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Top Tips! How To Become A Vegetarian

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Going meat-free doesn’t have to be restrictive. By experimenting with some great tasting food and making sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs, you’ll enjoy the ride.
Imogen Clyde reports

There are many reasons to switch to a vegetarian diet. For some, vegetarianism is a way to eat healthily and avoid the hormones used in animal foods. For others, eating this way has more to do with animal rights, environmental concerns or religion. For myself, it’s simply about the taste. Over the years, I’ve developed a love for lentils and beans, root vegetables and leafy greens which overrides my desire for meat. The condiment, you might say, has become the main event.

If you’re considering becoming vegetarian, the first step is to decide how far you want to go. In following a vegetarian diet, you don’t eat meat, poultry, or fish, but you may choose to include cer tain dairy and animal products in your diet. For instance, lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy products including eggs; lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but no eggs; ovo vegetarians eat eggs but no other dairy products. And then of course there’s the option to go hardcore vegan. If you’re following a vegan diet, you don’t eat meat, poultr y or fish, neither do you eat dairy products or other animal products, like gelatine or honey.

GOING MEAT-FREE
Any lifestyle change requires a little bit of effort so, when going meat-free, you need to set yourself up for as easy a transition as possible. Should you go cold turkey or take a more gradual approach? That’s up to you. You can wipe the slate clean, switch your pantry to all-vegetarian and star t as you mean to go on. Or you may prefer to take it slowly, first giving up red meat, then poultry, then fish. If you already practice “Meatless Mondays,” you may decide to take it even more gently, adding more days as you get used to your new vegetarian diet.

Another tip: make a point of trying new vegetarian foods instead of focusing on what you can’t eat. Invest in a couple of vegetarian cookery books: this will encourage you to experiment with new preparation methods and vegetables that you haven’t eaten before. And take the opportunity to expand your horizons, there are great vegetarian dishes from all over the world – from India to the Mediterranean – that you can add to your repertoire. In the process, you may discover flavours you didn’t know you liked.

Know too that you may still be able to cook many of your favourite recipes with a vegetarian or vegan twist. Often, you can replace the main protein with a vegetarian source, like tofu or tempeh. If the recipe has an animal-based stock, you can use vegetable stock instead. If you’re avoiding dairy, try a non-dairy milk such as almond or soy. Likewise, you can find all sor ts of meat-like alternatives, like veggie burgers and “chicken” nuggets, though you need to avoid products that are heavily processed as these will impact your new focus on “clean,” healthy eating.

PROTEIN SOURCES FOR VEGETARIANS
In turning veggie, most of us lose weight – which is often a plus – but when making any radical change to your diet you need to ensure your body continues to get suf ficient nourishment. The good news is that a well-planned meatless diet can provide all the nutrients you need, including protein, you just have to work at it a bit.

The first thing you need to know is that protein is made up of chains of molecules known as amino acids. There are 20 amino acids found in nature that your body can use to build protein. Out of these 20 amino acids, nine are considered essential, because your body cannot produce them itself – you need to get them from your diet. The remaining 11 are considered non-essential, as your body can produce them from the nine essential amino acids.

Animal protein contains all nine essential amino acids in suf ficient amounts. Plant protein also contains all nine essential amino acids, however most contain a limited amount of at least one essential aminoacid. For instance, beans, lentils, peas and many vegetables tend to contain low amounts of cysteine and methionine. Grains, nuts and seeds tend to be low in lysine. Because of this, plant foods are seen as “incomplete” sources of protein. The solution for vegetarians? Eat a variety of plant-based proteins: that way you will get sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids your body needs.

First an exception to the rule: soybeans are a “whole” source of protein, providing all the essential amino acids you need. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame all originate from soybeans; soy milk is made from soybeans and can be a great alternative to dairy milk.

Most types of beans, including lentils, kidney, pinto and chickpeas, are staple foods across cultures not least because they contain high amounts of protein. The same is true of nuts, nut butters and other seeds, like chia and hemp.

And a word about grains. Wild rice contains approximately 1.5 times as much protein as other long-grain rice varieties, including brown rice and basmati. Ancient grains, like spelt, barley and tef f (which is gluten free), are also high in protein. These ancient grains are a healthy alternative to other grains, such as wheat and rice, and they can be used in many recipes ranging from baked goods to risotto. Likewise, oats contain higher quality protein than other commonly consumed grains.

Seitan is another popular protein source for many vegetarians and vegans. It’s made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. Unlike many soy-based mock meats, it closely resembles the look and texture of meat when cooked. Also known as wheat meat or wheat gluten, it is one of the richest plant protein sources available.

Although all fruits and vegetables contain protein, some contain more than others. Vegetables that are high in protein include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, ar tichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Although technically a grain, sweet corn is another common food that contains about as much protein as these high protein vegetables.

Fresh fruits generally have a lower protein content than vegetables. Those containing the most include guava, mulberries, blackberries, nectarines and bananas.

GETTING THE VITAMINS AND MINERALS YOU NEED
In general, vegetarians replace meat with more nutritious foods, such as fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains and so on. If you do that, you will be get ting more of the nutrients your body needs, giving you better health and more energy. But you need to make doubly sure that your diet is suf ficient in certain vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fat ty acids.

Vitamin B-12 isn’t found in many plant foods, so animal sources play an important role in protecting against deficiency. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can find plenty of vitamin B-12 in dairy products: eggs, milk, cottage cheese, feta, gouda, edam, gruyere, brie, cheddar, fontina, mozzarella, provolone. If you follow a vegan diet however, you’ll need to drink plenty of fortified soy milk, oat, or almond beverages and/ or take a vitamin B-12 supplement.

The omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients to include in your diet. Omega-3 is often associated with seafood, but go-to vegetarian sources include chia seeds, ground flaxseed, hulled hemp seed and walnuts. Nuts and seeds are also high in protein, so you’re on to a win-win. Enjoy!

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