What Does It Mean To Be A Vegetarian?

The key to being a good vegetarian is, obviously, not to eat meat. But, for some, cutting out meat from their diet can leave them wondering what to eat in its place.

For instance, someone who has been raised on 6-7 cooked meals a week incorporating poultry, beef, pork, lamb or fish, then it can be a real shock to the system having to come up with new recipe ideas.

Even changing the way you eat your lunch can feel like a challenge at first. Gone are the ham or corned beef sandwiches, and in come cheese and pickle rolls and green salads!

Salads don't need to be boring, add various fruits and vegetables to make them more interesting.
Go healthy with your lunches and pack yourself a filling mixed salad. Photo credit: iRubén on VisualHunt.com

Remember, however, that while cheese is perfectly suitable for vegetarians, you should avoid replacing meat with high-fat cheeses as this creates a whole range of new health problems to have to deal with.

It is important to note, too, that salads don't have to be just green (although there are numerous  varieties of crunchy greens that can bring an cocktail of flavours to your monochromic salad).

You can create aesthetically pleasing rainbow colours in your lunchbox by adding beetroot, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, grated carrot and much, much more.

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Making Vegetarianism A Healthy Way Of Life

Vegetarianism  is not the best choice of diet for everyone, so if you have any concerns about turning veggie then you should consult your doctor first.

Similarly, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you shouldn't make any drastic changes to your diet as you risk not getting enough of the vital nutrients that you and your baby needs for growth. If you have been a vegetarian for as long as you remember, then you shouldn't need to alter your diet except for taking some extra nutrients or vitamins here or there.

Successfully eating a vegetarian diet means ensuring that you get all of the nutrients you need, which means replacing the protein from meat with other sources like egg, tofu or soy, as an example.

Alongside protein, which helps your metabolism and keeps your organs, muscles and skin healthy, you must ensure that you ingest enough iron in your diet to help red blood cells carry oxygen through your body. Sources of this nutrient include beans, raisins, broccoli, tofu and wheat.

Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be taken from flaxseed and other plant sources, improve your health of your heart and brain. Finally, zinc is important to your body because it is fundamental to the immune system. Try eating cheeses, beans, soy products and nuts to successfully get your allocation of zinc (cheese is obviously a higher-calorie product).

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Ensuring you get the correct nutrients is vital to keeping your health up.
Zinc is essential for the body's immune system. Photo credit: tranchis on Visualhunt

Vegetarianism is not be confused with veganism, whose practitioners abstain from eating meat as well as any animal-derived product, like eggs and dairy products.

That said, strict vegetarians have strong views about only eating eggs and dairy sourced cruelty-free.

Find out about the history of vegetarianism.

With all this in mind, here are some tips on how to be a healthy vegetarian.

Useful Tips For New Vegetarians

Firstly, if you are turning vegetarian and are under the impression that you will have to turn around your entire kitchen and the change the way you shop, then don't fret. Being a vegetarian doesn't have to mean an upheaval. If you are to successfully transition from a traditional western diet to a vegetarian one, then it should be because you have simply made a few changes to the way you eat.

If you want to eat a pizza, have one. If you really fancy a lasagne, go for it, bake one! Just substitute the meat in your favourite recipes with meat-free alternatives. This is the only way to do it, as otherwise you will resent your choice to go meat-free and end up bingeing on full-fat animal-derived products again. Similarly, even vegetarians like to 'veg' out on the sofa with a tasty treat in front of the TV. So you can still enjoy a bowl of mozzarella and salsa topped nachos with friends - it is allowed!

You may need to rethink your weeknight meals every once in a while, to ensure that you are keeping your diet varied and interesting (doesn't everyone?). It is easy to get bored with eating the same meals each week.

Build your meals around low-fat protein sources like beans, rice and lentils. Instead of simply eating fortified cereal every morning for breakfast, try soy-based sausage patties. Also, try adding vegetarian meat substitutes to broths, soups and stews to boost the protein without adding saturated fat or cholesterol.

If you want to have a BBQ with friends, this doesn't have to mean that you can only eat the salad or other side dishes. Try veggie burgers, marinated tofu or tempeh, soy hot dogs and veggie kebabs (which can usually be purchased from the supermarket) or, alternatively, you can make yourself a bean or lentil burger or have pita bread with falafel (made from ground chickpea). You may have to be quick though, as all of the non-vegetarian guests will have their eyes on your delicious food!

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You won't be able to keep your food to yourself as it will look and smell so delicious.
Barbecues aren't just for meat lovers - you can make some really tasty veggie food on the grill too! Photo credit: woodleywonderworks on Visual Hunt

As a new vegetarian, going out to restaurants can seem a bit daunting. Until you are a vegetarian yourself, you don't tend to check out the options for vegetarians on the menu. What if the restaurant doesn't have vegetarian options and you have to order a side salad?

Rest assured that most restaurants accommodate vegetarians, and are often happy to modify recipes if you ask them to. This might include replacing something on the plate with a meat-free version, and adding vegetables or pasta.

Plus, places like Indian curry houses or Chinese restaurants will usually have a range of flavorful vegetarian dishes listed on their menu as standard.

Finally, a good tip to remember is that seeds and nuts like pecan, cashews or pine nuts, for example, are great for adding texture and flavour. Also, if you really want to embrace a healthy lifestyle, then stop munching on biscuits for your mid-morning snack and instead crunch on some pumpkin seeds!

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Be Healthy In All Aspects Of Life

It is no good going vegetarian because you want to lose weight or want to feel better and enjoy the health benefits of being vegetarian, without changing anything else in your life. As with any kind of healthy diet, you must ensure that you keep active.

Being physically active is important so that you can continue to burn off calories from fatty foods like cheeses or other dairy products, whilst regular exercise is also proven to cut down on your risk of other diseases and illnesses.

If you are overweight and are transitioning to a vegetarian diet, then you may have to start off a little slower with your exercise regime so as not to overwhelm your body. Consult your doctor or your personal trainer if you have any queries about getting fit whilst eating a plant-based diet.

Healthy (But Filling) Vegetarian Recipe Suggestions

If you are contemplating trying some new vegetarian dishes, then why not consider something like Black bean veggie burger with couscous, Asparagus, mint and parmesan scramble, Bulgur and cashew stuffed aubergine, Pizza primavera, Creamy polenta with mushrooms, Carrot and black bean crispy tacos, Mushroom and leek brioche tart, Broccoli quinoa casserole, BBQ cauliflower and chickpea tacos with a creamy lime slaw, Stir fried noodles with tofu in a peanut sauce, Macaroni and cheese with a spinach salad on the side, Portobello mushroom wellington with roasted cauliflower and sprouts, Goat cheese and caramelized onion quiche with Mediterranean roasted vegetables, Mexican bean chili with tortilla crisps and an avocado salad, Sweet potato frittata with kale and asparagus, Cheesy cannelloni with a tomato salad, onion tart with carrot salad, Pumpkin soup with bread to dip in, Feta stuffed pepper with spiced couscous, Black bean burritos with wild rice, Mushroom and parmesan arancini (risotto balls) coated in fried garlicky bread crumbs...

Or, if you prefer fast and easy recipes, then you could try things like avocado on toast, hummus with sliced peppers and pitta bread, tomato, onion and pesto bruschetta, vegetarian lasagna, or simple pasta recipes which are just as tasty but can be made into a lighter option. You see, your healthy dinner doesn't have to be boring!

As if your mouth isn't already watering by now, check out ten more amazing recipes suitable for vegetarians in the blog 10 Amazing Vegetarian Recipes To Try At Home.

Moreover, if you would like to discover more about vegetarianism, then visit the following blogs:

The Best UK Vegetarian Food Bloggers

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.