31 votes

What do I need to know about switching to a vegetarian diet?

My husband and I have cut back on meat consumption significantly in recent months, and I'm tossing around the idea of trying to do a full vegetarian diet for the month of March as a trial run for potentially going vegetarian full-time.

I've searched around and there's a lot of conflicting information out there on the topic of vegetarianism, as well as the reality that a significant amount of nutritional information online is sketchy at best. I know we have lots of vegetarian/vegan users here, and I'm wondering if there's any significant need-to-know health concerns or things that need to be addressed. Do I need to supplement any particular nutrients? Do I need to measure my protein intake? Any other must-know information or do's/don't's I should be aware of?

18 comments

  1. vord
    (edited )
    Link
    Disclaimer: I am not a vegetarian, but I am a science nerd. https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-eat-a-plant-based-diet-a-scientific-look-at-going-vegan-safely/ Nerd fitness is amazing. Tons of...

    Disclaimer: I am not a vegetarian, but I am a science nerd.

    https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-eat-a-plant-based-diet-a-scientific-look-at-going-vegan-safely/

    Nerd fitness is amazing. Tons of phenomenal, scientific explanations regarding how to keep healthy with any diet...Vegan, Carnivore, or anything in between. I binged a ton of their content the first day I found it.

    The TL;DR:

    • Eat real food, not processed food. Oreos are vegan, but they are not food.
    • Beans and rice is a solid go-to. Covers all proteins well. Otherwise eat variety and if your body is craving a particular food it might suggest a missing nutrient.
    • A multivitamin is probably a good idea, no matter what diet.
    16 votes
  2. [4]
    Chobbes
    Link
    The only thing you really need to worry about is B12 --- there aren't really plant based sources of it (it comes from bacteria). Pills are really cheap and easy, though! I think you can even take...

    The only thing you really need to worry about is B12 --- there aren't really plant based sources of it (it comes from bacteria). Pills are really cheap and easy, though! I think you can even take them weekly, depending on dosage. You might be okay if you eat eggs and dairy, but it's good to be safe.

    Other than that as long as you're actually eating food, you're good to go. Maybe make sure you look up some nice vegetarian meals (don't just look for substitutes --- they can be good, but there's also lots of foods that don't have meat to begin with and stand on their own), and also be aware that you might be eating more fiber than previously, and might need to drink more to compensate.

    But really, it's pretty hard to die :).

    13 votes
    1. [2]
      jahnu
      Link Parent
      Regarding B-12, nutritional yeast is helpful for that, and it is delicious.

      Regarding B-12, nutritional yeast is helpful for that, and it is delicious.

      6 votes
      1. Chobbes
        Link Parent
        For sure! Just make sure you pay a little attention because nutritional yeast doesn't actually have B-12. It's almost always fortified with it, though. But it IS great on popcorn and worth knowing...

        For sure! Just make sure you pay a little attention because nutritional yeast doesn't actually have B-12. It's almost always fortified with it, though.

        But it IS great on popcorn and worth knowing about. Another great thing you might otherwise be unaware of is TVP -- it's a good "ground beef" substitute and ridiculously cheap.

        6 votes
    2. whbboyd
      Link Parent
      If you're not going full vegan, a B12 deficiency is unlikely. Eggs and dairy both provide it. I will absolutely second making vegetarian dishes instead of vegetarian versions of meat dishes. When...

      If you're not going full vegan, a B12 deficiency is unlikely. Eggs and dairy both provide it.

      I will absolutely second making vegetarian dishes instead of vegetarian versions of meat dishes. When in doubt, roast it—there are surprisingly few veggies that don't come out delicious when roasted with salt, pepper and olive oil.

      6 votes
  3. [2]
    NaraVara
    Link
    If you're going veg I highly recommend getting an Indian cookbook. Indian culinary tradition never defaulted to meat as a defining part of a meal, so the food culture is very much focused on...
    • If you're going veg I highly recommend getting an Indian cookbook. Indian culinary tradition never defaulted to meat as a defining part of a meal, so the food culture is very much focused on presenting vegetables as a main event rather than as a side or a compromise. Buy the staple spices. Ignore the potato heavy dishes and focus on learning what to do with legumes like chick peas, various types of dal, and spinach, okra, eggplant, etc.

    • Resist the temptation to substitute for meat with fake-meats or fatty cheeses. That's just replicating what's unhealthy about a meat-centric diet. Focus on other sources of protein, like lentils, eggs, or yogurt, instead.

    • One thing a lot of people complain about is that it takes a while to replace that sense of "fullness" you get from a protein rich meal once you go veg. A good substitute is lots of dietary fiber that comes from lots of veggies.

    • FYI, vegetables taste much better once you start cutting refined sugars out of your diet. We get so much sugar in our diets these days that our taste-buds are completely desensitized to a lot of more subtle flavors. Once you cut sugar out, things like celery and turnips start to taste way sweeter and have a greater depth of flavor.

    • Buy yourself a slow-cooker or instant pot if you don't already have one. They make life much easier when it comes to cooking lentils, chick-peas, and other legumes that will be your primary sources of protein.

    • At risk of encouraging a weak commitment to the goal, don't feel the need to go full vegetarian right off the bat. A lot of this stuff is about habits and your focus should be on building good ones, especially at home. If it sucks when you go to a restaurant or social gathering and there's nothing to eat, you don't need to feel like "vegetarianism" is impossible and give up on it. I am, myself, mostly just vegetarian at home and feel fine eating meat when I eat out. Depending on your motivations for this dietary change, everything goal but spiritual purity ones are improved vastly even if you only manage to be veg most of the time.

    12 votes
    1. kfwyre
      Link Parent
      Great points all around, which are surprisingly applicable to my situation. In January we committed to cutting out red meat entirely and reducing meat intake by swapping it out when possible (e.g....

      Great points all around, which are surprisingly applicable to my situation. In January we committed to cutting out red meat entirely and reducing meat intake by swapping it out when possible (e.g. using chickpeas instead of chicken in a dish, selecting vegetarian entrees when eating out, etc.). So, we've been doing the vegetarian-lite mode for two months now. It's been going so well that I'm wanting to go another step with it. Most of the meat we've had has been when we don't want to be impolite by not eating something served to us, along with the occasional convenience foods on busy days.

      Furthermore, we do a lot of lazy Instant Pot Indian dishes because it's easy to throw everything in there and I love the flavors (plus, when you make a big batch the leftovers only get more delicious over time). I haven't tried dal or anything with lentils yet (I believe you recommended me a recipe in a previous thread a while back), but that's definitely an area I want to explore moving forward. Most of our stuff has been focused on rice, beans, potatoes, and greens.

      I'll also echo your comment about veggies tasting sweeter after cutting sugars. I don't experience it as much now given that I don't habitually eat a whole lot of sugary things anymore, but I did keto a while back where I had no sugars at all, and I was amazed at how different veggies tasted. Carrots were like a sweet dessert! Onions had a completely different flavor profile. There was a brand of sugar-free chocolate that I used to get as a treat for myself while on keto, and I thought it was simply decadent. Rich, flavorful, and oh so sinfully sweet. After I stopped keto and reintroduced sugars to my diet, I tried a piece, and it was the blandest of blands. Thoroughly uninteresting. Slightly bitter, even. I was amazed at the difference.

      6 votes
  4. suspended
    Link
    One good place to start is this FAQ. It's backed up by academic/scientific studies. My wife, children, and I are mostly vegetarian and we're avid mountain climbers. My wife is, also, a registered...

    One good place to start is this FAQ. It's backed up by academic/scientific studies.

    My wife, children, and I are mostly vegetarian and we're avid mountain climbers. My wife is, also, a registered nurse.

    If you have any more questions after going through that FAQ, then please let me know.

    8 votes
  5. [3]
    Eric_the_Cerise
    Link
    One thing no one has asked or clarified yet ... what do you mean by 'vegetarian'? If you're daily diet will include dairy and eggs, you're good to go, no special considerations required, at all;...

    One thing no one has asked or clarified yet ... what do you mean by 'vegetarian'? If you're daily diet will include dairy and eggs, you're good to go, no special considerations required, at all; that's even more true if you include fish. If you intend to skew more towards the vegan end of the spectrum, then you need to do some research, check out the resources others are providing.

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      For me, dairy and eggs are included; fish is not (can't have it). Ultimately down the road I would like to go fully vegan but simply cutting out meat is the place where we're at right now.

      For me, dairy and eggs are included; fish is not (can't have it). Ultimately down the road I would like to go fully vegan but simply cutting out meat is the place where we're at right now.

      4 votes
      1. Eric_the_Cerise
        Link Parent
        Then yeah, you're fine. This is the kind of vegetarian I have been the past several years. All the special "meat" nutrients (certain amino acids, B12, just generally enough fat and protein) ......

        Then yeah, you're fine. This is the kind of vegetarian I have been the past several years. All the special "meat" nutrients (certain amino acids, B12, just generally enough fat and protein) ... you get all of it from eggs and/or dairy w/o any special planning.

        General advice about eating "real" food, avoiding over-processed and junk foods, empty calories, yada ... all good advice, all applies equally to vegetarian and omnivore diets.

        2 votes
  6. native_belle
    Link
    I made the decision to go vegetarian on a whim and switched the next day with little research. The main recommendation I have to make from my personal experience is to make sure you're getting...

    I made the decision to go vegetarian on a whim and switched the next day with little research. The main recommendation I have to make from my personal experience is to make sure you're getting enough calories. As someone who needs many calories to maintain their weight, it took me a while to realize I was eating too little and losing weight.

    6 votes
  7. pocketry
    Link
    I dropped meat a few years ago and only eat fish if I know it's sustainably caught, which is rare. I didn't do anything special or watch my diet. I haven't had any health problems, but haven't...

    I dropped meat a few years ago and only eat fish if I know it's sustainably caught, which is rare. I didn't do anything special or watch my diet. I haven't had any health problems, but haven't been to a doctor for a check up either. I think my addiction to sweets and constant snacking is what makes me unhealthy.

    5 votes
  8. [2]
    ibis
    (edited )
    Link
    These guidelines are not vego-specific, but I find them very helpful for eating healthy: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55_agthe_large.pdf You don't need...

    These guidelines are not vego-specific, but I find them very helpful for eating healthy: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55_agthe_large.pdf

    You don't need as big a proportion of protein as you may expect, but without meat in your diet it is something to be mindful of.

    I also try to avoid mock-meat if I can. It doesn't taste good and it's usually not that healthy.

    4 votes
    1. kfwyre
      Link Parent
      The only mock meat I've liked enough to seek out again has been the Impossible burger. Everything else has ranged from off-putting to merely acceptable. Additionally, the last brand I tried gave...

      The only mock meat I've liked enough to seek out again has been the Impossible burger. Everything else has ranged from off-putting to merely acceptable. Additionally, the last brand I tried gave me such strong intestinal distress that it put me off from the idea of eating faux-meat almost entirely. At this point, I'm much more interested in eating vegetables as vegetables.

      2 votes
  9. reifyresonance
    Link
    Learn a good few staple meals - things you wouldn't mind cooking even if you go back to eating meat, that are somewhat easy, and tasty. Something you can look forward to! Ask IRL friends for...

    Learn a good few staple meals - things you wouldn't mind cooking even if you go back to eating meat, that are somewhat easy, and tasty. Something you can look forward to! Ask IRL friends for recipes; somehow things taste better if a friend taught you how to make them. Also it's fun to say "look I made this thing you told me about and it was really good!"

    My favorites are:

    • Vegetarian Mapo Tofu (Use any kind of mushrooms, don't forget the corn starch, it's easier to find "mapo dofu sauce" than Sichuan peppercorns)
    • Spaghetti Squash with some Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce (feel free to sub tofu for fake meat, add a splash of something acidy)
    • Mexican breakfast bowls (no link, just improvise) (cumin and chilli powder are your friends, also a little fresh lime really makes it pop)
    3 votes
  10. DanBC
    (edited )
    Link
    Sometimes people will drastically increase their fibre intake when they switch to a vegetarian diet, because of all the beans and pulses that they start eating. Most people find gently ramping up...

    Sometimes people will drastically increase their fibre intake when they switch to a vegetarian diet, because of all the beans and pulses that they start eating.

    Most people find gently ramping up their fibre is more comfortable than a sudden increase.

    2 votes
  11. patience_limited
    Link
    Just a note - particularly for female-type people, a little extra care for vegetarian iron consumption may be needed. I erred in depending too much on supplements. Taken with too much dairy and...

    Just a note - particularly for female-type people, a little extra care for vegetarian iron consumption may be needed.

    I erred in depending too much on supplements. Taken with too much dairy and coffee, and not enough fresh vegetables, legumes, and nuts, this led to a bad case of iron-deficiency anemia.

    There's a genetic component to iron utilization as well, and a significant fraction of the populace, not just women, may need to exercise care. You don't necessarily need to go to a doctor to determine if you're doing it right; just pay attention to unusual fatigue, cold sensitivity, and changes in the color of your lips and nail beds. Iron-deficiency anemia won't show up in the first few weeks of a dietary change, but as blood cell turnover continues, look out for it around six weeks along.

    1 vote