a vegetarian meal

How to become a vegetarian

For your health, the animals, the environment, or to save money – whatever your reason - there’s never been a better time to go vegetarian.

Here are our top tips on how to make the switch and make it stick.

Know you’re not alone

Vegetarians of a certain vintage will remember ordering the green salad with a side of chips in restaurants. But, luckily, the food landscape isn’t quite as barren for modern-day meatless diners.

People are eating less meat in the UK than ever, with 23% of Brits set to be meat-free by the end of 2020.1 This has given a huge boost to the meatless food market – meaning a huge range of choice in both restaurants and supermarkets.

Do it for you

What’s behind your desire to become a vegetarian? There are many motivating factors, but make sure it’s something you want to do. Changing your diet for a partner’s or family member’s approval is unlikely to result in a successful outcome.

Don’t announce it straightaway

Of course, you want your nearest and dearest to know you’re giving up meat. They might find it a little strange if you suddenly reject all the foods you usually enjoy without explanation.

However, beware of letting your extended networks know you’re becoming a vegetarian too soon. You risk pushback, unsolicited dodgy advice and misplaced concern about where you’ll get your protein.

It’s a good idea to have a couple of weeks of living vegetarian under your belt before you let it be known. That way, you can sort the good advice from the bad and politely refuse offers to make you a steak so you ‘snap out of it’.

Do it gradually

Rather than going quite literally ‘cold-turkey’, it can be best to taper off your consumption of meat over a few days, weeks – or even months. In fact, there’s no timeline apart from the one you set for yourself.

It stands to reason that you’re more likely to keep to a new way of eating if you phase it in. If you usually eat meat each night, start with 1 – 2 meatless dinners each week.

If you take two sandwiches to work and usually have chicken in them, try making one sandwich with chicken and the other with cheese and tomato, hummus or tapenade. When you’ve got used to that, you can replace the chicken one with another exciting vegetarian option.

Get the right nutrition for you

This is the most important one.

Going vegetarian will leave areas of your diet where you need to make up for nutrients that you previously got from meat. These are:

  • Iron – you will need to make sure you eat iron-rich foods as part of your regular diet. Vegetarian sources include lentils, beans, nuts and seeds, dried fruit and dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, and you can also find it in wholegrain bread and brown rice.

  • Protein - legumes such as beans, peas and lentils all provide protein. Quinoa and buckwheat are also good sources of vegetarian protein, as are eggs. Rice and legumes eaten together offers a complete protein, so make that a regular in your dinner rotation. Other complete vegetarian protein sources include dream pairings such as peanut butter on wholegrain toast, and hummus and pita bread! Protein can also be found in soya products such as tofu, seitan, and mycoprotein such as Quorn.

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids - usually found in oily fish but going veggie doesn’t mean you can’t get them. Omega-3 can be found in chia seeds, linseeds, nuts including walnuts and hazelnuts, soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu and omega-3 enriched eggs.

  • Vitamin B12 - vegetarians can find this in nutritional yeast, as well as milk, cheese and eggs.

Find a new treat

A lazy weekend morning without bacon? If this is unthinkable, you need to replace, rather than remove, the feeling of indulgence. Get hold of some new cookware, a vegetarian cookbook and learn some new dishes for your repertoire. If you can, go to brunch at a local café and order the vegetarian option each week to reward yourself with a new ritual.

If Sunday isn’t Sunday without a joint of meat, then it’s time to find a new thing to define Sunday. Maybe it will become the day you try out a recipe from your new cookbook, or the day you make a curry with all the trimmings.

Have a fall-back option

Some vegetarian purists shun faux-meat products, but we think they’re a great way to enjoy some of your old favourites without going the whole ‘hog’.

They’re especially good for those transitioning into a vegetarian diet. Vegetarian staples such as tofu or tempeh are great when you’re feeling a little more adventurous, but if you’re missing meat, try seitan.

It’s made from wheat gluten, is chewy like animal protein yet is 100% vegetarian. It is sold as a block which you can slice or dice at home, or you can get it in cutlets, burgers or sausages. Drench with your favourite flavouring, whether BBQ, hot sauce, or piri-piri and grill, or stir-fry.

Don’t get caught out

Finally, be aware of the following items that you might think are vegetarian – but aren’t.

  • Alcohol – according to DrinkAware, some alcoholic drinks contain isinglass (a substance obtained from fish bladders).2

  • Parmesan – this Italian hard cheese contains rennet, which comes from enzymes in animal stomachs. Luckily, generic Italian hard cheese (not Parmesan) are vegetarian.

  • Sweets – soft, gummy sweets often contain gelatin, which is made from collagen from animals’ skin, bones and hooves. Check the label for ‘Suitable for Vegetarians’ before digging in.

  • Roast potatoes – OK, we don’t mean to spoil your fun, but in pubs and restaurants these are often cooked in goose, duck or chicken fat. Best to check!
Not quite ready? Try flexitarianism Want to get the children on board with vegetarianism? Make sure you check out our tips here

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Last updated: 24 April 2020