation, and there are no easy answers. If the sole reason you're thinking about becoming a vegetarian is environmental, you're best served doing a bit of research on your own before making a final decision.
Have and own your reasons.
No matter what your reason is for moving to a vegetarian diet, remember it's your decision. Just as you don't have the right to judge what others eat, others have no right to judge you for becoming a vegetarian.
Some folks become vegetarians simply for health reasons. After all, a diet void of meat typically contains much less fat than a carnivorous diet. Others become vegetarians or vegans out of their respect for animals, which is also a completely understandable stance.
In the end, there are many reasons why becoming vegetarian is a good thing. At the same time, the only reason that matters is your own personal choice to eat whatever you want. Nobody should make that decision for you, just as you shouldn't make that decision for anyone else.
Forget about perceived limitations.
Becoming a vegetarian is a serious decision, particularly for those with health conditions, are pregnant or are athletes. It is recommended that you consult your physician prior to making drastic dietary changes.
Now anyone who takes athletics seriously knows a good amount of protein in your diet is paramount, and meat is of course the most common source of protein.
But know this: It is very possible to thrive as an athlete while also maintaining a strict vegetarian diet. In fact, some of the best athletes in history are vegetarians, including Venus Williams, Hank Aaron and Joe Namath.
Another common perception is that becoming a vegetarian will limit where you can and cannot eat. But that's not really the case either. A vegetarian diet of course limits what you can eat, but just about every restaurant these days has some sort of vegetarian options. It's much easier today to find establishments that cater to vegetarian diets than it was even 10 or 20 years ago.
It's not all about protein.
One thing to prepare for when transitioning to a vegetarian diet is the inevitable question: "Where do you get your protein?"
The truth is, it's easy to get a healthy amount of protein through a vegetarian diet. Foods such as eggs, beans and of course protein powder are rich in protein and should be able to provide you with more than enough.
The larger concern most people don't think about is iron. Meat is packed with iron, so cutting it from your diet can have a definite effect on your iron intake. When becoming a vegetarian, make sure to include some iron-rich foods such as dried beans and green leafy vegetables to prevent iron deficiency.
Find good recipes.
The one thing that will make your transition to vegetarianism easiest is having a collection of vegetarian recipes on hand. It takes a bit more effort than simply maintaining your current menu and omitting the meat portions.
A common misperception is that vegetarians only eat salad and vegetables. In general, it is true that a vegetarian diet will contain much less fat than a diet that includes meat, but there are still plenty of hearty options for strict vegetarians.
If you're new to the vegetarian game, come up with a week or two worth of vegetarian menu options to help you ease into the transition. If you’re having trouble transitioning to a vegetarian diet try switching meat out with meat substitutes.
Don't over-rely on soy.
Soy-based products are a good meat replacement, but the ingredient has garnered some recent controversy. Some research says soy is linked to the growth of breast cancer cells, and it is among the most common food allergies.
So should you include soy in your vegetarian diet, or shouldn't you? The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle. It's not a bad option to include occasionally, but it's also probably not best to eat soy products in every single meal.
Like most things, moderation is the key.
Becoming a vegetarian certainly isn't easy, but it's also not as hard as you probably think. Use these tips to gain a basic understanding of a vegetarian lifestyle before you make the change, and your transition should be relatively smooth.
We want to know: Are you vegetarian? Do you remember what it was like to become vegetarian? Do have any tips for meat eaters transitioning to vegetarianism? Please share your advice and tips and leave a comment below.
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