If you’re a vegetarian, chances are you’ve been asked at least once (if not several times) what on Earth it is that you eat.
The thing is, contrary to popular belief, a vegetarian diet can actually be much more varied than the standard Western-style meat-based diet, simply because it opens you up to so many options you wouldn’t otherwise consider. And, of course, it could also be a healthier choice for some.
If you do it right, that is.
Funnily enough, even though vegetarianism is often associated with a healthier lifestyle, it can be just as easy - if not easier - to fall into unhealthy eating habits. After all, while bacon is off limits, potato chips and Pad Thai aren’t.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tips to help you make your vegetarian diet healthier.
Plan Your Meals Ahead Of Time
One of the biggest challenges you face, especially when you’re new to vegetarianism, is finding easy recipes to follow.
But let’s face it, if you want to eat healthy, you have to cook; and thinking up meal ideas and dealing with a mess of pots and pans after a long and exhausting day may not be your idea of a good time.
Before you know it, you’re subsisting on rice cakes, potato crisps and Chinese takeout, or - ugh - eating beans out of a can.
Thankfully, there is one very simple hack that will nip this right in the bud. It’s called planning ahead.
Start off by making a list of vegetarian recipes. This can take some time, but you only need to do it once. After that’s done, just plan your meals for the week, one week at a time, by picking and choosing from your list. It shouldn’t take more than an hour tops.
And if you want to give yourself an even bigger head start, set an afternoon aside to do all your meal prep for the week. It honestly cannot get any simpler.
Re-evaluate Your Protein Intake
If "What do you eat?" is the most common question you're asked as a vegetarian, "Where do you get your protein from?" is probably a close second.
This question is based on two assumptions. The first is thatyou need a ton of protein to stay healthy; and the second is that you can only get it from meat. And, as you might have imagined, both are completely mistaken.
In truth, you don’t need as much protein as you think. The average person needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight - that’s about 56 - 91 grams a day for men and 46 - 75 grams per day for women.
Avoid Meat Substitutes
Since many vegetables are great sources of protein, you don’t need meat substitutes to boost your intake. In fact, you don’t need meat substitutes in your diet at all.
Some meat substitutes do have decent amounts of protein. However, they’re also full of questionable artificial ingredients you probably can’t even pronounce. They’re also highly processed, and have unhealthy amounts of salt, sodium, vegetable oils and even sugar. This far outweighs any nutritional benefits you might gain.
Lay Off White Grains
Eating too much white pasta, rice and bread can be just as bad for you as eating meat substitutes.
Of course, in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with grain-based foods. Grains are rich in fibre and contain vitamins and trace minerals. The problem is that, these days, most grains are processed and refined until they have little or no nutritional value. This makes most white grains little more than empty calories.
There’s much to be said about the benefits of a grain-free diet. However, if you really can’t do without your spaghetti or rice fix, you should at least opt for the wholegrain variety. Even better, try sprouted grains.
Explore Different Culinary Cultures
Being vegetarian doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of meatless versions of your favourite recipes. In fact, one of the best things about it is that, it opens you up to food choices you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Many cultures have vegetarian culinary traditions. Being in Asia, a lot of our local cultures are well known for vegetarian cuisines. Beyond the borders of our continent, the Middle East and even lesser known countries such as Ethiopia have equally strong vegetarian traditions. You can make many of these recipes with fresh, healthy ingredients you can readily buy from your local food and vegetable store.
If you’ve been eating too much bread with facon (fake bacon), it might be time to step out of your comfort zone and try some new cuisines. You’ll discover new flavours, eat better, and explore a whole new culture in the process.
Looking for easy-to-follow recipes? PurelyB has plenty for you to choose from. Join our community today and sign up for free.