Have you thought about becoming a vegetarian, but dismissed it because it seemed too extreme—and too complicated? You’re not alone.
“It’s overwhelming for people when they first take the steps,” says Brenda Davis, registered dietitian and co-author of Becoming Vegetarian and Becoming Vegan. “But you learn so many things over time. You don’t ever stop learning.”
Davis helped us debunk some myths that may be holding you back from cutting meat out of your life.
Myth: You won’t be able to find appealing options at restaurants.
That may have been true a decade ago, but as interest in meatless meals has increased, so have the dining-out offerings. “There’s almost no restaurant anymore that you can’t walk into and find something to eat,” Davis says. Not to mention the fact that nowadays, most chefs are accustomed to special requests. Just as you shouldn’t hesitate to ask to substitute, say, a green salad for French fries, vegetarians should feel comfortable requesting filling meat-free accommodations.
Myth: You’ll have to learn to cook elaborate meals.
“It’s no more difficult to open a can of beans than it is to cook a piece of chicken,” Davis says. “You can put foods together very simply: Boil some rice, steam some vegetables and serve it with some beans on top.” It’s also increasingly simple to “vegetarianize” your meaty favorites, if you wish, with a wide range of animal product alternatives now available. Soy crumbles easily substitute for ground beef or turkey in recipes, and at Thanksgiving you can even have a “Tofurky” if you’re craving familiarity.
Myth: You’ll have to take a lot of supplements.
Most vegetarians don’t need to supplement beyond the universal recommendation for a multivitamin — provided they’re eating a nutritious diet rich in whole foods. “The worst mistake that people make when they go veg is they just eliminate meat and replace it with potatoes, pasta and bagels,” Davis says, missing out on nutritious vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The most important nutrient humans get from animal products is B12, which helps protect memory and helps maintain energy level. But if you continue to eat dairy products like eggs, milk and cheese, you should get adequate B12. (Vegans like Davis, though, may need a supplement.) Meat is also a good source of iron, but so are dark leafy greens and beans, so a plant-based diet shouldn’t necessarily be lacking in that nutrient. But if you find yourself feeling weak or tired, have your doctor check to see if you’re anemic.
Myth: You’ll constantly have to defend your choice to carnivores.
You might be surprised how few people even notice you’re not eating meat, Davis says, especially if they’re not cooking for you. But she does offer some advice. “I really and truly believe that it’s your attitude that makes the difference,” Davis says. “It’s important for vegetarians and vegans to understand that they’ve made a very powerful ethical choice for them, but that doesn’t mean they’re at the center of the ethical universe.” If you seem respectful of another person’s choice to eat meat, they’re less likely to be threatened by your diet and confront you about it. If you are passionate about ultimately converting other carnivores, consider that setting a good example is far more persuasive than lecturing. “If you’re the one who’s super healthy, people will sit up and take notice,” Davis says.
Myth: At holidays, you’ll inconvenience your family and friends and ruin long-standing traditions.
“I think the social consequences are the biggest hesitation people have about going vegetarian,” Davis says. But in the age of Weight Watchers, gluten-free diets and food allergies, you’d be hard-pressed to find a large family gathering in which not a single guest had a dietary restriction. Be honest with your family about why you’ve made this choice, and that it’s important to you, but stress that it’s a personal decision and you’re not making a judgment. Then, offer to bring a meat-free main dish to share. At her carnivorous family’s Christmas dinner last year, Davis made over a family favorite recipe—fruit salad with whipped cream—by substituting non-dairy pear cream. “Every single person at the table tried ours and liked it better,” she says. But even if they hadn’t, she adds, “the important thing is that we’re still at the same table.”