Tips for Maintaining a Vegetarian/Vegan Diet

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When someone finds out I'm a vegetarian (and sometimes vegan, but man, cheese), I usually get one main question - how?  Particularly in this country, and of course in the Midwest where I live, it seems impossible to not subsist on that meat and potatoes diet.  But I promise, it's really not that hard.  It's not even something I think about.

I'm not going to tell you why you shouldn't eat meat, or about all the health reasons why you should adopt a vegetarian diet, because you should do whatever you want.  A lot of people want to consume less meat, or quit it altogether.  For a myriad of reasons - animal welfare, carbon footprint, general health, the desire to stop eating what's essentially decomposing flesh (just me?  Oh okay.)  If that's you, I have a couple of quick tips for you.  Now, I've been a lifelong vegetarian, so I've never experienced some of the 'switching off meat' issues that some people have. But a lot of people report feeling tired and a bit crabby, and I know my mom had her hair fall out a bit when she quit cold turkey.  I recommend easing into it and making sure you get enough sleep and take all the vitamins you need.  You may want to talk to a nutritionist or your doctor, so they can recommend anything you might be lacking, just to make the transition as easy as possible.  But here's some of the main considerations you need to know:

Get Enough Protein

This seems to be the main concern for people, thinking that animals are the only source of protein - it's just not true.  You can get everything you need from a plant based diet.  First of all, you need to know what your daily protein intake should be, because it varies widely from person to person depending on sex, height, weight, activity level, current diet, and history of eating protein.  The Fitness Pal app is a free way to figure out what your number should be and you're able to use it to track what you eat and track the protein contents of that food.  It's also worth noting that the amount it way less than meat-eaters would lead you to believe.  Don't worry too much, because a lot of foods have protein in it.  Like vegetables (think about it, all foods are protein, carb, or fat. Broccoli isn't a fat, is it?  So what do you think it is?  Carb and protein, yep.)

As far as what to eat to make up for the missing protein?  Beans are the winner here for sure.  They're super cheap and provide tons of protein, plus there's so many different kinds that you could make a lot of recipes - Mexican style beans and rice, meat-free chili, hummus, a lot of options exist, I promise.   Quinoa is another amazing protein option and I have it every day.  It is a 'grain' but it's also the only non-meat complete protein.   If you're thinking about becoming vegetarian or vegan, get on the quinoa train ASAP.  You can have it for any meal and make it an flavor profile you want.  Use it in place of rice, oats, or pasta (they make quinoa pasta now.)

I don't do tofu.  I know a lot of vegetarians do, but I can't stand it.   It's a weird texture and it's hard to cook with.  It's made of soy, which is also an endocrine disruptor so it's not recommended to have every day anyway.  I don't do soy milk or soy products either, for this reason.  Vegetarian is a little easier than vegan in terms of dairy, since it is a source of protein.  And if you're vegan, it does seem easy to replace dairy with all the soy options out there, but I don't recommend it.   There's better ways to go about that - like almond or cashew milk!

If you still need protein after the beans, quinoa, and vegetables, try adding in some protein powder. My favorite is the Vega kind, which is a plant-based pea protein. I'm not a fan of the flavored stuff, like chocolate or vanilla, personally, so I just get the unflavored kind and mix it in with some blended fruits or juice.  In general, I try to make my sure my meals have a lot of vegetables, beans, and quinoa, and supplement from there with the protein powder if I'm having a particularly unhealthy and junk food filled weekend.

Get Enough Iron

This is the other nutrient that's generally lacking in a vegetarian diet.  Supplements exist but it's harder for the body to process and retain all the iron from them, so it's best to try to get your iron requirements from your diet.  Plants are actually better anyway, in terms of nutrient density when compared to meat.  Green leafy vegetables are the best source of this, like spinach or swiss chard.  Spinach is easy to add to everything too, because you can eat it raw in salad or cook it along with any other item you're already making.  Beans and nuts are also a really good source of iron, so if you're eating them already for the protein, you're doing great.  Another good source of iron?  Molasses.  Go figure.  Add it to your quinoa with fruits for breakfast!  I always recommend everyone take a multivitamin every day though, regardless of diet, and you can find ones with iron added (like Centrum women's) if you think it's a concern for you.

Plan Your Meals

And simple ones, at that.  Planning meals is essential when you're trying to stick to any type of new diet, whether it's weight loss related or food restrictions related.  Pinterest is a great source of recipes, so take the time to highlight the interesting but easy ones and plan out a week of meals.  If you usually have meat with every meal, try planning just lunches without it.  Do whatever you can to make it easy on yourself.  Sticking as close as possible to real foods is the way to go.  Over time you may want to vary it up and try new things, like pureeing cauliflower, hemp seeds, and nutritional yeast into a pseudo alfredo sauce, but I certainly don't think you should start there because you'll just burn out and think it's too hard.  It's absolutely not too hard, cooking meat is way harder.  The basics are easy and delicious - try a quinoa burrito bowl.  Just quinoa, black beans, avocado, salsa, maybe some sauteed veggies and spinach for good measure.  Just like Chipotle but way healthier for you.

The other important issue in planning your meals is making sure you're eating enough, especially if you're also cutting our dairy.  Plants and beans just have significantly less calories than meat and dairy, so you're going to be eating, quantity-wise, more food.  That's a hard transition for some, but tracking everything on an app and planning out the meals will make sure you're getting enough calories per meal, so you don't wind up thinking that a plant based diet leaves you always hungry.

Eating Out

Being a vegetarian certainly makes eating out cheaper, let me assure you.  But it can make it more difficult.  I've already talked about Happy Cow on the the blog, which is a great resource to find something vegetarian friendly near you, but research in general is your friend.  If you're in charge of deciding the restaurant, great!  I like Mexican, Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern food in those instances, because the menus are wide and the rest of the world consumes way less meat than we do.  They're also usually cheaper.  But if someone else has already decided, study the menu online beforehand.  You should be able to find something that will work, even at a steakhouse.  It's not the most fun, but ordering off the sides menu will give you a lot of different options.  Most places will also make me pasta, you just have to ask - I'm a seasoned pro since my dad loves steakhouses and I've never eaten anything at them.  They almost always have some form of pasta.

Are you a vegetarian or vegan?  If you're thinking about consuming less meat in your day, for whatever reason, let me know in the comments if you have any other questions or want me to do a round up of some of my favorite vegetarian and vegan recipes that don't suck.

Thanks so much for stopping by.  You can also join me on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.  In addition to minimalism and organizing, I love all things 'real life' so use the hashtag #notentirelyperfect on social media so I can see your beautifully unstaged life.  On the top of the side bar to your right, you can follow me on Bloglovin or subscribe via e-mail to be alerted to each new post.

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