A friend of ours has recently decided to stop eating meat. That sounds simple, but if you’ve always eaten meat, it’s not as simple as it sounds. If you’ve never really thought too hard about what you eat, it could be a complete shock to the system. Our friend is definitely finding that to be the case.
Knowing that I am vegetarian, he has picked my brain a few times, and it has made me think that it could be an interesting post for anyone making the same change to their diet.
Removing meat means losing vital nutrients in your diet, all of which are easily replaceable as long as you know what you’re doing. The main one is obviously protein, but also vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, iron, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids. These can all be easily found in vegetarian food choices. Eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds are your friends, along with other ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily think of like beans, legumes/pulses, some grains, lentils, oats which all contain protein. Other sources are listed below:
Vitamin B12: eggs and dairy are the best options
Vitamin D: is very difficult to find as a food source; I take cod liver oil tablets which give me omega 3 fatty acids, as well as much needed vitamin D
Iron: try legumes, nuts, seeds, prunes, raisins, kale, broccoli, spinach – eat with a source of vitamin C for maximum effect as it aids absorption of the iron (sweet potato is a great option for this, as it’s packed with vitamin C)
Zinc: whole grains, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, lentils
Omega 3 fatty acids: flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, also walnuts, soybeans, olive oil, hemp oil
*Many of these tips can also be applied to a vegan diet, removing the eggs and dairy
If you’ve always eaten meat, a typical meal would have no doubt been built around the meat portion: you start with the meat, and then add the extras, vegetables, potatoes, pasta, rice etc. When you don’t eat meat, or fish, or both, you have to think differently, unless you choose meat replacement products like quorn or tofu of course. I don’t eat those things so my meals are created differently. And you can’t just replace a portion of meat with a similar size portion of cheese: imagine a chicken breast sized piece of cheese?! Heart stopping stuff!!
Vegetarian proteins are not always lean proteins like some meat, you need to be aware of portion sizes. Nuts and seeds are great and provide so much goodness, but you can’t eat great piles of them any more than you can full fat cheese without it starting to affect your waistline.
If you are suddenly introducing your digestion to more vegetables, and legumes, than it’s used to, it may cause bloating and wind. In fact, I would suggest that you expect it, then it won’t be a surprise! All that extra fibre will take a bit of getting used to.
A lack of some of the key nutrients might make you feel achey, and it may be worth at some point requesting a blood test to see if you do have any deficiencies, or low levels, of any nutrients to help you understand what you need to boost.
People think that vegetarianism, or veganism, is a way to lose weight; the opposite can often be the case. It’s very easy to end up with very carbohydrate heavy meals. Think about how you filled your plate when you ate meat and keep the amounts of carbohydrate to a similar amount and fill up on salad and less heavy vegetables. I’m told that meat protein is very filling, so your meal now needs to include different filling foods without it being all carbs.
Becoming vegetarian just takes a bit of planning and understanding until it becomes second nature, which to me is all part of the fun of it, but to others may be new and daunting. Do lots of reading and research and read great blogs (like mine!) and other people’s experiences. Our bodies are all different, but the basics will be the same.
I make everything that I eat, but that’s my choice because I have the time, the inclination, and I love it! I love knowing exactly what is in the food that I eat, and I can manage exactly what my body needs. If that is not your inclination, or you don’t have the time, there are a lot of vegetarian choices available in supermarkets and restaurants nowadays. I have no interest in eating ‘meat replacement’ foods, they’re just not my thing, but if you do want to try them, I believe they are often fortified with helpful nutrients for vegetarians.
Becoming vegetarian really doesn’t have to be hard work.
If you are worried that you’re going to be hungry without meat, or fish, it really isn’t the case. You may feel a different kind of fullness, you may even notice that you don’t feel as ‘heavy’ or sluggish after meals because your body is no longer working hard to process the meat protein. But hungry, no, I never go hungry, ever!!!
That may all seem a lot to take in, so let me give you some ideas of what I do…
*I pack out my morning porridge with flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts as well as the oats and lots of spices
*I ensure that I include a source of protein in every meal, whether I top dishes with cheese, low fat cream cheese, goats cheese, chopped nuts, seeds or a swirl of plain yoghurt – I eat a lot of natural yoghurt because I love it which helps – whether I include quinoa, a magic grain packed with protein, whether I add dollops of homous or other dips
*I use ground almonds/almond flour in place of breadcrumbs where I can (I also prefer the flavour), or as a thickener in sauces or curries
*Tahini is wonderful! Tahini is a sesame seed paste packed full of goodness. Use it to make homous (another winner in the nutrition stakes), use it in place of cream, swirl it through soup, eat it from the pot! (Sparingly though!!)
*Nut butters are great, again you can add them to so many recipes; for example, make a batch of bean chilli and add a spoonful of peanut butter
*Eggs baked in tomato sauces are a godsend – the perfect fast food
*Or eggs cooked in vegetable hashes (top right)
*Another idea that I’ve read but haven’t tried yet, it using chopped walnuts as a mince replacement in things like bolognese sauce or ragu
*Portobello mushrooms are noted for a having meaty texture and often provide a satisfying feel in the mouth for those missing meat
*Bacon alternatives can be made with slices of sweet potato, or indeed aubergine
*Chorizo flavours can be created with spices, particularly smoked paprika and chilli powder
If you are deciding to remove meat, and maybe fish, from your diet, I would definitely recommend to phase it out, going ‘cold turkey’ could put your body into shock and create discomfort. Maybe start by removing red meats, then poultry and white meats, then fish etc.
Whatever you choose to do, I wish you great luck, and I am always available if I can assist with any ideas…
*If you know someone who might find this useful, please do pass it on. Thank you 🙂