An alternative title for this blog post could be: 10 things I wish I knew before going vegetarian.
So. You’ve decided to eat less meat, or cut out red meat, or only eat fish. Or you’ve decided to go vegetarian, completely. Or, you’re going vegan – much to the dismay of everyone in your life. If you are joining us who don’t eat animal flesh, read on, dear Cupcake, because there are some things you really need to know.
1. Vitamin B12 is important.
Not taking a vitamin B12 supplement as soon as I stopped eating meat was one of my biggest mistakes. That is why this is the first, and probably most important thing that you need to know if you want to stop eating meat. B12 is the only vitamin/mineral that you cannot get from eating a vegetarian/vegan diet. This is because it is a protein-bound vitamin that is made by bacteria and is therefore typically found in meat products (reference). B12 can be found in fortified foods, such as cereal or some brands of almond (or non-dairy) milk.
The supplements are relatively inexpensive, and are best taken in the morning. This is because B12 is heavily linked to energy levels, as well as other things such as iron levels (reference). You can also get your B12 injected in a compound Vitamin B injection. How often you need these is dependent on your existing B12 levels – normally every 3 or so months. Unfortunately, you do need a prescription to get one of these injections – so ask your doctor next time you go.
I had blood taken at the beginning of the year ago to test my vitamin B12 levels, even though I do supplement my diet with an oral B12 supplement. My levels are above average (yay!). I am going to continue with an oral supplement and maybe get a jab when I need an energy boost.
2. Iron is important
Meat is a huge supplier of iron to our bodies. But there are so many plant-based sources of iron that are much healthier for you. Iron is especially important as a woman. You know, because we do that monthly bleeding thing. And I know that that is a lot of iron lost that could be used in my body. Iron absorption is inhibited by things like caffeine, but aided by things like vitamin C (find out more here). These are things that I didn’t know. Most vegans and vegetarians can get enough iron through these plant-based foods, but some of us need to supplement. I have been slightly anemic for as long as I can remember, so I take an iron supplement 3 or 4 times a week at bedtime. I take my supplements at night because apparently vitamin fatigue is a thing (find out more here and here).
3. Other people will tell you their opinions
Especially the people close to you. Some people will be supportive of you (thanks especially to my Mom and Dad!) and do their best to help you in your veggie journey. Some people will panic, and not know what to feed you (I have a pinterest board full of recipes). Other people will question you relentlessly on your motivations. Others will simply be curious. Some people will tease you, either lovingly, or less so. I’ve lost count of mealtime conversations where someone will justify their choices for eating meat. Not specifically to me – but I know that I’m the odd one at the table.
With that being said, I am very grateful to my family for accommodating my vegetarianism and making sure that there is something that I can eat. I have always been willing to bring my own food, but they have been wonderful and making sure that I do have food and I have enough to eat.
4. Eating out
Have you ever had chronic menu indecision when eating out? I used to, too. Now, your menu choices will be rather limited. But I find it so much easier to decide what to eat when my choices are so limited. I decide what I feel like, salad, or pasta, or whatever, and just look for the veggie option! So easy! There are also so many wonderful veggie food choices. Salsa and Roco Mama’s (and other DIY food places) can easily accommodate for vegetarians. Indian food, Chinese food, and Thai food all have wonderful and delicious options with no meat.
5. Your food creativity will improve!
If there is anything that I’ve learned in the past two years, it’s how to make tasty, healthy vegetarian food. There are so many exciting things to eat that don’t involve meat substitutes, or tofu. If you need some inspiration, I have over 1000 vegan/veggie recipes on my food Pinterest board. I normally pick a type of food (Italian, Thai, etc) and make a meal following that theme and using spices typical of that type of food. And one thing you have to do as a veggie is spice your food. You can even put meat spices on certain types of food, as the spices do not contain any animal products, yay (double check the ingredient list to double check)!
6. Your energy levels will change
Some people find that their energy levels drop dramatically when they stop eating meat. This is usually because they are not eating enough veggies and carbs to make up for the calories. Meat is much denser in calories than anything else, so you need to eat more of the other stuff to fill in the gaps. Alternatively, some vegetarians have so much more energy because digesting meat using up so much of our existing energy. I personally have more energy than I did before (providing I get enough sleep) and I usually feel light and satisfied after my meals instead of heavy and sleepy. I find that carbs, and most fruit, are very healthy ways to boost my energy instead of straight up sugar.
7. Your digestion will change
I bet this one scared you a little bit. But it’s not a bad thing! As I said earlier, digesting meat takes up huge amounts of energy. So when you take meat out of your diet, digestion doesn’t take as long and you absorb nutrients better. There is also loads of fiber in fruits, veggies, and carbs, so going vegetarian will help your digestive system to be more regular. You might not be as organised as Sheldon Cooper, but you can be assured that constipation will be in your past (yes I went there #sorrynotsorry).
I’ve also had issues with a very finicky digestive system in the past. I tried going gluten-free, cutting out dairy, a colon cleanse, everything. After going vegetarian the only things that my body doesn’t tolerate well are excessive amounts of dairy, too much sugar, and garlic. So I know now that happy intestines require minimal amounts of those 3 things. So chocolate is something that I need to get rid of. As for the garlic, its because I’m a vampire.
8. Veggie food can be unhealthy
There are so many yummy vegetarian things. Macaroni-cheese, doughnuts, jelly tots, ice-cream. There are just as many unhealthy vegan things. Did you know that Oreos are even vegan? The thing that all of these have in common is that they are not good for you. When cutting out meat, you need to make sure that you are substituting with loads of fruits and veggies, and healthy carbs. Heavily processed carbs and dairy are not good substitutes for meat. It’s very easy to grab a Woolies mac and cheese if you’re in a rush, but the best thing you can do for your body as a vegetarian is to actually eat vegetables. Lots of vegetables, with things like beans and grains to give you a complete protein.
9. You will save so much money
When my parent’s braai, they often buy ribs at a ridiculous R150 odd for a kilogram. With R150 I can buy 3 cans of beans, 2kgs of rice, 1,5kg of bananas and R50 worth of assorted veggies and fruit. That’s a huge amount of food. Meat is expensive, and dairy is expensive (R100 for a block of cheese at Woolworths. Really.). So by cutting these things out of your diet, you will save so much money. Especially when eating out at restaurants. The average veggie dish is about R60-R80, while meat dishes at a good restaurant can start at R80 and go up from there. There is even a place at WITS where you can buy a tub of curry and rice for R12. Can you tell that I’m a regular there? So if you’re in the mood to save some money – cut down on your meat consumption. Start with one meal at a time. Meatless Mondays are a good way to cut out some meat in a non-drastic way, and will save you money.
10. You will make a huge difference to the world around you
You thought that I wasn’t going to go here, didn’t you! Fooled you! Anyway. Going vegetarian or vegan is one of the best things you can do for the environment, and for the animals that we farm for food. Vegan is the ideal, but that’s not always possible to do straight away. It’s okay to go vegetarian first and then slowly cut out eggs and dairy.
Each life saved is a life that you do not have on your conscience or in your karmic cycle. Some of you might have the mentality that “the animal died anyway”, but the meat industry only produces so prolifically is because of the demand. If we, as consumers, decreased our meat consumption – the producers would have to lower the amount that they produce to avoid losing money. And lives will be saved. 2017 has shown that the awareness for vegan/plant-based eating is growing and companies want to cash in on this. “Vegan” is said to be a huge trend for 2018, which is great for the awareness. And many people who try veganism as a ‘trend’ end up making the change permanent – so please jump on the bandwagon.
I see all animals as sentient creatures worthy of sharing the world with us. Even pigeons, as much as I don’t enjoy them. I don’t see my dogs as any different from a pig – except in fluffiness. This isn’t to say that you’re a bad person if you see cows as food and cats as not. It just means that your mindset hasn’t changed from what you were brought up with. There is still time to change that – if you want to. My goal here isn’t to be preachy to non-vegetarians, but to provide valuable advice for people who already are vegetarian or are considering making the switch. The final point here is that I’m not trying to shame anyone for their choices. You do you, and I’ll do me. If that doesn’t line up – that’s cool, dude.
To conclude, there are quite a few things that you will need to research before you decide to cut meat/animal products out of your life. And that’s because eating that way is not the “normal” way of eating. So, learn from my mistakes and do your research in the first few months of making this change. I hope that this has inspired many of you to cut out meat and animal products from your diet. If this made no impact on you at all and you want to keep eating animals – please consider starting with a Meatless Monday. It really does make a difference.
I hope that you enjoyed this, and make kind choices!