Thinking of turning over a new leaf and going veggie? Here's my top tips to embracing this lifestyle choice:
1. Arm yourself with knowledge. Research vegetarianism using the wealth of resources available. Find out more by contacting the Vegetarian Society on 0161 925 2000 or visit their website (see the link below) for essential info, such as helpful leaflets and fact sheets. If you join as a member, you can request further support from a youth or adult mentor.
2. Go slow. You don't have to go vegetarian overnight. Making the decision is easy, following through the hard part. Go veggie at your pace. Commit one step at a time. Reduce the foods you feel able to e.g. Red meat, then poultry, then fish etc.
3. Experiment. Try meat-free alternatives. Experiment with beans, lentils, and veg. Build up a good selection of recipes to find out what you do and don't like e.g. new tastes and textures. Make it fun and don't be afraid to adjust the recipes. Swap ingredients for other veg for instance, or be inspired and create your own veggie version of a traditional dish.
4. Aim for a balanced diet. Rotate your diet. Never eat the same lunch/main meal each day. Use different complex carbohydrates, (brown rice, spelt, oats, millet and buckwheat etc.), pulses (peas, beans and lentils etc.), and veg to create a personal daily menu. Moderate fats and sugars. Aim for snacks that will keep your blood sugar levels stable, such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit, hummus or nut butters on oatcakes etc. The key to getting it right is moderate, rotate and experiment. Keeping a food diary may be helpful in the beginning.
5. Be prepared. Plan your meals and snacks in advance. This tip may sound tedious, but saves time and stress in the long run. Eat the most important meal of the day – Breakfast, to prevent that mid-morning sugar crash. Have porridge, a smoothie, some fruit, or just something to start the day! Keep a handy snack stash in your bag or office for emergencies, e.g. Raisins, nuts, cereal bars etc. In the evenings, cook extra and freeze the leftovers or have them for lunch the next day.
6. Learn your ABC. Vegucate yourself. Understand essential vitamins, minerals and fats, and where they can be sourced. Vegetarians have certain dietary requirements you need to be aware of. Depending on your individualised needs, lifestyle and diet, there may be an increased need for B12, Vitamin C, iron, Omega 3, or protein etc. A balanced and healthy vegetarian diet should provide all the nutrients required, and you can supplement these further if need be. Obtain advice from a qualified practitioner.
7. Read the small print. Be label savvy. Read the ingredients list on products. Some products which claim to be veggie may not be. Learn the common ingredients which can trip you up and look out for the Veg Soc Approved logo. Further details can be found on the Veg Soc website.
8. Enjoy the journey. It takes time to adapt to this lifestyle. Don't try to rush or beat yourself up if you slip. Vegetarianism is a learning curve. It will extend to other areas of your life and influence your thoughts and actions. Enjoy finding out more about yourself and what you're prepared to compromise on.
The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as:"Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter."