I've followed a vegetarian diet for seven years. I do it for my health and environmental reasons — but mostly, I love animals and would prefer to avoid eating them.
Ever since becoming a vegetarian, people have asked me what it's like to abstain from meat. Many of the questions can be boiled down to, "How can you survive without eating meat?" I'm always happy to explain. Here are five things non-vegetarians ask about most often.
You Can Eat Enough Protein
This is the biggest question and the answer is simple. Actually, it's easy to find meat-free sources of protein, depending on what type of vegetarian style you adhere to (see the next topic below). Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains such as quinoa, bulgur and farro are great sources of plant-based proteins. Tofu, made from soybean curd, is an easy way to add protein to any dish. Some vegetarians also eat eggs, dairy and seafood, all of which are excellent sources of protein. Adding seeds or nuts to oatmeal or a smoothie is a nice way to add protein and healthy fat at breakfast. Adding beans to a salad or soup can be an inexpensive and nutritious way to boost the protein of lunch and dinner meals. Plus, there are many meat analogs (products made from plant sources that resemble meat) available in grocery stores.
There Are Many Different Vegetarians
I typically don't use the label of "pescatarian" when describing my dietary choices, but someone who is a pescatarian eats no meat, but does eat seafood. An "ovo vegetarian" eats no meat or dairy, but does eat eggs. A "lacto vegetarian" eats dairy, but no meat or eggs. A "lacto-ovo vegetarian" eats no meat, but does eat dairy and eggs. Meanwhile, a "vegan" diet avoids all animal products, meat, dairy, eggs and seafood.
Be Mindful of How You Approach Someone's Dietary Preferences
We all have our own reasons for the choices we make. Be respectful of someone's dietary preferences and lifestyle choices. Sometimes, people feel the need to say things to change someone's mind about being vegetarian — trust me, whatever is said won't sway the decision to be vegetarian. For instance, I've heard many people say, "You can't eat anything on the menu." This is almost never true!
I Really Do Not Mind if You Eat Meat
Telling me how good your burger is won't dissuade me from choosing the stir-fried veggies with tofu and bok choy. Too many times I've been urged to "just eat meat." Why would someone think this is an OK thing to say? I really don't mind if you eat meat — even when I'm eating with you. In fact, I'm really not worried about what you're eating, I'm just trying to enjoy my meal.
Not Every Vegetarian Needs to Supplement, but Some Might
If you choose to eat animal products such as dairy, eggs or seafood, you may be getting enough vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and iron. But, if you aren't eating these items, you may need to ask your doctor to check a baseline level of these nutrients. Vegans must consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 or a take a vitamin B12 supplement. It's also a good idea to speak to a registered dietitian nutritionist if you're making a change in your diet and are unsure if you're eating the adequate nutrients your body needs.