Venturing into a vegetarian diet

I’m curious about what a vegetarian diet would be like. I’d like to try it for a week or a month. It doesn’t need to be 100% strict.

Any information which would be useful to have starting out?

What are some of the bigger challenges?

How can I keep it simple and relatively tasty?

How can I make sure I get all I need, especially if I exercise?

Go to the freezer section of your grocers and look for Gardein or Morningstar Farms products; they are plant-based proteins that can be substituted for meat in recipes. There are other manufacturers, too. I recommend staying away from any mycoproteins tho (Quorn, etc) as I find them disgusting in both texture and taste.

Then just make whatever you like with those things instead of meat. That’ll at least help you get started.

Think of it this way, if it helps: it’s all the protein of meat, with no fat and no cholesterol.

Rice + beans + whatever else you want is a good meal, and there’s dozens of different ways to prepare dozens of different beans.

It’s prolly easier to do this if you don’t think that food = meat and that everything else is just filler; I know a lot of people that think like that.

I’ve been a vegetarian for more than half of my life. It’s not difficult.

I’ve done it occasionally.

First thing: decide whether you want to use “special vegetarian” food or not. There are tons of dishes which either are vegetarian or can be made vegetarian quite easily: spaghetti bolognese or Alfredo aren’t vegetarian, spaghetti with tomato sauce or arrabiata are. There are also a lot of offerings out there which are specifically made to be vegetarian, with or without attempting to simulate meat.

Second: read this. I recently got a mass email from Greenpeace proposing a “more vegetarian” diet which prompted me to thank them back because it was the first time someone proposed vegetarian menus which weren’t soy this and tofu that (soy is one of my asthma triggers). Point 4 has links to cooking pointers and some recipes. Here’s still more recipes.

When I go on a vegetarian period, I don’t begin by cleaning out the kitchen: I finish whatever meat and fish I have, but the food I buy going forward is from plants. I don’t go vegan, just vegetarian, so I still eat milk, dairy products and eggs. And I focus mainly on recipes which are vegetarian in their usual form and in those that are made vegetarian by the removal of one or two ingredients.

Thanks.

I should also have mentioned that I’d like it to be rather low in carbs. Yes, I realize low-carb vegetarian might be asking a lot.

Yeah. You’re removing cereals, tubers and fruit. So… lots of beans apparently… making that a well-balanced diet is going to be near impossible. Lowering the amount of simple carbs would be a much-easier goal: don’t add sugar (or honey, or syrup, or agave nectar, etc.) to anything you cook, aim for “al dente” on pasta and rice, for cooked but not flaking off on tubers, favor integral options wherever possible, eat your fruit rather than drinking it.

Yes. I guess carbs would be ok if they’re mixed with high amounts of fiber. Apparently, chia seeds can be good for that.

This may be silly, but are you interested in removing only refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, etc.), or also complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, most vegetables, etc.)? The former is very easy to do with a veggie diet; the latter is difficult.

We try to eat a lower-meat diet. Meals might look like:
-Bean burritos – a half-pound of dried black beans makes about 6 servings, so we can go through a whole pound in several days. With cheese and tortillas (whole wheat if you want to go healthy), plus salsa, avocado, etc., they’re very filling and simple and delicious.
-Caprese salad over noodles. You can forgo the noodles to make it lower-carb.
-Fried rice. I’ve taken to adding a handful of shrimp, but it’s pretty easy to make good fried rice, and to add lots of vegetables. White rice is more delicious, but brown rice is still pretty tasty.
-Corn or potato chowder.
-Stir fry. If you skip the rice, you can make this pretty low-carb. Learn to make tofu in a form you like, and it’ll be a great protein source.

Not silly, I should have been more specific. My preferences are:

  1. No carbs
  2. Little/no simple carbs, some complex carbs with high amounts of fiber
  3. little/no simple carbs, substantial complex carbs

It’s largely about decreasing my blood sugar and insulin levels. I wonder if it’s possible to maintain ketosis (brain runs mainly on fat) while on a vegetarian diet.

I’m far from an expert on this, but I know that my mom was vegan for years, until her diabetes diagnosis came in. At that point she added meat back to her diet, since it was nearly impossible to manage insulin on a vegan diet for her.

I have been a vegetarian since I was 19. I’m 51 now. The only exception was when I was in Basic Training, because sometimes when we ate field chow, there were no choices, and I just ate whatever was put on my tray. I was burning about 4,000 calories a day, and I really needed to eat. I couldn’t miss a meal. It was just lunch, but I ate some pretty non-kosher stuff too. They make arrangements for vegetarians, Jews and Muslims with field chow now, but not when I was in.

If it doesn’t have to be 100% strict, then don’t worry about micro-ingredients, gelatin, or rennet. Those are things strict vegetarians worry about. Gelatin in collagen from butcher leavings (including hooves, and cartilage) that are left to rot. Rennet is scraping from the inside of butchered animals stomachs that is used to ferment cheese. Vegetarian cheese used microbes cultures elsewhere. You have to look for cheese that says “No Rennet,” or has a kosher symbol on it.

Read a little about nutrition. You’ll find out that the only thing that must come from an animal source is vitamin B12, but you can get it from eggs and dairy. However, a balanced vegetarian diet has foods in different amounts than the “plate,” or the food pyramid that you may be familiar with. You don’t need a degree in nutrition, though. Just read a little.

When I started out, the biggest challenge was getting restaurants to tell you what was in stuff. Now that everyone is hypervigilant about allergies, it’s not as hard.

Look up recipes online. Invest in good spices and seasonings. It’s going to take more than salt and pepper to make vegetarian food taste good, but once you’ve been cooking a while, you will be eating very well. I am not big on “hot and spicy,” just savory, and I can season things very well.

Don’t worry. I know plenty of overweight vegetarians; even overweight vegans.

I have hypoglycemia, and so I don’t eat sugar. I use sucralose (Splenda) as a sweetener. I still eat some carbs, like potatoes and brown rice, and beans. If a carb is also a source of protein, it’s fine for you. It’s mainly the ones that don’t have a lot of protein, or that are sugary, that you want to avoid. Rice (especially brown rice) in small amounts along with a legume = good. (White) Rice pudding = very bad.

Low fat or fat free yogurt is your very good friend. Greek yogurt has about 18 grams of protein in a cup, and only 120 calories. Something like Dannon Light ‘n’ Fit Greek yogurt is a little more than 1/2 cup in a prepared serving, and has 12g protein, and 80 calories. It’s flavored and sweetened without sugar, and is pretty darned good. I eat it every day. I watch for micro-ingredients, though, so I don’t eat the cherry flavor, because it has carmine, a red food dye made from insects.

If you want to make sure you get fat in your diet for ketosis, then eat cheese. Also eat nuts. Nuts have lots of fat without cholesterol. I eat peanuts or peanut butter every day, practically. Cashews are great too, and almonds. Almonds are good on protein.

In order to have sandwiches, you can get low-cal bread, or wraps. There is a mayo you can buy that has olive oil in it, so it’s lower calorie than regular may, but still tastes really good, is much lower in cholesterol, and is a source of some fat.

Why are you worried about ketosis? If you don’t mind my asking. Unless you are an epileptic, I don’t know why you’d be worried about that. If you are trying to lose weight, ketosis is evidence that you are burning your own body fat for energy, but if you are trying to maintain your weight, why would you need to be in ketosis?

Cheese and eggs are your helpers. Eat lots of both.

Cheese omelet for breakfast, along with fresh fruit.

Hardboiled eggs for lunch.

Salad for dinner.

But if what you wanna do is help with blood sugar, sure, play down the carbs, but why get rid of meat?

I do like peanut butter rather a lot. Does peanut butter provide all the types of essential protein? How about essential fats? It would be nice to have a single item that provides me with all the proteins and fats I can’t otherwise synthesize.

I want ketosis. I’ve noticed that my mood, energy and focus improve while in ketosis so I’d like to be able to maintain that state even with a vegetarian diet.

As for weight, my BMI is around 22-23 so weight loss isn’t a big priority. It might be nice to turn 10 pounds of fat into 10 pounds of muscle, though.

Almost.


Incomplete Protein
When a protein lacks one or more of the nine essential amino acids, it is known as an incomplete protein. Peanut butter lacks the essential amino acid methionine but is high in lysine. All plant-based proteins are incomplete protein sources except for soy and quinoa. You can still obtain all the essential amino acids even if you do not consume complete proteins by combining more than one plant-based protein within a 24-hour period.

Soy, eggs, dairy, and beans are high in methionine.

But if you want ketosis, why not go Atkins?

Hmm, a vegetarian atkins. Hmm, peanut butter on celery, eggs, cheese, unsweetened yogurt (the kind with just whole milk and probiotics), green salads- yes, it can be done.

Yogurt or cheese omelets for breakfast, Pnut butter on celery with hardboiled eggs for lunch, green salad for dinner. Eat celery with pnut butter whenever you want.

Try to get the pnut butter without added sugar.

A bowl of mixed flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp hearts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, soy flakes, oat flakes, oat bran, wheat bran and nutritional yeast can actually taste alright and sounds like it should provide nearly everything I need for little/no sugar and not much in the way of non-fiber carbs.

I should add powdered eggs and whey protein powder, crush it, compact it into chunks and it’ll be my people kibble.

I don’t think you will find a silver-bullet food for any type of diet, but if you mix a healthy variety of targeted foods you can probably eliminate most nutrition gaps. It’s not that difficult to eat a mostly plant-based diet.

I do not claim to be a vegetarian, but I will go for a day or two without meat. I don’t really notice or plan it that way - it just works out. I do try to limit animal protein in days I do eat meat to a small portion (and try to keep it higher quality). I am pretty active so protein is always a need.

Peanut butter (Costco organic) with breakfast works pretty well for me. Spread on whole wheat toast with a little jam or honey (I am not avoiding sugars, just limiting them - I like a little sweet, but not too much), and black coffee is my go-to starter for the day. I am rarely hungry before lunch. I guess the protein and carb combo (and caffeine) is about what I need.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend the fake meat-type products. Most of them, when used in most recipes, just do not taste like meat, and if you like meat, they’re likely to seem “off”. The one exception is TVP (textured vegetable protein) in place of ground beef, in things like spaghetti sauce where the flavor mostly isn’t coming from the meat: That can be pretty good. Instead, go for dishes that are vegetarian in their own right.

It’s not just rice and beans that are a good protein combination. Protein-wise, most legumes are similar to each other, and most grains are similar to each other, so pretty much any legume-grain combination will be a valid complete protein: Anything from Mexican matrimonia, to Nepali daal bhat, to American succotash, to the good old peanut butter sandwich.

A lot of ethnic cuisines have good vegetarian options, or are easy to adapt to be vegetarian. In particular, you’re missing out on very little by going vegetarian with Indian, Chinese, or Mexican.

You don’t need protein, or complete protein, in every meal. Likewise for most other nutrients. As long as it all averages out over the course of a week or so, you’ll be fine.

My tip: tofu works best either in asian food (for which it was designed) or with tomato sauce and cheese. Tofu spaghetti, tofu lasagne, is quite good. Just don’t forget the cheese.