Guest post written by Gath.
With so many people adopting a vegetarian lifestyle for different reasons, sharing their experiences and often times, journaling their journey to great detail, you may be wondering what makes this post any different. As with any subject, it is always helpful to have as many different perspectives as possible, to better understand the subject as well as be prepared for the expected or unexpected. And vegetarianism is no exception.
Sure, you may find loads of info online but interestingly not that many people actually research before jumping on the vegetarian wagon which can actually have some pretty serious consequences that may even be fatal. I.e. if you’re not careful and aren’t well researched. Below are a few very key factors about my vegetarian experience for a month. What I discovered and experienced as well as breaking some myths along the way. This one’s especially dedicated to those who are seriously considering the vegetarian life indefinitely.
Vegetarians = Vegetables
This would be a good place to start when discussing vegetarianism. Many people still have a misconception that vegetarians only live on vegetables or mostly veggies. Surprisingly, some recently transitioned vegetarians too, think this to be true. I find that not only is this a myth, it can also be a dangerous road to tread for those who think along these lines.
The reason for this is that any amount of vegetables combined, cannot make up for the protein and iron content, for starters; that is needed to be healthy, energetic and alert. Especially iron; without which I found myself less active due to low energy levels and NO, sugar intake doesn’t have anything to do with it. At least in this case. So it is vital to research well in advance before ‘turning over a new leaf’.
Perk up your Protein
Second to veggies, I think protein is an important aspect that requires some looking into before selecting which types of protein work best for you. Remember, even though you’re going meatless doesn’t mean that protein will be easy to come by. In fact, one serving of meat would require at least two if not more servings of vegetarian protein just to maintain a balance. I’d say, it’s best to go for protein sources that you really love as you will be needing a lot of it.
All types of lentils and pulses, beans and peas, tofu, quinoa, chickpeas and boy was it a treat finding the ones I really liked. Oatmeal, fruit, green veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, nuts, as well as nut butters and soy milk and that’s just a few. Again, remember to have options available to try before you decide. You don’t want to be racing back and forth to the supermarket or make any quick decisions. Many people tend to have a soft spot for chickpeas, some even beans but it’s best to give quinoa, tofu and peas. Peas being a not so favourite for many, but I wouldn’t mind having them any day.
Fabulous with Fibre
That’s so true! Fibre is that much needed digestive delight that keeps your system clean, fit and gut healthy. It is fibre that helps feed the good bacteria found in the gut. While I can’t vouch for this point but many people say and have experienced a percentage of weight-loss due to fibre. So there’s a lot of good that can be achieved by adding a good amount of fibre to your daily food.
I was actually happy to learn that many of my favourites had fibre as well and these include strawberries, pears and raspberries. Apples also have fibre as do bananas, carrots, broccoli, almonds, oats, and hold your breath… popcorn and dark chocolate.
While I was familiar with many of the fruits and nuts, it was a happy discovery to know that popcorn and dark chocolate do have fibre as well. Ofcourse these are to be consumed at ones discretion.
As mentioned in the opening few lines of this post, iron is a vital element for any diet and twice as important for vegetarians. While I was not sure as to how serious this point should be taken, my experience proved that this is by far the most crucial for health, bodily functions and nutrients. Having low iron or worse no iron at all, will lead to anemia which is caused by an iron deficiency which is not the sole cause but one of a few causes that should not be ignored.
Sadly, few people are aware of this factor and yes, people can die from anemia, simply because with less iron the body cannot function as it should, resulting in damaging organs and ultimately making it impossible for the heart to pump oxygen. There’s loads on this subject which can be found easily and I’d recommend everyone to have a read and be more aware and careful about their iron intake.
Iron can be found in soybeans, lentils, nuts; such as cashews, almonds, pine and macadamia nuts as well as seeds, such as flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale and chard. Tomatoes and potatoes, and fruit that include mulberries and olives have a good amount of iron. Whole grains such as oats and quinoa, coconut milk and dark chocolate also have iron and are some of my all-time favourites.
With the nutritional aspect of vegetarianism covered, I thought I’d share some noticeable changes experienced around mid-month of having started my vegetarian journey. This starts with subtle yet noticeable lows in the sense of energy levels. That’s the time I began checking whether this was a normal experience to have or not. Arising unannounced, like a surprise visitor. What I did discover was, that different people may have different reactions to switching from a regular meat inclusive diet to one that isn’t.
This is especially noticed by people who previously had a considerably high meat based diet and so occasional lows from time to time is quite natural as it is the body’s way of adjusting to this change. However, even though this may not be a cause of alarm having many experiences of low energy levels, headaches, brittle nails or hair, extreme fatigue, pale skin or cold hands and feet may all be signs of iron deficiency. Which as discussed above is a signal to seek medical attention if adding more iron to your diet doesn’t help.
Water wonders (fluids)
This is a no brainer. Still, I thought I’d add this to the list. Water is just as vital as any of the above mentioned points regardless of your lifestyle. While this topic may be a matter of opinion it is a universal truth that all of us need a certain amount of water to maintain a balance between health, well-being and energy levels.
Even though it is a commonly known fact that majority of the body is made up of water, not everyone requires the exact same amount. There are many opinions regarding how you can find an exact count of how much water to drink, based on your body weight. I didn’t get around to doing that, but I do follow this unspoken rule of drinking small amounts of water every alternate hour. If it’s a hot or humid day than that count doubles. Again, not every body type requires the same amount of water so it’s best to use your better judgement.
Skin (hair and nails)
Everyone’s going to love this one. When you stick to a well thought out nutritional plan that is vegetarian, you will; after some time, experience a change in skin, hair and nails. I noticed these changes towards the middle or second half of the month. For me these were minor changes, again only being less than a month, but they were noticeable nonetheless.
I’d imagine with a committed vegetarian, healthy looking hair, a natural glow in skin condition and strong nails can be expected, aside from other health benefits that I’ve yet to experience or discover in time. I guess water and correct fluid intake also has an impact on skin, hair and nails.
Another noticeable change to look for, when going vegetarian is energy levels. In comparison to diets that include processed sugars and flours that many professionals term as ‘fast cars’ meaning that they only give you momentary energy that soon fizzle out before the day ends, isn’t a route you’d want to take. However, if energy levels are more sustained and are fueled by the correct sources, a change in energy will be experienced that is more long-lasting. Of-course, everyone is prone to get tired at the end of the day, which is normal.
I’ve found first hand, going for non-flavoured yoghurt, almonds or nuts, cheese, bananas, beans or even eggs can work to give you sustainable energy. Surely there may be other options that I’ve not tried yet but these are what I found to work.
Vitamins are another essential for anyone’s health and well-being. Even more so for vegetarians. I’m not going to jump into details as to the different vitamins and how each is important but rather I’d like to point out how much better, if possible it is to go for vitamins that are from natural sources as opposed to going for supplements.
While I don’t have anything against supplements, as they too; do serve a purpose. Especially for those who are in great need of vitamins and are unable to get the amount required naturally. In such cases or in those where it is prescribed, is fine. Still, if possible it’s always best to go for naturally sourced vitamins any day. These can be found in almost all fruit and vegetables. As many colours the fruit, that many vitamins and as deep green the colour of veggies, all the more value in vitamins found. At least that’s what I’ve found so far. Kale, Brazil nuts and cod-liver oil are other sources for multi-vitamins which I’ve come across many people opting for and which I do plan on trying out for sure.
Happy and Thankful
If I were to summarize my experience on going vegetarian for a month, I’d say only this, many people may think they can easily jump into vegetarianism without preparation or research but take no chances as there is always something that arises unexpectedly and without any background info on the subject, this can lead to series issues.
What I have learned and experienced though that vegetarianism is definitely a must try at least for the experience if not a lifelong commitment. Reason being, this is a good way to eat and drink more consciously and the perks are too many to count. The more dominating ones being natural energy levels, a sense of calm and presence in whatever you do and a physical youthfulness visible through skin, hair and nails. While all these qualities may not be experienced by all vegetarians, the pros do outweigh the cons, so long as it is practiced mindfully and responsibly.