So, you want to go vegetarian?

I’ve recently heard lots of people telling me how they’d like to try being a vegetarian but either they don’t know where to start or they jumped straight in with admirable enthusiasm but then quickly gave up. I’ve since decided to put together a few tips I’ve learnt along my own journey to becoming a vegetarian.

I think that one of the craziest things that you can do if you suddenly have a “I’m never going to touch meat again” moment is to do just that. There are a couple of really good reasons for this which if you’ve tried following this lifestyle I think you’ll agree.

The first is that your body is used to having meat and once you stop having it you’ll start to crave it. It’s a bit like giving up cigarettes, no matter how long it’s been you’ll still occasionally crave a juicy steak or a bacon sandwich, especially if your nose suddenly picks up the scent! Saying no to these cravings isn’t that easy.

The other problem is that it’s a huge lifestyle change – you have to discover a whole load of new recipes, get used to a much more limited choice of options when eating out and make a real nuisance of yourself reminding everyone you eat with that you’ve taken this life changing decision.

So my advice is to start slowly on your path to being a vegetarian, take baby steps and pick up the pace and enthusiasm as you get used to it – you’ll find it much easier in the long run.

Balance: the road to better health
The key to success is to keep your diet balanced. There’s no use saying to yourself I’m a vegetarian and then surviving on packets of chips and chocolate. If you get it right you should being eating grains and cereals (wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, muesli), pulses, nuts and seeds (soya beans, kidney beans, split peas, lentils, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds), plenty of fruit and vegetables and dairy products.

Becoming a vegetarian, pescatorian (eats fish but no other meat), vegan or whatever off-shoot your particular choice is, has a huge number of health benefits, some of which you’ll notice immediately, others are more subtle and others you won’t notice simply because you’ll live longer.

Studies have shown that people following a well-balanced low-fat high-fibre vegetarian diet often have lower incidence of coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity and some forms of cancer.

A vegetarian diet also tends to be lower in total fat, and vegetarians tend to eat proportionally more polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat compared with non-vegetarians (Animal products are the major sources of dietary saturated fat).

Eating meat not only makes your body feel lethargic, it has the same effect on your brain. I’ve not only found myself with more energy but I also have a much sunnier disposition – not quite sure what caused that but I’m not complaining.

Where to start
As I said earlier, don’t try to cut out all meat products all at once. Start by first cutting down on and then cutting out each of the following; red meat (the most unhealthy meat), then chicken and finally fish. It might take you quite a time to work through all these stages so don’t put yourself under any pressure or give yourself deadlines.

I was lucky enough to move in with my girlfriend — now wife — who had already given up red meat, and as a consequence I only ate red meat if we went out to dinner. This helped me to gradually cut down and now I haven’t touched any meat for over a year. Don’t panic if you find yourself having meat cravings and you’re at the stage when you’re trying to completely cut it out. There are some really good meat substitutes out there, if you’re having a craving for a burger for example try a going to Steers and getting one of their Veggie Burgers. It may not be that healthy but it should fix that craving.

Not eating meat at home is often the hardest part of your new lifestyle, especially if you live in a household full of carnivores. It’s also difficult to suddenly change your cooking habits. You might find that the supply of quick and easy recipes that you keep stored away in your brain is suddenly empty of acceptable options.

Again, there’s no need to panic as there are loads of really fantastic recipes out there to satisfy your appetite. If you search the internet you’ll find an endless list of recipes that you can use and they’re often far easier than meat dishes anyway! There are also many excellent vegetarian cook books full of delicious recipes, so why not go and treat yourself to one? ?

Words of warning
As you get more into the vegetarian lifestyle you’ll start to become more aware of how widely meat products and derivatives are used. If you’re taking a moral stance on not eating meat you’ll start questioning the place of your favourite leather shoes, handbag, purse or wallet. There are other more subtle inclusions of meat by products, gelatine for example (found in my favourite, profiteroles). If you research too much it is actually quite scary what you need to avoid. My advice to you is to try to initially stay blissfully ignorant and then as you find the vegetarian lifestyle easier, make your choices accordingly.

Good luck if you’ve decided to make this choice and join the growing ranks of vegetarians around the world. It won’t be easy at first but the longer you stick with it the more you’ll find yourself turning your nose up at the smell of that bacon breakfast.