There has never been an easier time to go vegetarian. Meat-free options are on nearly every menu, with vegetarian product options abounding in even the smallest town's grocery stores. While forgoing meat isn't that uncommon any more, it's still easy to fall into rookie mistakes and habits that may make the transition a little difficult.
With nearly a decade of vegetarianism under my belt, I've personally committed every single one of these mistakes. Easy to avoid (and solve), glance over this list of five habits to avoid when thinking about going vegetarian:
Supplementing Your Diet with Cheese
It's easy to fall into the dairy trap, which is why I tell new vegetarians "Step away from the cheese!" While ovo-lacto vegetarians openly enjoy cheese, it sometimes ends up becoming a fall-back for new vegetarians. Grilled cheeses, cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, and more become staples for vegetarians who aren't exactly sure what to eat. This usually ends with the novice veg-head feeling sluggish and maybe even having digestive issues from the increase of dairy consumption.
While there's nothing wrong with a little cheese here and there, it shouldn't be the main staple of every meal. Try using it as more of a flavor accent for dishes. A little grated Parmesan or sprinkling of feta can seriously elevate a meal from dreary to decadent.
Forgetting About B12
Although everyone, vegetarian or not, should be aware of their nutritional needs, the most common concerns about a vegetarian diet are nothing more than food myths. But the one thing to really keep an eye on is your B12 intake. While the average omnivore asks where your protein comes from, it's this vitamin that can seriously change your health for the worse. Not naturally available in high doses in foods besides meat, it's sometimes hard for plant-based eaters to get this without making a conscious effort. Get your daily dose by taking vitamins or eating supplemented foods like soy milk, cereal, or nutritional yeast.
Assuming "Vegetarian" Is Synonymous with Healthy
As nice as it would be for anything labeled "vegetarian" to be automatically healthy, it's simply not true. Sometimes the most unhealthy options (looking at you, french fries and Oreos) are totally vegetarian, or even vegan. Don't assume that just because something is meat-free, that it's not still packed with calories, fat, and sodium. Keep an eye on products' nutrition labels and recipes' ingredients to keep your meals in balance.
Obsessing Over Protein
Almost anyone who goes vegetarian gets to experience at least one family member or friend clutching their pearls and exclaiming "But where will you get your protein?!" Calm their minds by reassuring them that getting plentiful protein in a vegetarian diet isn't just easy, it's usually very tasty. Plant-based proteins like beans, whole grains, lentils, nuts, and seeds are easy to rotate into a vegetarian diet. There are also stealthy protein-rich foods like spinach and potatoes, which aren't often thought of as viable sources. As long as you're aware of your daily needs, and occasionally take inventory on your intake, eating a balanced diet should provide you an optimum amount of protein.
Becoming Friends with Faux Meats
There's nothing wrong with a good homemade veggie burger, but relying on premade and highly processed 'meat' alternatives can quickly become a bad habit. When transitioning to vegetarianism, it's easy to feel the need to make veggie-friendly versions of all your old favorites. This can make the switch over easier, but don't end up solely relying on frozen veggie burgers, soy-packed 'hot dogs', or wheat gluten-based cutlets. Branch out your plate with legumes, whole grains, and (of course) fruits and veggies. Below are a few whole-food ideas for replacing faux meats, while still keeping beloved flavors and textures:
- Instead of grilled chicken, try Beer-Brushed Tofu Skewers: Although notoriously jiggly and white, the tofu in this recipe gives any meat-laden meal a run for its money thanks to the smoky grill and rich glaze.
- Instead of traditional bacon, try Vegan Whole-Grain Bacon: Brown rice wrappers create eerily similar texture to pork-based bacon. Coated in a savory mix of nama shoyu, smoked paprika, maple syrup, and other ingredients, it naturally takes on the flavor and color of beloved bacon.
- Instead of steak try Portobello Frites: Naturally 'meaty' mushrooms make an easy, but impressive, dinner option. Packed with umami flavor, a little searing or grilling with a drizzle of sauce is all you need.
- Instead of pulled pork or chicken, try Jackfruit Recipes: This Asian fruit, an up-and-coming star in the vegetarian world, mimics the texture of shredded meats like chicken or pork. Use it everything from nachos to soup and you'll never miss the meat.
This story originally appeared on Cookinglight.com.