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My first stint as a vegetarian was a cheesy affair. Quite literally.
I stopped eating meat because it made me feel ill. But not knowing anything about diet or nutrition, I just substituted the meat in my diet with cheese! Thus I became an unhealthy, overweight vegetarian.
My, how far I’ve come in the past five years! Now I know a lot more about balanced nutrition, and regularly take advantage of the ever-growing pool of resources available for new vegetarians and vegans. Knowledge is power!
So to help all of you new veggies out there, here are five of the most important things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Know your shops
Ethnic markets are a great source of vegetarian and vegan staples. Soy meat, tofu, lentils, beans, peas and vegetables are all available at a reasonable price. Another shop you need to familiarize yourself with is your health food store. Supplements, protein powders and superfoods can be useful additions to a plant-based diet. Last but not least, learn to love your local farmers market. Not all cities have them, but if you can stand the crowded Sunday mornings, you will achieve great savings on fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables.
2. Know your supplements
Some doctors and nutritionists recommend that vegetarians (and vegans in particular) supplement their diets with vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and certain essential fatty acids. There are some great oils on the market targeted to people consuming plant-based diets, including Udo’s Choice and Okinawa Omega.
Many vegetarians or vegans (or people who want to be healthy in general) also choose to include superfoods in their diet, as they are good sources of B-vitamins, calcium, antioxidants and minerals, and give a great energy boost with their high nutritional value.
Spirulina, maca, mesquite, raw cacao, lecithin and other powders can be added to smoothies, while raw nuts and seeds, flax, hemp, Inca berries, and mulberries, make great, nutrient-packed snacks.
3. Know your food additives
Many “e-number” ingredients are not suitable for vegans. For example, E120 which is commonly used as red food coloring, is made from the crushed shell of a bug left to cook alive in the sun. You find E120 in jams, jellies, candy, cheese and alcoholic drinks. E441, also known as gelatin, is made of hoofs and animal skins, and can be found in confectionary and yoghurt. If you are curious, or need more information on this particular topic, I recommend you Google “E-numbers not suited for vegans” for more information on which additives to avoid.
4. Know your new lifestyle
So, you have decided to go vegan. You watched “Meet your Meat” online, logged on to a few sites, ordered a ”new vegetarian” kit, and have filled your fridge with scrumptious veggies and gelatin-free soy yoghurt. What now? It’s important to be prepared for challenging social situations you might soon face. For example, you might be asked to dinner at your parents’ house, or a movie date with a friend who is uninformed about your newfound veganism.
If being a vegan is something you feel very strongly about, I suggest that before you “come out,” you read a lot of literature. Some of your family might be prejudiced, your friends might have questions, and your boss may want to know how this will affect you at the Christmas party. The best way to approach your different social circles is with as much information as possible. If you can answer all the questions people have, they will accept your choices quickly, and your well-informed confidence will rub off on your audience!
5. Know your sources
Over the last few years, thousands of sites with information about plant-based diets have popped up all over the Internet. Apart from One Green Planet, of course, it might be an idea to systemize your bookmarking, as the wide selection might be overwhelming at first. If you can find a community of vegans, a few good recipe blogs, and a few good “gurus” to follow (e.g. raw food chef Ani Phyo, David Wolfe and David Sandoval), you are well on your way to enlightenment.
A few books on vegan nutrition should probably find their way into your bookshelf too. If you are into a particular cuisine, say Indian, Mexican, Chinese or Italian, there are plenty of books out there with vegan or vegetarian versions of all your favorite dishes. This is a excellent way to ease into plant-based living; learn to cook vegan or vegetarian versions of your favorite foods.
Take heart knowing that you have decided become a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Your new plant-based diet reduces your carbon footprint, and is kinder and more compassionate towards all living beings. Good luck with your new choice!
Image Source: Dottie Mae/Flickr