Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Quick Guide to Being a Vegetarian

Below is a quick list of my favorite vegetarian recipe resources, a list of tips for the transition into vegetarianism and a few notes about supplements. A dear friend asked me for some information and I know that a few other friends have given up meat for Lent. I hope that this post helps you all! Please feel free to ask me questions!

Check out this magazine and website.
I highly recommend Vegetarian Times magazine. I paid $15 for a one-year subscription - and I love it! The recipes are easy and it is full of healthy tips. Unlike some vegetarian and/or vegan magazines, Vegetarian Times isn't full of articles about animal cruelty (Veg News has an agenda that gets in the way of my desire to cook). Vegetarian Times focuses on recipes. They have a website, but I find it somewhat difficult to navigate through the recipes online. It's a great place to start if you do not feel ready to commit to the magazine:

Read this website. Another wonderful resource is the Whole Foods Blog. It is full of health-related articles and they frequently do a one-food special. For example, last week they featured asparagus, which is in season right now. The post had 10 asparagus-related recipes and talked about the nutrition and benefits of the vegetable. It is not a vegetarian blog, but every post with recipes in it will have some (or several!) vegetarian options. Check The Whole Foods Blog often for new posts. I read this blog every day.

Buy this book. There is one book that I LOVE because it is so simple and full of easy recipes. It's Betty Crocker Easy Everyday Vegetarian (Amazon link). It has a few appetizers but focuses mostly on main dishes. I have found that main dishes are the most challenging part of my veggie meal time. We are all so used to the meat-and-three plate, finding something to replace the meat is daunting. This book supplies the "main dish" part of meals. It has been a wonderful addition to my kitchen.

A note about shopping for vegetarian cookbooks:
Many vegetarian cook books and websites tend to be full of weird ingredients. I don't like it when every recipe has something strange and expensive that I'll never use again (like nutritional yeast. I mean, what the heck is that? There's no way I'll use it all up). So, if you do start looking at cookbooks, be sure you examine a whole bunch of recipes inside the book before you buy it. If it's full of odd ingredients that you do not recognize, chances are they will not get used up and you've wasted money on a weird food. This is why the Betty Crocker book has been so valuable. It does not use weird ingredients.

Transitioning into a Vegetarian Diet:

I made this transition over a year ago, but I still remember the challenges. To be honest, my mouth still waters when I smell steak on the grill. Some things will never change. There are a few things I learned that make the switch easier. Here they are:

Do not replace meat with fake meat. When you first give up meat, it's tempting to buy a bunch of meat-replacement foods (like veggie-ground-beef and veggie-sliced-ham). However, they taste weird and do not have the same texture. When I used these, it made me miss meat and dislike the "healthy" stuff. It was much easier for me to just eat dishes that tasted good and had no substitutes. For example, instead of putting vegetarian ground beef in chili, make the chili without meat. Now that I'm a year into it, I find myself using these substitutes a little more often. The taste and texture of real meat are no longer fresh on my mind, though. For beginners, avoiding these is a good route.

Eat your grains. I also had a hard time feeling full when I first gave up meat. Eating a salad rarely fills me up. I get hungry fast and stay hungry. The best remedy for this is to eat the "vegetarian complete meal" frequently. The Vegetarian Complete Meal is a grain, a bean, and a green. For example, make some rice and add spinach to the rice a few minutes before it's finished cooking. Cook some beans and put them on top of the rice/spinach dish. Make a lot of vegetarian chili and pour it over whole grain noodles or rice or whole grain chips. Have crackers and cheese for lunch. Eat lots of eggs with toast for breakfast. Eat oatmeal. Try barley and quinoa and other new grains. Eat rice, rice, rice. It keeps you full and helps your body to adjust to the change.

Eat your grains, but not too much. A final thing that really challenged me when I first switched was the temptation to replace my meat with a bread. It's easy to eat more rolls or toast when you don't have the filled-up feeling from bacon and chicken. I've learned that grains have a very important place in my vegetarian diet. They supply protein, fiber and nutrients that I need. As a result, I've given up the Atkin's anti-bread lifestyle. However, that does not mean that I let myself have bread with every meal. Instead, I try to buy and eat only whole grains - oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole wheat tortillas, whole grain chips and crackers - and I always eat more veggies than bread in a sitting. Some grains - rice, barley, quinoa and oatmeal - are really so good for you and it's silly to avoid them. Taking the empty place on your plate where meat used to sit and putting a big roll there instead is a very bad idea. Don't do this.

Learn where and how to eat out. Foreign food is your best bet for vegetarian options. Isn't that odd? Italian places will always have meat-free pasta and salads, Indian restaurants have lots of vegetarian options, as do most Mexican restaurants. When it comes to fast food, the same rules apply. Taco Bell will usually replace meat with beans if you ask. Deli's - like Panera - usually have veggie sandwiches, soups and panini's. Avoid most American restaurants and steakhouses. These are the places that are least likely to have vegetarian options (that's really sad). If you do find yourself in a steakhouse, check the appetizers and side dishes! I usually order a loaded baked potato (minus the bacon, of course) and some appetizer. Feel free to ask your waiter what they would recommend. More than once, my waitress has ended up being a vegetarian and was able to recommend something delicious!

About Vitamins

Take a multivitamin every day and consider adding some supplements. Vegetarian diets can begin to run low on B-vitamins. Humans get most of their B-vitamins from meat; they do not occur in the plant world very often. B-vitamins are the HAPPY vitamins. They directly affect mood and cell health, so they are very important. My whole family supplements these - usually with a liquid supplement that we squirt into our juice in the morning. They are available in pill form, as well. Look for a "B-Vitamin Complex" (link to the VitamineShoppe, my favorite vitamin store). It will have all you need. B-vitamins have such a strong affect on mood and happiness, you really should supplement them.

When it comes to a multivitamin, I take a Skin, Hair, Nails supplement. I found that this particular supplement contains extra amounts of minerals and vitamins that vegetarians need - iron, zinc, B-vitamins, D, and more. If you don't want to search for a skin/hair/nails supplement, a multivitamin for adults should be sufficient. I just wanted to share my favorite. In case you're wondering, yes, it has helped my skin, my hair, and my nails! In general, a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and grains will not lack very many nutrients.

In Conclusion:
Make an effort to eat all kinds of different foods, from mushrooms to kale, and you'll be healthy as a horse in no time! Vegetarianism is not for picky eaters. You'll need to man up and reach for the Star Fruit and Mango in the grocery. Go ahead and buy a big bag of broccoli, then find a tasty recipe for it when you get home. If you haven't had oranges in a while, buy some and snack on them! Be creative and explore!

Whatever you do, do not eat junk. Vegetarianism is your chance to learn to eat fresh foods, not processed ones. Don't forgo steak and green beans for a dinner of mac'n'cheese. It may take a little more effort to learn about new foods and it certainly takes effort to make tasty vegetables, but I promise it will be much better for your body! If you eat a lot of junk food, you will feel tired, get sick easily and gain weight. So, don't go there, okay?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Adding pepperjack cheese to a black bean burger is a very wise decision I have learned in the past two weeks of no meat!