How to Become a Vegetarian

There are a lot of reasons you might consider switching to a plant-based diet—maybe you’re passionate about the treatment of animals, have a desire to decrease your impact on the environment, or want to improve your health. Whatever your reasons, you might be concerned that becoming a vegetarian will be tough. While you can expect a few hurdles along the path, making the switch can actually be a lot easier—and tastier—than you expected!

[Edit]Steps

[Edit]Start by introducing a few meatless meals into your diet.

  1. Gradually increase how many plant-based meals you eat each week. Jumping straight into a vegetarian diet can be a little tough if you’re used to eating meat most days of the week. Instead, try reworking a few of your favorite meals each week so they’re vegetarian-friendly. Over time, replace more and more of your meals with plant-based options until you’re able to completely switch to a vegetarian diet.[1]
    Become a Vegetarian Step 1 Version 3.jpg
    • For instance, if you love to eat spaghetti, you can still enjoy it—just leave out the ground beef. Instead, load up your pasta with hearty veggies like zucchini, mushrooms, yellow squash, carrots, and red peppers.
    • If you love chicken stir-fry, try substituting extra-firm tofu instead.

[Edit]Give up one type of meat at a time.

  1. Don’t try to quit everything all at once. Try eliminating foods on a schedule, like cutting out one meat every week. Not only will it be easier for you to adapt your meals if you switch gradually, but it can also give your body more time to adjust to the different diet. You might even plan to have one “last meal” with each ingredient you’re giving up before you resolve not to eat it again.[2]
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    • For instance, you might start by cutting all red meat from your diet, like beef, lamb, or venison. After a week, you might eliminate pork, such as bacon and ham, followed by chicken, then fish and shellfish.

[Edit]Find plant-based substitutes at the grocery store.

  1. Try meat alternatives when a craving hits. If you’re really missing a certain food, check out which meat substitutes are available at your local grocery store. For instance, you might be able to grab some veggie burgers, wheat-based “chicken” cutlets, rice-paper “bacon,” or soy “hot dogs.” If you’re going vegan, you might be able to find alternatives for things like eggs and cheese, as well.[3]
    • The texture and taste of these products usually aren’t exactly the same as their meat-based counterparts, but you may find that you develop a preference for them anyway.
    • Tofu, tempeh, and seitan can be used as a substitute for meat in a lot of conventional recipes.
    • Avoid basing your whole diet on these meat alternatives—they’re usually highly processed, and you usually won’t get the same nutritional benefits as you would from adding in more veggies to your meal.[4]

[Edit]Experiment with new recipes.

  1. Check out vegetarian menus and cookbooks for new ideas. When you’re starting out as a vegetarian, it’s usually easiest to adapt recipes you already like. However, there’s a whole world of vegetarian food out there, so don’t feel like you’re limited to just meals you already know! Read vegetarian cookbooks, blogs, and menus to find recipes that interest you. Branch out into new cuisines, as well—Indian food, for instance, has tons of tasty vegetarian dishes you can try![5]
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    • Visit vegetarian restaurants to find new foods you like, then try to recreate those dishes at home.
    • Get creative—the more variety you can include in your diet, the more likely you’ll be to get all the nutrients you need.

[Edit]Decide what kind of vegetarian you want to be.

  1. There are a number of different vegetarian diets to choose from. Vegetarians range from vegan—meaning they don’t consume or use any type of animal products at all—to partial vegetarians, who just try to stick to a plant-based diet the majority of the time. This is a really personal choice, and it’s okay if you need to experiment for a while to find out what works for you. In the end, it comes down to what makes you feel the best, both physically and mentally. Some of your choices include:[6]
    • Vegan: No animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, or honey.
    • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: No meat, including poultry and fish, but can eat eggs and dairy
    • Lacto vegetarian: No meat or eggs, but can have dairy
    • Ovo vegetarian: No meat or dairy, but can eat eggs
    • Partial: May eat fish (pesco-vegetarian), poultry (pollo-vegetarian), or fish and poultry (pesce-pollotarian).

[Edit]Eat tons of fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

  1. Don’t just rely on pasta and junk food. Technically, as a vegetarian, you could just eat chips, noodles, and fries all day. However, that’s not going to be very good for your body.[7] Instead of eating a lot of processed, high-calorie foods, make sure you’re getting plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. In general, each day you need about:[8]
    Become a Vegetarian Step 6 Version 3.jpg
    • 2 1/2 cups (around 400 g) of vegetables
    • 2 cups (around 220 g) of fruits
    • 6 1/2 oz of whole grains (the equivalent of 6 slices of bread or 650 g of cooked rice or pasta)
    • 3 cups of dairy (equal to 237 ml of milk or 83 g of shredded cheese, for instance)

[Edit]Research your nutritional needs.

  1. Pay close attention to your intake of important nutrients. In particular, be sure you’re eating enough vitamin B12, calcium, protein, iron, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals that you’d normally get from meat. Luckily, you can get a lot of the nutrients you need just by eating a variety of fruits and veggies each day. For instance, to get:[9]
    Become a Vegetarian Step 7 Version 3.jpg
    • Iron: Eat legumes (like chickpeas and lentils), tofu, dried fruit, broccoli, and iron-fortified cereals.
    • Calcium: Drink milk, fortified soy milk, and fortified orange juice; eat tofu and leafy greens like kale.
    • Vitamin D: Drink milk or fortified soy milk and eat fortified breakfast cereals. Also, spend time outside—your body produces vitamin D when you’re exposed to sunlight.
    • Protein: Eat eggs, dairy, nuts, tofu, beans, whole grains and cereals, and tofu.
    • B12: Consume eggs, dairy, fortified soy milk, fortified breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast.
    • Zinc: Eat dairy, dried beans, tofu, and fortified cereals.
    • Omega-3 fatty acids: Vegetable oils like soybean, canola, and flaxseed, as well as eggs, walnuts, and chia seeds.
    • Iodine: Use iodized salt to season your food.

[Edit]Read ingredient labels with care.

  1. Be aware that some surprising foods contain animal products. The only way to know for sure if a prepared product like a sauce, condiment, or soup is vegetarian is to read the label carefully. When you’re starting out, it can help to carry a card with the names of animal-based ingredients so you can compare it to the label while you’re at the store. A few foods to be mindful of:[10]
    Become a Vegetarian Step 8 Version 3.jpg
    • Cheese—may be made with rennet, which is made from the stomach lining of young animals
    • Worcestershire sauce—contains anchovies
    • Curry pastes—may contain fish sauce or shrimp paste
    • Desserts—may be made with gelatin or colored with cochineal, a food coloring made from beetle shells
    • Alcoholic drinks—may be filtered using animal products

[Edit]Don’t give up if you eat something with meat.

  1. It’s normal to have a relapse once in a while. Many vegetarians have cravings for meat once in a while, especially in the early days. If that happens and you give in, it doesn’t mean you’re any less committed to a plant-based diet, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Just remind yourself why you wanted to be a vegetarian in the first place, and keep trying.[11]
    Become a Vegetarian Step 9 Version 3.jpg
    • You might even find that it’s easier for you to eat a mostly plant-based diet, but to still have meat or fish occasionally. If that’s the case, don’t fret—you’ll still get many of the same health benefits as you would from following a fully vegetarian diet.[12]
    • One study found that as many as 84% of vegetarians have a relapse after a year, so if you do give in and have a meat-based meal, keep in mind that you’re definitely not alone.[13]
    • If you suddenly start craving meat, you might not be getting enough food. Be sure you eat at least 1200 calories a day, and include legumes, nuts, and seeds in your diet so you’ll get enough healthy fats.[14]

[Edit]Ask your family and friends for support.

  1. Talk to the people you’re closest to. Let them know your wishes for your diet, and briefly explain your reasons for going vegetarian. For instance, you might let them know that it fits your religious beliefs, that you want to improve your health, or that you care deeply about animal welfare and want to do your part to make a difference. You might even say that it’s more affordable—plant-based meals often cost less than meals made with meat. No matter your reasons, try to keep an open mind about these conversations and ask people to respect your decision even if they don’t agree.[15]
    Become a Vegetarian Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • Don’t be surprised if you’re met with a little resistance when people find out you’re a vegetarian. There can be a lot of reasons for people to be critical—they might feel defensive of their own choice to eat meat, they might be ill-informed about vegetarianism, or they might have concerns about your health.
    • Offer to cook for the people in your life—they might be surprised how delicious a plant-based meal can be! If you’re invited to gatherings, bring vegetarian-friendly foods so you know there will be something you can eat.[16]

[Edit]Plan ahead if you’re going to eat out.

  1. Check out the restaurant’s options ahead of time. If you’re invited to a restaurant you’ve never been to before, go online and scope out their menu. See if they have any vegetarian options that will work for you, like veggie burgers, cheese quesadillas, or meat-free salads. Some restaurants will be willing to make small changes to their meals to make them meat-free, but if there’s nothing on the menu that you can eat, either suggest somewhere different or politely decline the invitation.[17]
    Become a Vegetarian Step 10 Version 3.jpg
    • If you’re going on vacation, take some time to research any vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the area before you leave.

[Edit]Tips

  • Many of your favorites can be turned vegetarian, such as lasagna, chili, and spaghetti without the meat or with meat substitutes. Also, many familiar foods such as peanut butter and jelly, pasta and tomato sauce, or black beans and rice are already vegetarian.
  • If you’re not getting enough nutrients from your diet, you may need to talk to your doctor about taking a daily multivitamin or other supplements so you stay healthy.

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