Read This Before You Give Up Meat

If you're considering giving up meat, you probably already know about the potential benefits of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, meatless diets have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, hypertension and other conditions. Many vegans and vegetarians have reported higher energy levels, increased weight loss and an improvement in overall well-being.
 
But the decision to go meatless is just the first step along a path that will hold many concerns and considerations. The most important ingredient in a successful meat-free diet is knowledge. We talked to some vegan and vegetarian nutritionists to pinpoint what you need to know before making the transition.
 
You don't have to go cold turkey.
 
Many new vegans or vegetarians start out with an "all or nothing" mentality, and then return to meat after the shock of the change. You might have more success by easing into it. "You don’t have to give everything up all at once," says Lisa C. Andrews, a registered dietician at Sound Bites Nutrition. "Start with meatless Mondays, or just give up red meat and pork to start."
 
Reed Mangels from The Vegetarian Resource Group points out that many people like to get a feel for a meatless lifestyle by eating vegetarian one day or one meal a week, and then gradually increasing the ratio. The key is choosing the approach that works best for your personality and lifestyle, and gauging how you feel along the way.
 
Andrews also cautions that going vegan is a much more drastic lifestyle change than vegetarian, as a vegetarian diet still includes eggs and dairy. If you want to go vegan, you might consider starting with vegetarian and moving in steps toward your ultimate goal.
 
Keep in mind that some of the foods you eat may already be vegan or vegetarian. "Many people already consume veggie meals without even really thinking about it," Andrews says. "For instance, pasta and a marinara sauce can be a really easy meal, especially when you add extra veggies to the sauce, like peppers and mushrooms. Additionally, there are many meat alternatives that can be added to the sauce." But while familiar meals are great, she stresses the importance of trying new foods.
 
Variety is key.
 
Contrary to some stereotypes, vegans and vegetarians don't live on kale and tofu. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, the key to a well-rounded, satisfying meat-free diet is incorporating a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, beans, lentils, seeds and legumes. As with any diet, it’s best to limit your intake of sweets and fatty foods.
 
Vesanto Melina, a registered dietician for BecomingVegan.ca, recommends setting aside an evening each week for food prep. While listening to your favorite music or watching TV, you can put together hearty soups, entrees and a big salad that will last for a few days in your fridge. "People typically have about 10 favorite recipes or meals that they rely on, so when you switch to plant-based, you’ll want to find some that you really like," Melina says. "It can help to think of a whole new world of plant foods that you’ve never tried becoming available to you. You can get the same full range of flavors by preparing whole foods or by using veggie meats and cheeses, which have come a long way in recent years."
 
For those busy weeknights when you haven't prepped and don't have time to cook, Mangels recommends keeping some quick-to-prepare veg foods on hand. Some ideas include canned beans, hummus, nut butters, quinoa, whole-wheat couscous, good whole-grains breads and crackers, veggie burgers, fruits and vegetables. "There has never been a better time than now when it comes to finding vegan alternatives at the supermarket," says Andrews.
 
You may need to supplement.
 
Depending on the type of meat-free eater you decide to be, there are several nutrients you may need to monitor and/or supplement. Nutrition expert Toby Amidor points out that vegans are most at risk of being deficient in certain nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, iron, protein and vitamin B12.
 
In particular, B12 is an essential vitamin that maintains cellular health. Some side effects of deficiency include fatigue, difficulty reasoning, weakness, anemia and paranoia. Vegans need to include plenty of B12-fortified foods in their diet, and may also want to take a B12 supplement.
 
Iron is of special concern for women entering into a vegetarian or vegan diet. Although vegan diets contain some iron, it's a different type that's not as easily absorbed by the body as animal-based iron, so you may need to supplement. Non-meat iron sources include leafy greens, sunflower seeds, dried raisins and legumes.
 
Also, it's best to take a daily multi-vitamin to ensure that you meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for essential nutrients.
 
There are plenty of non-meat protein sources.
 
According to the Institute of Medicine, adults should consume a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per day for every kilogram of body mass. For a 150-pound woman, that equals about 54 grams, or just under 2 ounces.
 
As any healthy vegan or vegetarian can attest, meat isn't the only source of protein.  Andrews recommends choosing unprocessed protein-packing foods, like beans, lentils, tofu, quinoa, natural soy, seitan, edamame or tempeh. Avoid eating too much processed non-meat foods, like vegetarian hot dogs and soy nuggets, as they tend to be higher in sodium and preservatives.   
 
#4. Not everyone will be on board—and that's okay.
 
Going meatless requires a lot of willpower and dedication, and it becomes even more challenging when the rest of your family and friends are meat eaters. Explain that this is an individual choice you are making for yourself, ask for their support and try to be non-judgmental of their choice to continue eating meat or animal foods.
 
If your spouse is still eating meat, you can ask him or her to prepare it for the rest of the family. Another option is to make meals that can easily be customized for meat eaters. For example, you can stir fry some vegetables with rice, and then others can add their individual choices of meat.
 
If people ask questions about why you're changing your diet, you can share your reasons—whether it's out of concern for your health, animal welfare, the environment or finances—or you can politely tell them it's none of their business. In lieu of explaining, you might also share a book or documentary that influenced you.
 
"Become knowledgeable and confident in yourself so you're empathetic to others' feelings and beliefs, not challenging or defensive," Mangels recommends. "They may just want reassurance that you know what you're doing and that this is a healthy way to eat. Above all, it's important to be kind, sincere and concise."
 
Some final advice from Andrews: "Keep in mind that changing one's eating habits from the 'norm' can result in others feeling challenged in their choices. It's important for both parties to have an open mind and learn the art of compromise. Take pride in going veg, lead by example and don't underestimate the power of a delicious vegan baked good when trying to win over friends and family."
 
Quick Tips to Kick-Start a Meatless Diet 
  • Consider hiring a registered dietician to go shopping with you for nutritious options.
  • Educate yourself about basic nutrition, so you can combat many of the common myths. Andrews recommends the website The Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and the book "Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet."
  • Consider taking a vegan or vegetarian cooking class, or invite a few friends over to try out new recipes together.
  • Seek out other vegans or vegetarians, either locally or online. Your new network can suggest meal ideas, recommend meatless restaurants and provide ongoing support throughout the transition.
  • The Vegetarian Resource Group recommends getting a good cookbook that fits your cooking style. If you're a novice in the kitchen, look for a quick and easy vegan or vegetarian cookbook; if you delight in gourmet meals, find one with more complicated recipes. Borrowing cookbooks from the library or finding recipes online can help you decide what works for you.
  • Be prepared to read (and understand) food labels. This is especially important for vegans, as not all meat and dairy ingredients are obvious. Start by reviewing the Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Food Ingredients
Any dietary change requires some degree of planning and adjustment, but with the right preparation and support, a meatless diet can be easy, delicious and healthy. Andrews compares it to driving a car: "Before you start, it seems hard. But once you are driving (or eating vegetarian/vegan), it just becomes second nature."
 
What do you wish you'd known before going vegan or vegetarian?
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Member Comments

Thanks. I gave up eating red meats, cold cuts, etc. this past summer.
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JAH1264
I am prediabetic and have been slowly reducing meat, fruits & carbs while increasing veggies, fish, legumes, eggs, healthy dairy, and poultry. I rarely ate pork and beef is a luxury item because of cost and the time required to cook. I have switched to primarily whole foods and cook more but it's a very difficult process as I do have to be wary of my carb intake. Pasta at a serving I can incorporate into a feeling meal will not work for me. My first goal is to lose weight and lower my A1C into normal range. After that I would like to do vegetarian meals exclusively but include fish but I am still early in the process of researching what will be healthy for me. I am very lucky that my husband likes pretty much anything I cook so going vegetarian would be fine with. Having my loved one on board is major.

It's likely I won't meet my vegetarian goal but it's likely I will be less of a meat eater. That's fine too. My goal is to be healthy and that's it.

Whatever you choose, eat healthy and don't let anyone bombard you with their lifestyle. Doing so is the ultimate etiquette faux pas and should be squashed immediately. I agree with the author it's none of anyone's business if your a meat eater or not. It is not your decision to make or you definitely should lecture/berate others who do not share your lifestyle choices. We do not need to bully one another. Being vegan/vegetarian doesn't make you a better person just a non-meat eater. Being a meat eater doesn't make you any better either. Report
Why is it that vegans/vegetarian
s expect you to provide a meal that meets their diet when they drop by but never serve your diet when you visit them? My daughter with a nut allergic child brings what she can eat so no one worries about an inadvertent error. Why can vegetarians not do the same rather than expect the other 29 guests to do without a meal they would enjoy. And even if I prepare a meal for her she complains that the house ‘Stinks’ of the smell of cooked meat. Report
CACUJIN
I feel disappointed when I read articles that advocate unhealthy eating habits. Report
As long as 10% of your calories come from protein, then you will not be protein deficient. And the calcium found in plants is much better for you than calcium from dairy. Watch some documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Food Inc. You’ll learn about the power of a plant based diet. Report
I’ve been vegan for years. I didn’t have an issue giving up flesh or secretions. At age 52 my arteries are squeaky clean. The only vit/min I’ve had to watch is my B12. If you eat a healthy well rounded plant based diet you shouldn’t be deficient in any. Report
I haven't been buying meat any more and my cooking and eating is really changing - maybe more bland as I have so many allergies and intolerances.

I have been seeing a neurologist for my mild tremors for two years now and I told her at the last visit that I am having lots of problems with fatigue, balance, memory, focusing etc....she asked about y diet - lol after I reminded her about my Lactose Intolerence, Diverticulitus, allergic to citrus / nuts / chocolate / spices / beans and just so much more - she asked me how much meat I ate - this week - none -
I was wasting money buying meat (like I always had) and just throwing it away when I saw it, so now I just don't buy it.

Supplements like B12 are on my nightly pills now. I was lucky to find some that dissolve under the tongue! Report
ETHELMERZ
Going meatless did not help my health at all, it messed me up big time ! I will never do that again. There is way more to it then what the advocates tell you about! Report
i have cut back on meats, but am not planning on giving it up completely.But the information on protein here is very helpful and i will be paying more attention and acting accordingly. Report
Thank you - I didn't plan to go meatless - but I wound up using equate-slim-fast this year and am today within 4 lbs of goal weight.
Protein is important! I use a good protein supplement to make sure I get 60+ grams daily. Report
Good info - Thanks. Report
I have tried a few times but as not a cook it never lasted. Report
ROSSYFLOSSY
Great information. Report
I have been a vegetarian for 21 years and can't imagine going back to eating meat. Personal choice but one I am happy with! Report
I read this as an educational curiosity. I would never go meatless but this will make me more conversant with those that have. Report


 

About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.