Becoming Vegetarian { My Story }

As sent to my niece in 2012 when she was making a serious go at it. Edited lightly for privacy/blogability. Much of my story has evolved since then, and the article could stand further polishing ~ but it is still a decent primer.

If choosing to become a vegetarian seems to be your trending direction, it may take a few seeming “false” starts before you’re solidly there, even if you wind up going just mostly veggie and/or sometimes/most of the time. This is long but gives colour vis-a-vis my story { along with the theory/facts aspect }, which may also help you gain some perspective. In short, don’t give up. Your body still has to adapt from a diet fairly high in meat, and that may take a few years of going back and forth. And you have to find what foods give you whole nutrition that you also like for a longer term. AND your body has to “detox” from meat to some extent i.e., in that, it is a chemical shift for your body and might contribute to you feeling a bit rotten from time to time. The perennial question of, “are you getting enough protein?” notwithstanding.

I should add that I’ve also discovered the so-called “super foods” that make a good addition to most meals, taste-wise but especially supplying trace nutrients — like some of the powders or ground seeds that you find in the health food stores. Some taste better than others, or are more suited for smoothies etc. I’ve started adding chia seeds to one meal a day and it seems like it is making a difference in my energy level. They add kind of a nutty flavour so go well in juices or on pasta etc.

This comes from my experience, but once you’ve read through you’ll have a pretty good framework for various decisions. It’s as accurate as I know how to make it, and is a good working approach that has served me well for a lot of years.

I am what you might call “mostly vegetarian” which means I can survive just fine without meat, but I enjoy fish and shellfish now and then. Strict vegetarians could call me a “pescatarian” because of that… but whatever… The reason I eat fish is partly because it’s the only meat I actually like { although only some kinds }, and partly because some of the trace minerals and oils and such that are found in fish, especially salmon, are really good for women’s health. But plop a salmon steak in front of me and I might only eat 1/4 of it, if that much…

OK… in a nut shell:

Enzymes/Digestion:

The reason I won’t eat that whole salmon steak: we have diff enzymes and “friendly flora” [probiotics, more or less] in our digestive systems for breaking down different kinds of foods. the enzymes and other chemistry that are needed for beef are very different from the ones called for digesting beans. that is why most people get gas when they eat beans, if they don’t usually eat them: their bodies don’t have enough of the goods at the ready, and consequently over-produce on the fly. in the case of flora, that causes gas [I won’t tell you why unless you really want to know.. :)]. So on the other side of that, if, say I had some chicken or beef as things stand for me now, I would have trouble digesting it and feel sick and bogged down for a while, maybe a week or more. But if I introduced it back into my diet slowly, my body would get the clue by degrees, and I’d feel better every time I had some.

So that said, unless there is a really good reason to go all-out, I would advise easing into being vegetarian, to give your body a chance to adapt to the new regime. eat “mostly” vegetarian, but if you crave and have some meat, don’t think it’s caving in or some kind of failure. the last meat I gave up [fish excepted] was Big Mac [don’t tell anyone 😉 , but in all fairness there may not actually be a lot of meat in them..] and bacon […]. actually I fell for a hot dog a few years into my veggie diet and it was goood, -it didn’t seem to do me any lasting harm 🙂 -anyway I did this [partly] to make sure my body was getting what it needed -I’d have some meat maybe once a week for a while, and then later on once a month -and finally I decided just to give it all up.

Sidebar:

Actually I “went vegetarian” a few times in different ways in my life before it stuck -First when I was in my early 20s [@college], but then I moved to Austria for a semester [same year as Al!!] where at the time it was almost impossible to be vegetarian, so I gave in -if you are ever in Salzburg you have to try bosna  [slavic sausage sandwich] -unless you are vegetarian by then 🙂 -Second when I moved in with a close friend G. who is an /excellent/ cook [she makes her living as a personal chef…] and she and her husband had given up all but fish for health reasons. I basically learned to cook vegetarian from her, in ways that can be really yummy. -Next, right after that, my ex-b.f. L. is a “total” vegetarian for ethical reasons -“nothing with parents” is his motto. I took the personal challenge of removing all meat from my diet so that I would get better at cooking complete vegetarian meals, and partly because I don’t agree with the way we as a general society treat animals, and especially animals that we consider “ours” for food. that is a whole sticky subject, and I am on the moderate part of the scale, recognizing that people have eaten meat for a long long time, and it is really our attitude and energy about it that is most important -the native peoples have it right there [and incidentally traditional judeo-christians], where gratitude and thanks is /always/ given.

Sidebar to the Sidebar:

Blessing your food raises its energy, and also prepares your body to merge with the food, making it functionally healthier for you. However who remembers to do this? -my sister’s ex used to say “bless the food that’s already in my stomach…”

Anyway when I moved in with my ex-husband J. in ’06 I reverted to the sometimes-fish routine and that works really well for me all things considered. So that was a whole span of 20 years; I don’t expect your journey to be that long and varied, but I just threw this part in for variety’s sake. For the record, I have always eaten eggs and dairy.

Protein:

This is a common stumbling block for many people who “try out” being a vegetarian. Protein, complete protein that is, that you can get by eating meat, is composed of nine essential amino acids -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complete_protein -So just eating rice, or just eating beans, or just bread, or just milk, although they “contain protein,” is not going to give you that complete protein [all 9 essential amino acids] and your body may start to crave meat, because that is what is it familiar with for getting that need met.

The solution is food combining -I am familiar with the basic combos and they explain some of the older “folk” recipes/staple dishes: -rice + beans eaten together form a complete protein, and lots of other goodies besides. You don’t need to have that many beans in your rice to get the right formula, but I don’t know the exact ratio. I was also told bread + milk [or cheese I guess, -or pasta + milk] form another combo of complete protein. I’m sure there are others. The parts don’t have to be eaten at the same time! If you have a bean soup one day and rice with veggies the next day, the body is smart enough to grab and store what it needs!

And, some veggies, such as soy and other beans, have more protein than others. looking at traditional food combos will eliminate the need for a lot of tedious research on your part. But googling protein content of vegetables can be an interesting journey -Nobody is really sure how much protein we need at different ages or at all- Nothing wrong with erring on the “lots” side -You will have to eat more quantity also, to get all the stuff that is crammed into meat.

Taste [and Salt]:

An interesting aside -once I’d mostly made the switch to veggie, I found that the flavour of vegetables and fruits changed [improved] for me, and I also was less interested in salt. -and I started to became really aware of the heavier smell and taste of meat, which ultimately masks the more subtle flavours of veggies. so: more flavour experienced, less salt needed 🙂 -Also, in spite of really missing bacon at first, now after 10 or 20 years, I have tried it recently and don’t really like it. I like the “fakin bakin” much better…

Supplements:

it is harder to get B-vitamins on a veggie diet -dark greens are loaded with them -the darker and more bitter, unfortunately, generally speaking, the more vitamins, including B. Other veg’s have lots of B -you can google for that “vitamin b content of vegetables kale spinach collard beans” will probably pull up several pertinent lists/essays -A good “balanced b-complex’ [which means there are varied %s of the different B’s in the pill, balanced in a way that is most natural and helpful for the body -health food store] is a good thing to take on a fairly regular basis. If you are stressed or feel really tired, it can be a B-deficiency. Taking it with C is good for rebuilding tissue

It is also harder to get iron -not as important for guys but of course for the ladies we need to be aware of this as we lose some on a regular basis. Iron is a key component of red-blood-cell building. You /can/ take a multi-+-iron, but I don’t do that … Some veggies and eggs and fish have enough iron as well. This article, though written for “kidz” looks really good. Actually I learned a lot just glancing at it  . And Also, one reason for cooking with [non-enameled] cast-iron cookware, is that in the process some [/enough] iron is transferred to the food that you can get some iron this way. That is one of the reasons I prefer that kind of cookware, because I don’t take supplements for that.

Chocolate,

especially the dark, is loaded with trace minerals such as magnesium. you know this already, but while you are being veggie, it is also one other way to get some of these into your diet 🙂

Well….

that’s about all I can think of for the basics -I know it’s quite the essay.. it is not that simple to eat healthy vegetarian -but it is certainly doable -One thing I told another friend of ours who is thinking about this: is you can study the regular foods of any traditionally vegetarian culture, such as some middle-eastern cultures or Indian [India], or any mostly-vegetarian culture anywhere [generally the poorer part of the cultures.. Italian also..], and you will start to see the logic in their food combos. Also most of them have had hundreds or thousands of years to experiment with flavour and spice combos, so you [I :)] can learn to make the essentials tasty

Hope this helps!