A beef burger free life isn’t for everyone nor is giving up a good sirloin steak but somehow if you have decided to renounce all meat and try this veggie life you will soon realize that you can use all the help you can get. Adopting a vegetarian lifestyle is a gradual progression that requires your dedication to understanding nutrition, food substitutes and finding a sequence that best works for you. Below are a few things I’ve picked up along the way in my decade of being a vegetarian. Little things that made this journey easier and all over a better experience for my mind, body, soul and sanity.
1. Have a clear reason as to why you are doing this
Because Natalie Portman is doing it isn’t a good enough reason, you wouldn’t stick to it for long and no doubt will relapse, your reason should be simply for you and not because of a celebrity endorsement or because those smoothie bowls will look good on the gram. It could be for the environment, because of cute animals being slaughtered inhumanly or for your health. Make sure that your reason is a good solid one close to your heart so you won’t waver when people call you a raving lunatic or Aunty Leela goes on a rampage saying your teeth will fall out and your hair will turn straw and it won’t trust me, I have my full set of teeth (that I occasionally open bottle caps with I won’t recommend such crass behavior though) and my hair though short is very shampoo commercial worthy.
2.Consult a doctor or nutritionist
I would highly recommend this as a doctor/nutritionist can assess your current meal plan or lack thereof and gauge your health (your sugar levels, cholesterol, vitamin levels etc.) and help you plan out a suitable meal plan and additional supplementary vitamins if it is required. A balanced vegetarian diet can do wonders for your overall health and weight loss but on the flipside vegetarians are more susceptible to vitamin B12 or iron deficiency, this is not to say that our meat eating comrades get the free pass but the risk is significantly higher for vegetarians, so it’s always best to consult a professional to get a quick overview of where you stand.
3.One step at a time
You can wake up one day and decide to quit meat cold turkey ( my apologies) but it is better to take baby steps so you are less likely to relapse and gorge yourself with double cheeseburgers and then waddle around like a guilty golden retriever pup. First start off by limiting red meat to the weekends and have seafood during the weekdays then in another two or four weeks have meat only ones a week, after a comfortable amount of time has lapsed completely stop eating meat and stick to seafood only, give that a week or two till you completely stop seafood as well and now you can make the total transition to a vegetarian diet. If temptation hits you when you go out it’s ok to indulge but do try to limit this otherwise it will offset your whole diet. The temptation will be all around you all the time, your friends might even try to entice you, coax you into that yummy pepperoni pizza saying that one bite won’t hurt, or it’s dead already so what difference does it make. Simply refuse with a firm thank you and they will eventually stop. Don’t look at it as a sacrifice it’s a change you made for a healthier life and guilt-free conscious.
4. Where do you get your proteins from?
Soy, tofu, lentils like dal, Masoor Dal, spinach (also an amazing source of iron) chickpeas, kidney beans, oats, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, green gram, eggs, sweet potatoes and mushrooms are all good sources of proteins and some fruits like banana also can be included in your diet for gains!
5. Absorbing iron
Our bodies absorb the iron from animal-based protein (heme iron) better than the iron from plant-based protein (non-heme iron). Therefore, vegetarians are at a higher risk for iron deficiency as the iron they do consume don’t get absorbed to the body easily. Non-heme iron is present in plant-based proteins like spinach, murunga (moringa) leaf, broccoli and other leafy greens. Given that these are non-heme iron pair it with veggies or fruits that are high in vitamin C like green pepper, tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli, oranges, nectarines, strawberries which can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron.
6. Curry on!
Going veggie is honestly the easiest thing in the world with our wonderful selection of curries, you have a plethora of vegetable curries to choose from each dish with its own unique flavour. This really gives you the opportunity to try all those veggies you haven’t really given a second thought to. So give variety chance, there is so much more out there than carrots, potatoes and beans like Thumba Karawila (spiny gourd), Thibbatu (plate brush) and Karavila (bitter gourd). Trust me those are insanely good when made properly. Also, Pollos (jackfruit) will be your new best friend its makes for an excellent curry, cutlets and veggie burger!
We are also lucky enough to have a variety of leafy greens like Mukunuwenna (dwarf copperleaf), Gotu kola (centella), Thembu kola, Japan batu (sweet leaf) kathurumurunga ( Hummingbird tree) and so forth that makes an excellent mallum, Sambol, curry or try it as a salad with a lime vinaigrette.
7. Don’t engage in negative energy
You will meet a lot of people with a lot of opinions about you being a vegetarian and most of them will be negative ones. Even a person you just met through a friend will scorn you like Gordon Ramsay does when you mention that you are vegetarian (fun fact, he is “giving this vegan thing a try” in his own words, I had to ski home that day because hell froze over). Don’t let them bring you down or make you feel like some freak because you aren’t one, so just concentrate on why you made this choice and allow only the supportive comments to surround you and there will be a lot of people who will support you and even admire you for doing something different. Everyone has a constitutional right to free speech so let the haters exercise theirs’s while you just sidestep that negativity and go eat some fries.
8. Thank God, it’s Friday!
Don’t worry, your new diet isn’t going to be a damper on your wild night outs, you go plenty of finger food to choose from (potato wedges and French fries for the win) and if you are looking for that spicy kick order some hot butter mushrooms which will also be a crowd pleaser and it’s cheaper than hot butter cuttlefish so you will save a couple of bucks now wash this down with a beer or maybe two.
9. Don’t expect the veggie version to taste just like meat
Unless it’s that new age sci-fi stem cell generated burger patty that taste like a grass-fed cow from Swiss farms you will be hard-pressed to find a veggie burger that will taste like a beef burger. When trying out a veggie version of anything keep in mind that it isn’t easy to mimic the taste and texture of meat so just enjoy the dish for what it is and you will not be disappointed.
Now this can be tricky especially when you have a masala chicken cheese koththu after night out where even a portion for one is too big, you can ask them to only mix the chicken to only half of the portion or give you the chicken separately and yes, they are willing to do this, this way you can still indulge in your favorite koththu without wasting the portion you can’t eat.
People bring out the pitchforks when I say I eat eggs, I find it hard to give up mostly because of cake. You can decide if you want to include dairy (milk, eggs and cheese) in your diet which will make you an ovo-lacto vegetarian. The dairy industry isn’t the pretty picture they paint on their commercials where cows are skipping around in lush green sunlight meadows wild and free. They are notorious for their harsh methods of keeping the animal’s captive and discarding of their young so excluding dairy can be a good thing. We also lack the enzymes to digest milk properly (this would make you lactose intolerant) so giving milk up can do you wonders for your overall digestion and skin, it certainly has for me but the alternatives such as soy milk don’t come cheap (one liter can cost you about 500/= the powdered version is cheaper as it yields more milk) and supermarket do run out of it often. Almond milk is almost nonexistent here and although coconut milk is available in abundance not everyone can stomach the flavour when mixed with their smoothie or coffee. Just look at the facts out there and make an informed decision whether you want to include in your diet, you can always make it the next phase of your diet to exclude all animal-derived product such as honey, cheese, butter, gelatin, ghee and etc.
12. Enjoy the process
This isn’t just a dietary choice but a lifestyle, ones you get the hang of things you will start paying more attention to where anything you consume comes from, be it the clothes you wear or the makeup you use. Make sure you know what goes into your body. Read the labels of food products and look for the 100% vegetarian green mark because there are plenty of animal-derived products hidden in labels. You will still be exposed to certain amount of chemicals and pesticides used by the agriculture industry ( we have all seen that video where they spray paint gloss onto brinjal to make it look shiny and dyes to make the veggies look more vibrant) but not everyone can go organic because let’s face it costs a small fortune, so just read up on the best methods to wash vegetables to reduce the chemicals sprayed on it ( vinegar and baking soda is one method) grow a few plants at home it will be a fun project and will save you some money. Do not rush yourself, take your time and find your rhythm and don’t let the negative mindset of some people get to you and overwhelm you, if you follow all the right steps this will change your life in all the right ways and open new possibilities for you and help discover a lot about yourself that you didn’t know before.