You’ve decided to cut out meat to see if your health improves, and your brain is drawing a blank as to how to plan meals. How will you get enough protein? Will you be hungry all the time? What will you put in the place of meat so you don’t feel like you’re missing out or penalizing yourself?
Having grown up vegetarian, this was something that never bothered me and I laughed when people asked me “What on earth do you eat?” The answer was simple: Everything. Everything but meat. Of course, this was horrifying to my pediatrician, who insisted upon every wellness visit that iron and protein levels be tested. Miraculously, as my mother cooked whole-food, plant-based meals for us, my brother and I always tested within a perfectly normal range.
We’ve been trained to think it’s ok–even normal–to eat more wheat, or maybe oats, in a day than we do vegetables. Some people tolerate whole grains just fine, and if you feel that you need them in your diet for balance, keep at it. However, as with any diet, it’s wise to be mindful of how and where we’re getting the bulk of our calories, protein and carbs. Are those sources are processed (and pumped full of additives), even if they are organic, and is there any nutrition available beyond a factory-added B vitamin?
Paying attention to balance, in any diet, is really important in order to avoid deficiencies. For vegetarians, and even more so for vegans, this takes a little extra work. If you have children in your household, pay especially close attention to B vitamins, as kids can easily suffer irreversible cognitive disability due to deficiency.
Virtually every cell in your body has a receptor for Vitamin D, making it obvious that we depend upon a sufficient amount for innumerable functions. What goes hand-in-hand is a bio-available form of Vitamin A (taking a clean cod liver oil is a two-for-one win, as you get a bio-available A and D).
Last but not least, especially if you’re vegan, you might wish to consider a complete version of vitamin K2 in order to handle proper calcium distribution. Of course, supplementation should be used sparingly and doesn’t fix a nutrient-poor diet. A multi-vitamin isn’t going to make up for French fries and ice cream for dinner three nights a week. The best place to get your nutrition is from whole foods, as these are more readily absorbed into the body and at a dosage your body understands and can easily process.
Your body will tell you what it thinks of your current diet and it will tell you what it thinks about any changes you may incorporate. Listen carefully and monitor how you feel. If you feel tired, weak, or lethargic, you may need to add in more complex carbs. If your stomach is upset by legumes, don’t feel like that’s your only option as a protein source. (Nuts, seeds, veggies, eggs, bone broth if you’re willing to take it that far–it adds up if you’re paying attention to it.) If you find that dietary changes are really sapping your strength, talk to a professional. See a functional medicine doctor for testing and talk to a nutritionist about how to build healthy, balanced meals. It may be that you’ve made too many changes at once, or unwittingly put yourself on a self-inflicted version of the Autoimmune Protocol.
So where to start? As it so happens, there are thousands of recipe bloggers in this day and age (God bless the Internet?), and you can find numerous blogs devoted to all manner of lifestyle/health choices: gluten-free, AIP, GAPS, low-FODMAP, low-histamine, grain-free, vegan–you name it!
I’ll give you links to some of my favorites here. (Most of these happen to be vegan or vegetarian, but you can add meat or cheese to just about anything if that’s not your bag. Because come on, how many things have you met that weren’t improved with cheese?)
Love and Lemons • Somewhat recently relocated to Chicago, this blog boasts great vegetarian recipes and gorgeous photos. Jeanine has two cook books under her belt!
Detoxinista • Megan is a trained nutritionist–that was enough for me! She has “specialty” recipes if you’re vegan or following Paleo.
Pinch of Yum • A vegetarian blogger hailing from Minnesota (God bless her frozen fingers), Lindsay has a personable writing style and some great recipes!
Oh She Glows • A Canadian blogger, Angela’s plant-based blog is one of the first I started following years ago when trying out a vegan diet.
Cookie and Kate• Based in Kansas City, Kate whips up awesome vegetarian recipes and sweetens the deal with adorable pictures of her dog, Cookie.
A Saucy Kitchen• Sarah’s got it all together! Looking for gluten-free? Low-FODMAP? She’s your girl.
So this may be the part where I confess that after 39 years as a vegetarian (some of those years involved complicated forays into a vegan diet), we are no longer vegetarian. This has been a struggle for me, as I never developed an appreciation for the taste or texture of meat. (Remember how I wouldn’t eat anything that had a mother? I swear the animals look at me differently now.)
We don’t eat a great deal of meat and haven’t ventured beyond collagen powder, pasture-raised chickens, wild-caught fish or organic, pasture-raised beef or chicken bone broth. With some attention to what we’re putting into our mouths (and yes, we take beef liver capsules–gag), I’m confident we’re pretty well balanced on average. Keeping the focus on fresh, whole foods is something we’ve really ramped up in the past year and we’ve noticed many benefits of this improved diet: weight loss, mental clarity, improved healing from injuries and no more aching joints! In my book, that’s reason enough to keep doing what we’re doing, but always being willing to accept new information and incorporate it if it makes sense. That’s all we can do, right?
Go forth today and conquer, all in good health!
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