What is a vegetarian? What makes people want to become vegetarian? What do vegetarians eat? Do vegetarians get enough protein? Are vegetarians nutrient deficient? Let’s answer these basic questions in this article on how to become a vegetarian.

First off, what is a vegetarian? A vegetarian is someone who chooses to eat a diet free of animals. Vegetarians will avoid animal flesh but will eat eggs and dairy products. Why would someone want to eliminate animal products from their diet? Well, that’s the first step in learning about how to become a vegetarian:

1. Find a reason that resonates with you

Every lifestyle change requires motivation. There are multiple reasons you may be attracted to vegetarianism:

Increased Personal Health – A diet high in animal products, which often includes a heightened intake of animal fat, can lead to obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Eating meat increases your potential for food poisoning. A well-balanced plant-based diet can increase wellness. There are hundreds of different plant foods you can eat that taste great and will provide you with the nutrients you need.

Compassion for Animals – Eliminating animal products from your diet takes a stance against animal cruelty and the violence associated with killing. The commitment to reduce suffering may be part of a religious creed, increasing spirituality and personal integrity as personal beliefs are upheld.

The Environment  – Livestock are one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse gases that drive global climate change. Deforestation is occurring at a rapid pace to make room to grow soybeans and grains to feed factory farmed animals. Vegetarians have smaller carbon footprints and use less of the earth’s resources, leaving more for other people and species.

Human Rights – Slaughtering animals and processing their flesh is an inherently dangerous industry where the company profits consistently take priority over workers’ most basic rights. Slaughterhouse employees work in facilities with poor safety regulations, plus endure mental trauma associated with the jobs responsibilities.

Why are you interested in vegetarianism? A firm intention will make it easier to shift your eating habits for good. If you are interested in making the change, it’s important to understand the difference between progress and perfection. You do not need to switch to a complete vegetarian diet right away for it to be effective. You can start by making small changes, such as incorporating things like meatless Mondays, or eating one meal with meat per day/week. Small changes are just as effective.

2. Know your body’s needs and how to meet them

Vegetarians get their nutrients from plant-based sources. If you are accustomed to an omnivore’s diet, protein is a macronutrient most often supplied by meat. Calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, and iron are other nutrients often supplied by animal-products. As a novice vegetarian, you may need to pay more attention to what you eat, to make sure you get a balanced diet full of plants and not refined or processed food. Plants are full of nutrients, and a properly planned vegetarian diet is nutritionally adequate.

The good news is that you can get all of your protein from plants. Protein is needed to build hair, muscles, bones, and other tissues; It’s a component for enzymes and hormones; It enhances our immunity. Protein is made up of about twenty building blocks called amino acids, nine must come from the food we eat. What do vegetarians eat that provide these nine essential amino acids? They eat various combinations of whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and vegetables. For example, these classic combinations provide all nine essential amino acids: rice and beans, a peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread, and whole-wheat pita with hummus. You do not need to eat these protein combinations in one meal, you can eat them throughout the day to ensure you are consuming complete proteins. For example, you can eat beans for breakfast and rice for dinner.

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

American Dietic Association

3. Enjoy this new adventure

Rather than focus on deprivation or trying to find meat substitutes, view this as a new path. Check out some cookbooks at the library—start with the classic Moosewood Cookbook. Get on social media and get inspiration from celebrity vegetarian chefs like Isa Chandra Moskowitz from Post Punk Kitchen, Ela Vegan, the Minimalist Baker, or Chloe Coscarelli. Dine at vegetarian or vegan restaurants to get some inspiration for meals and to taste wonderful vegetarian food. Buy seasonal produce directly from a local farmer by visiting a farmer’s market or subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture. This will help you expand your plant-based eating repertoire. Find recipes you are excited about preparing. Make a list of vegetables and snacks that you like and stock them in your pantry. Some great vegan snack ideas are bell peppers and hummus, carrots and hummus, edamame with Himalayan salt, peanut butter and banana, chips with salsa or guacamole, or popcorn with nutritional yeast! Have fun on the journey!

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