Making the move to become a vegetarian could be stressful if you think about the potential vitamins you may be missing out on. It’s common knowledge that meat is an integral part of a healthy diet, and animal products generally serve the main purpose of providing protein to the human body. However, over time, it’s been found that this isn’t entirely true. One could have a balanced diet even when refraining from meat.
Firstly, are you vegetarian or vegan? There are a host of sub-categories of vegetarianism but let’s make it simple. Vegans stay away from all kinds of animal flesh: chicken, pork, meat, lamb etc. in addition to its by-products. On the other hand, vegetarians do make the exception for some animal by-products; so eggs, and dairy products, for example, are allowed.
Becoming a vegetarian has proven to have a whole host of benefits, from weight loss to lower cholesterol, clearer skin, better sleep, improved digestion and many more. One extensive study (including some 70,000 participants) discovered that vegetarians have a 12% lower risk of death than non-vegetarians.1 Whoop for vegetarians!
Why is protein important
Protein is an important building block of any well-balanced diet. If you could ever imagine protein as a person, think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, big, strong, and muscles all over. Protein is extremely important for having a healthy and strong body. Ensuring sufficient levels of protein in your body guarantees a strong immune system and is critical to prevent detrimental effects on the T-cell system.2
T- cells are those cells in the body which ‘hunts down’ and destroys cells infected by germs or those that are cancerous.
In addition, hair and nails are mainly made of protein. It’s necessary for building and repairing tissue. That’s why body-builders and those engaging in weight-training are always so high on getting in the right amounts of protein into their bodies.
Benefits of a vegetarian diet
For many people, especially in these modern times, the move to becoming a vegetarian has more and more been rooted in concerns over the well-being of animals and the environment in general. The cruel treatment extended toward animals has become a major issue of contention for many, with some even taking the stand to refrain from eating meat mainly due to humanitarian concerns.
Our concern here, however, is not only the health benefits of a vegetarian diet to the individual taking this step, but how can one ensure that the move toward a meat-free diet is well balanced and healthy. It may surprise you, but there are foods which are not too well known in ‘popular culture’ which have proven to be rich in protein. Check out some of the best sources for protein listed below.
Best sources of protein for vegetarians:
- Chia seeds
- Ezekiel Bread
Vegetarian protein recipes
A quintessential salad is a vegetarian’s staple. Having some green lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, a tad bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, maybe even some mango chops, and you have a perfect salad.
Orange, fennel & white rice salad
- 500g carrots we used purple and orange ones), peeled, halved and cut into short batons on an angle
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 100g mixed basmati & wild rice
- 75g Puy lentils
- 3 oranges
- large fennel bulb, quartered, core removed, thinly sliced
- 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 200g seedless red grapes halved
- 100g pecans chopped
- large handful parsley chopped
- large handful mint chopped
- For the dressing
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- zest and juice 1 lemon
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Toss the carrots, oil and some seasoning on a large baking tray. Cook for 25-30 mins until tender. While the carrots cook, fill 2 large pans with salted water and bring to the boil. Add the rice to one pan and the lentils to the other. Cook following pack instructions, or until just cooked, then drain and set aside to cool.
- Zest the oranges over a large bowl. Cut away the peel and pith, then cut along each piece of membrane to remove the segments, catching any juices in the bowl. Set the segments aside. Add the ingredients for the dressing to the orange zest and juice, season and whisk.
- When the carrots have cooled a little, add to the dressing with the remaining salad ingredients, including the cooked rice, lentils and orange segments. Toss together and serve on a big platter.
Spicy Kimchi Quinoa Bowls
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
- 1 cup kimchi, chopped
- 2 teaspoons kimchi “juice” (the liquid from the jar)
- 2 teaspoons gluten-free tamari
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
- 2 cups kale, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions for garnish (optional)
- Fresh ground pepper for garnish (optional)
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic and saute for 30 – 60 seconds until fragrant. Add the quinoa and kimchi and cook until hot, about 2 – 3 minutes. Stir in kimchi juice, tamari and hot sauce if using. Turn to low and stir occasionally while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In a separate skillet, cook the eggs on low until the whites have cooked through but the yolks are still runny about 3 – 5 minutes.
- Steam the kale in a separate pot for 30 – 60 seconds until soft.
- Assemble the bowls, dividing the kimchi-quinoa mixture and kale evenly between two dishes. Top with green onions and fresh pepper if using.
Per one serving: 386 calories, 18 grams protein
Moroccan Cauliflower Chickpea Pita
- 3 cups cauliflower florets
- 1 red pepper, cut into 1″ cubes
- 1 red onion, cut into 1″ cubes
- 1 zucchini, cut into ½” slices
- 1 yellow squash, cut into ½” slices
- 14 oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
- 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Cucumber Yogurt Sauce:
- ¾ cup plain greek yogurt
- ½ cup grated cucumber
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1½ teaspoons dry dill
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- salt to taste
- 7 whole wheat flatbreads
- Preheat oven to 400.
- In large bowl, add cauliflower, red pepper, red onion, zucchini, yellow squash, and chickpeas.
- In a small bowl, add ground cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, and ground coriander.
- Add the spice blend to the vegetables along with olive oil. Toss to coat everything.
- Spread vegetables out on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven, toss the vegetables around. Bake for another 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- In a small bowl, add greek yogurt, grated cucumber, lemon juice, dry dill, garlic clove, and salt to taste. Stir to combine everything.
- Warm up the flatbread or toast on a skillet for 1-2 minutes. Top with ¾ cup roasted vegetable mixture and finish with 2 tablespoons of the yogurt cucumber sauce. Serve.
Per one serving: 359 calories, 15 grams protein
Sweet Potato Tacos with Avocado Cream and Goat Cheese
- 1 Avocado
- ¼ cup Cilantro Leaves
- ¼ cup Sour Cream (or Mexican Crema)
- 2 tsp Lime Juice
- ½ tsp Salt
- 1 clove Garlic (opt)
- ½ Jalapeno (opt)
- 1 Tbsp Cooking Oil
- 2 small Sweet Potatoes, cubed
- 1 can Black Beans, rinsed and drained
- 1½ Tbsp Taco Seasoning (see note)
- 12 Taco-Sized Tortillas (flour or corn; use gluten-free corn if needed)
- 1 heart Romaine Lettuce, chopped
- 4 oz Goat Cheese (sub feta cheese), crumbled
- To make the avocado crema, combine all ingredients listed under avocado crema in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add additional salt, if needed. (Note: garlic and jalapeño add additional flavor, but only use them if they are flavors you like. A blender will work here, but you may need to add a splash of water to help bring everything together.) Refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat.
- Add cooking oil and then sweet potatoes and saute until they are beginning to turn golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp of water to the pan and cover it with a lid or foil. Steam the sweet potatoes until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the lid and add black beans and taco seasoning. Saute until seasoning is fragrant and beans are heated through.
- Cover the tortillas with a slightly damp paper towel and microwave until warm, 15 to 20 seconds.
- Assemble tacos by filling tortillas with romaine, sweet potato / black bean mixture, crumbled goat cheese and then topping with avocado crema.
Per one serving: 500 calories, 17 grams protein.
Easy Veggie Quesadillas With Mozzarella
- 8 small sweet tomatoes
- 1 onion
- ½ bell pepper (your fave colour)
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves (2 cups = 60g)
- 4 tbsp red pesto (check the notes, if you want to make your own)
- 1 cup cheddar (1 cup = 100g)
- 2 cups mozzarella (2 cups = 240g)
- 4 whole grain tortillas (check the notes, if you want to make them homemade)
- sliced chillies for a kick!
- Wash the tomatoes and pepper, peel the onions and cut them all into thin slices – the cheese
- Wash the spinach and let it drain in a sieve.
- Grab a tortilla and spread a layer of pesto over half of it. A tablespoon works well.
- Add a light layer of cheese on top and a quarter of the tomato, pepper and onion, followed by a few spinach leaves.
- Top it with another layer of cheese.
- Then fold the other half of the tortilla on top and place in a large frying pan (nonstick).
- Heat for 2-3 minutes. Flip and heat for another 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted – a good indicator is a little running out the side.
- Pro Tip: place a heavy pot on top of the quesadilla so that it flattens nicely and cooks more evenly – this will also stop the insides escaping! If you don’t like the thought of putting a pot directly on your quesadillas then put a plate between the two.
Per one serving: 381 calories, 19 grams protein
Succeeding as a vegetarian
To succeed as a vegetarian you’ve got to make sure that you’re on your Ps and Qs. It’s not just a case of what you put into your body, it ought to become a lifestyle. You’re not only changing what you eat but how much you eat – in most cases increasing the quantity and size of your meals.
As much as the world has begun to accommodate meat-free palates, there are still some challenges. Consider to do the following, so as to always be on your guard:
Read the labels
Keeping an eye on what is in the products or even the snacks that you eat is important. It’ll certainly be a bummer if after all of this effort you’ve been eating bits of pork in your soup.
Plan in advance
Whether you’re hitting the road on a trip, or maybe preparing something for work or school, make sure you prepare an extra snack just in case. You never know if something may come up that leaves you stranded in a ‘meat-infested’ locale.
Take a supplement
Taking a supplement to top up on the protein you think you may not be getting enough of is not a bad idea. Whey protein and other protein supplements are readily available in either powder or tablet form. Also consider a vitamin B-complex, vitamin D and iron supplements.
Always staying on top of the latest research concerning health and wellness is important. Knowing more about improving your diet and the different variety of meals that can be made without using meat will always be beneficial.
Talk in terms of adding
As trivial as it may seem, always talk in terms of adding something to your diet as opposed to taking away. It’s a psychological shift to teach your body to refrain from meat-eating. When you talk in terms of adding something to your diet, say: roasted peanuts, or lentil peas, for example, it’s a lot better than constantly musing about that chicken wing you can’t eat.