Transitioning To Vegetarianism

If you’re considering becoming a vegetarian, you may decide to go about the transition in one of two ways: immediately and entirely, or gradually, over a period of weeks or years. No matter how you phase meat out of your diet, it should be done with care. Vegetarians need to ensure they’re getting enough proteins, vitamins and nutrients in their diet without consuming meat.

Reasons for Becoming a Vegetarian

The time frame for transitioning to vegetarianism is often related to the reason one chooses to do so. Some people simply make a decision one day after a moment of physical or moral repugnance. Sometimes an especially greasy or unappetizing meal pushes a person permanently away from meat. Or, an education about animal abuse on factory farms, the links between red meat and health problems, or antibiotic and hormone residues in our meat supply will encourage the move.

You may find that you want to make the change, but cannot easily walk away from a lifetime of ingrained eating habits. In this case, meat can be phased out, cut back or gradually replaced by vegetarian food with no hard deadline or firm determination.

Immediately Transitioning to Vegetarianism

An immediate break with meat is healthy, does not shock the system in any harmful way and is quite common. If you are a sudden vegetarian, your only concern may be shifting other habits to close any protein gaps that meat may have left behind. It may take a few days or weeks to incorporate other sources of protein and healthy fats into your daily routine. Vegetarian recipes and vegetarian food are widely available and can provide all the iron, protein and vitamins that may previously have come from meat sources.

The following foods can replace meat-based nutrient sources and add a meat-like texture and flavor to a stir fry, pasta sauce and sandwiches:

  • Beans and legumes, including red, black, kidney, navy and white beans
  • Lentils
  • Whole Grains, including quinoa, armaranth and buckwheat
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts, including peanut-based products, almonds and other tree nuts
  • Seitan, which is made from wheat gluten and is sometimes referred to as “wheat meat” or “mock duck”
  • Tofu and other soy-based foods.

Eggs, milk and cheese are also protein-rich sources of potassium and vitamins A, B12 and E. Vegetarians can get enough protein if they maintain a balanced diet.

Vegetarian recipes with reduced or no meat components are easy to find online. Many meat substitutes are available that use vegetable proteins to provide the taste, texture and nutrients of meat products–from breakfast sausage to ground beef. Check the frozen food aisle of the grocery store for vegetarian foods like veggie burgers and vegetarian chicken patties.

Gradually Switching to Vegetarian Food

Gradually phasing out meat can be challenging, as backsliding and cravings may undermine the motivation behind your original resolve. But any effort to change one’s eating habits for the better–whether inspired by health, morality, religion or other practical concerns–is commendable and should be supported.

As with any life change, stay goal-focused while transitioning to vegetarianism. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from following through on your decisions, and don’t let minor setbacks derail your long-term plans.

Resources (2006). Transition to vegetarianism. Retrieved August 31, 2010, from

Veg (2010). Making the transition. Retrieved August 31, 2010, from