Vegetarian 101

Last night, I got to have bubble tea with Holleigh.  Holleigh is a blogger who I met via Kerry who got me into the world of blogging in the first place by talking about Supermom's blog. (Remiss blogger that I am, I totally forgot to snap a photo!)

Holleigh just became a vegetarian two weeks ago and was asking questions.  Given that I've been eating this way for the past twelve to 15 years, I had a LOT of information.

It hit me that others might be wondering how to make the switch so here are a few things to keep in mind...

1.  The hardest part is figuring out what to eat.  Eating and cooking is something we've done daily for forever so making changes takes planning and intention. Focus on eating whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit rather than giving up meat.

2. Read labels.  There are animal products in foods you might not be aware of like gelatin (animal skin, ligaments, bones and sinews), glycerin (animal fat), rennet (calf stomach), lecithin (from animal tissues), and pepsin (enzymes gathered from pigs stomachs). If you are making the change for health reasons, then you aren't only reading for meat items (sometimes only listed as "natural flavorings") but you are also looking to eliminate preservatives and dyes.
 
3.  If you give up meat, you also have to give up processed sugar.  This is a macrobiotic principle of balance that I didn't learn initially when I stopped eating meat.  You can still have natural sugars like sucanat, fruit juices, maple syrup, or honey,  but the processed kind will mess you up without the heavy protein to balance out your blood sugar. (Note that vegans don't eat honey because it is an insect product.)

4.  Learn your new sources of protien.  Legume (beans, lentils, peas, soy) + grains (rice, wheat, breads, pasta) make complete proteins. Other sources include nuts and surprisingly spinach and broccoli.

5.  The less processed, the better.  Think of it like this:  an apple is a perfect source of fuel for our body.  Bake it, and it loses some of the enzymes that fuel us, but still tastes great.  Make it into applesauce by adding sugar and sitting it in a jar on a shelf for months and it is a little less great. Artificially make apple flavor and call it Apple Jacks and we've lost the plot.

6.  Expect pushback from friends and family.  We've been taught the four food groups since birth and friends and family will have concerns when you make a change. (And you will be excited about it so you will talk about it way too much...lol)  A couple of things to keep in mind...You don't need meat to have muscle. Elephants have incredible muscle mass and they are vegetarian.  Humans are the only animals that drink milk beyond infancy (and then we drink milk which is designed for baby cows).  Learn to be gracious and take the concerns as caring, but know that in the end you choose what goes into your body.  Also get used to bringing a dish to gatherings so you don't stress the host/hostess.

7.  Take a B12 supplement.   Note that if we lived in a perfect world, breathing pure, clean air and eating food picked daily from nutrient-rich soil we probably wouldn't need to take supplements. B12 is the one that vegetarians get critically low on so it isn't optional. I've found the sublingual ones that dissolve under the tongue to be more effective.  Also consider a good multivitimin with iron and calcium.

8. Pack a snack.  Meals based on plant foods go through your system more quickly than meat-based meals. Packing a morning and afternoon snack will help keep you fueled through the day.  This could be a handful of almonds, a piece of fruit, a cup of soup, crackers and peanut butter (the natural, no sugar variety) or hummus and veggies (celery sticks, carrot chips, bell pepper slices).

9. You don't need your family to make the change, but it helps if they are supportive. As you make changes, the patterns of what you stock in your kitchen will influence your family's diet too. A strategy I wish I'd discovered earlier is leaving a list each week of what is in the pantry/refrigerator that they can grab and eat on their own.  Here are some ideas...

- fresh fruit (Leave a big bowl on the counter of bananas, apples, pears, oranges, whatever is in season).
- smoothie (In a blender mix 1 cup rice/soy milk or juice with 1 cup frozen fruit.  Add 1tsp vanilla if you like).
- hummus and carrot chips
- assemble yourself peanut butter and crackers
- bowl of cereal
- mixed nuts
- celery sticks and peanut butter
- granola (Cheaper if you learn to make it yourself. It isn't hard.)
- pasta salad
- bean dip and corn or pita chips (In a food processor, 1 can beans + 2 T olive oil + seasoning + clove of garlic...this could be cannelini + fresh rosemary, black + cumin or garbanzo + tahini)
- whole grain rolls or muffins
- baked potato (microwave for 4 - 7 minutes, coach your family to pierce with a fork so it doesn't explode)
- vegetarian ramen (will have to get at Whole Foods or other health food store)
- if going the lacto/ovo route, then grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, string cheese, and ice cream can also be included.

10.  Learn how to eat at restaurants.  Asian (except for Chinese buffets), Italian and Indian restaurants will be the easiest when you first begin. Here are ideas on how to navigate others:

- Steak Houses - usually have a menu of sides with grilled or steamed vegetables and salads
- Mexican - try guacamole, veggie fajitas, spinach enchiladas (if avoiding dairy ask if they can give you a green sauce and leave off the cheese).  It is doubtful that the beans will be vegetarian, so ask.
- Sandwich Shops - WhichWich has the best variety.  Subway, Jimmy Johns, Firehouse and others are rough if unless you eat dairy.
- BBQ.  - Get a baked potato and top with catsup and/or hot sauce. Load up on pickles and peppers.
- Greek. Go with the falafel. Mmmm... Tabouli, Hummus or Baba Ganoush with pita also good.
- Delis.  Most have salads of some sort.  Ask about the soups as most will be made with a meat stock, but if they have a wide variety there is almost always a vegetarian option.
- Fast food.  By far, this is the hardest, but if you absolutely can't avoid it...  Burger King has a veggie burger and Taco Bueno has a black bean vegetarian burrito if dairy is okay for you. Wendy's has baked potatoes and salads. Chipotle has great vegetarian options, and you can order vegetable pizza with or without cheese.

11.  It will take a few months to find equalibrium.  As you make these changes expect your body to protest a little.  This may include headaches, fatigue, skin breakouts and digestive issues. Additives, sugars and other processed foods can be addictive and there will be withdrawal.  As you improve the quality of your food, your body will start to embrace it and you will find that your tastes and cravings change for the better.  Best of all, you are giving your cells better building materials which means a healthier you for the rest of your life.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall