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Resources for a potential vegetarian

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Hey all, I am considering going vegetarian for many reasons and would like to do some research on dietary requirements, vegetarian recipes, etc. Are there any websites out there (or print sources) that have good information for vegetarian-curious omnivores? I am a complete newbie and know nothing about leading a vegetarian lifestyle. Thank you.

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  1. I was a vegetarian for many years and a vegan for about 10 years. I only started eating animal foods in recent years because I've been having trouble healing after surgeries, so I'm sort of on a reverse research project -- trying to figure out the best way to reincorporate meat into my diet for a while. As you know, there are a lot of different kinds of vegetarianism -- ovo-lacto, just dairy but no other animal products, vegan, macrobiotic (which sometimes includes fish), ayurvedic, raw. You have to read up and kind of feel out what would be best for you.

    If you simply want to eliminate animal flesh, that's not that hard, and there are TONS of cookbooks and recipes you can find with a simple Internet search. One of my favorite less known websites for great-tasting vegan and vegetarian recipes is the tastypalettes.com blog. Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian Cuisine, and The Vegetarian Times Cookbook are three good basic cookbooks, and vegweb.org has thousands of recipes, searchable by ingredients. The Vegetarian Times Cookbook is available at most public libraries and has a good, thorough and helpful introduction.

    But it sounds like, more than recipes, you might want information with which to get your bearings and figure out the best way to proceed healthily, in which case the books below are good to read. They don't have the best vegetarian recipes (just very basic ones), but they'll help you figure out what kind of vegetarian you might want to be and how to do it.:

    >> The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet (Davis & Melina) - probably the best basic intro on how to go veg
    >> Neal Barnard's Food for Life - hardcore pitch for veganism, with lots of health info.
    >> Georges Ohsawa's Zen Macrobiotics - (a quirky oldie but goodie by the founder of macrobiotics)
    >> Maya Tiwari's Ayurveda, A Balance of Life
    >> There's also the old stand-by, Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet, but that's a little dated at this point.

    My tips for a new vegetarian would be:
    >> Ease into it. Start by going vegetarian one or two days a week, then ramp up to veg all the weekdays, and then go all the way.
    >> Do your research and have a plan.
    >> As long as you're going veg, go clean, and buy the least processed, least chemically treated food you can.
    >> Don't rely too heavily on dairy and eggs for all your protein, and don't just eat what you used to eat, but without the meat (or with fake meat). Learn to cook and eat a wide range of legumes and vegetables (especially sturdy, dark, leafy greens like kale and collards) switch to whole grains, and get to know tempeh.
    >> Try to get at least 30 grams of fiber a day and at least 40 grams of protein (not hard to do with beans and lentils) and make sure you get enough healthy fats and B vitamins (sea vegetables are good source of these). This will help you be well nourished and satisfied, and not to have as many cravings as you would otherwise.
    >> Get familiar with Indian food if you're not already. India has one of the oldest, most sophisticated vegetarian culinary traditions in the world.
    >> Don't compensate for meat with sugar. Cut down or eliminate refined sugars if possible (for incentive in doing that, read the book Sugar Blues by William Dufty).
    >> It takes some time for your body to get used to a new diet, for some people as much as a whole year. You might want to get some advice on probiotics or other digestive supplements to use until your body gets used to producing the different combination of enzymes it needs for a more intensely plant-based diet. A couple of visits with a veg-friendly doctor or naturopath couldn't hurt.

    I think vegetarianism can be a really amazing lifestyle and not hard to pull off once you get the hang of it. It definitely gave me a better understanding of food, made me a better cook and a better eater, and put me more in touch with my body. Hope it does the same for you.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ninrn

      Wow, ninrn, that was an amazing reply. Thank you for all the great information. I am going to make it my mission this weekend to check out all (or at least as many as I can) of those references that you listed. So far, the transition has actually not been too tough for me. Its so funny that you said "eat lots of legumes, get familiar with tempeh, and eat lots of dark leafy greens". Dinner last night was literally sauteed tempeh with lentils, lacinato kale, and quinoa. I am actually really digging the vegetarian diet so far. I dont know if it is in my head or not, but I seem to actually be feeling "lighter" and more energized since starting my experiment about a week or so ago. Anyway, I look forward to checking out new and delicious recipes from the resources that you provided, thank you!

      1. re: NorCalEats

        So glad you found it helpful, NorCalEats. I felt a little mortified when I saw how long my reply turned out to be. One additional note, if you're at all interested in a macrobiotic approach, try to find the original version of the Ohsawa book I recommended and not any of the versions amended by his students. He's definitely an old-fashioned eccentric, but his heart is in the right place and he invented the system. In my opinion, later macrobiotic teachers like the ubiquitous Kushis, the Eskos and various others, kind of highjacked the whole thing and turned a very economical and simple curative diet into a money-making endeavor.

        I know what you mean about feeling lighter. I felt terrific when I went vegan, then after a few months I felt madly hungry and irritable. I finally figured out that, once it cleaned itself out a little bit, my body started "demanding" the nutrients it needed to start making bigger changes. I think a lot of people quit at that point, when it's really a sign the whole thing's working and you just need to stoke the fire. Once I figured out what was missing, it was like really feeling fed for the first time.

        1. re: ninrn

          Just out of curiosity, what WAS it that you were missing? If you dont mind sharing.....

          And I have already reserved several of the books that you mentioned at the local library, cant wait to go pick them up and start learning more about this process.

    2. I have an account on SparkPeople.com where I track my daily nutrition. I enter the food I eat and it shows me the carb-fat-protein breakdown, as well as how I've done on the vitamins and minerals (calcium, iron and the B-vitamins are big things to watch for when you stop eating meat). When I cook a complicated recipe I enter it into SparkRecipes.com's Recipe Calculator and it carries the nutrition information over to my daily tracker. I've been doing this for years so I have a really good sense of what foods will give me the things I need, but I would highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in their health. Once you're tracking your food intake you can find recipes anywhere. I look at sites like Food52 and FoodGawker, which you can filter by vegetarian or vegan recipes, as well as sites like 101 Cookbooks, The Kitchn, Green Kitchen Stores, PPK etc., and when I find a recipe I like I just find a way to make it fit my nutritional needs within my overall day. It's not about a specific cookbook... I go to the public library and sign out a few different cookbooks each week, rifle through them, maybe find something that I want to try or modify, and then return them. It's free!

      1. A few decades ago I decided to try the foods that most vegetarians gravitate to when changing their lifestyle of eating.

        After a few years eating some of the associated foods;i.e., tofu, tempeh, picking up some packaged cheese, fake meats, I realized that for me these foods were not foods that I really cared about. To me, it became the hype of going vegetarian that people seemed to need to endorse their vegetarianism.

        I still eat the same beans, grains, fermented kimchee, but have really no interest in the vegetarian aisle at the supermarkets. However, I am not a vegetarian in that I do eat chicken and fish -- but don't have to have it as often as others might have it while rotating other meats into their otherwise meat-eating diets.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Rella

          Rella, yea I am avoiding all of those processed fake meats/cheeses. I am shooting for fruits/veggies/whole grains/legumes, with occasional animal protein in the form of eggs and cheese.

          On a separate note....... I have to admit that I sinned today, I went to a food truck festival in Sacramento, and there was a delicious smoky flavor in the air, which I soon discovered to be blue-cheese and avocado hamburgeres. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.... haha. I figure though, I did pretty well going a full 1.5 weeks during my first attempt at a vegetarian diet. One step at a time I guess.

          1. re: NorCalEats

            It takes years to fall into a pattern of eating, only to fall out again.
            I just know that burger tasted 'real good' to you. Glad it was a good and fun day for you.