I've been vegetarian for over nine years, and in that time I've fielded a lot of questions and myths about all aspects of vegetarianism from curious friends, family and co-workers. It turns out there are an awful lot of vegetarian myths out there!
In the interests of anyone thinking about becoming vegetarian, or any vegetarian tired of fielding questions, let's bust 10 of the most common myths about vegetarian living - from protein sources to health to the ultimate myth - "vegetarians eat chicken, right?"!
1. If vegetarians don't eat meat, they can't get the protein and vitamin B12 their bodies need.
Dairy products, nuts, quinoa, and high protein vegetables and pulses such as peas and beans are all great sources of protein. Some vegetarians also occasionally eat meat replacement products which are high in protein too. This webpage on Where Do Gorillas Get Their Protein is also really handy to point people to as gorillas don't eat meat but are one of the biggest and strongest animals going!
Regarding vitamin B12, there's a bit of a myth going around that you can only get vitamin B12 (important for the nervous system, eyes and brain) from meat. As a vegetarian you can get all the vitamin B12 your body needs from dairy products, and even from marmite if you're a fan.
2. Vegetarians get sick all of the time.
It's a bit of a common misconception that vegetarians are pale and sickly. Vegetarians are as healthy as any other group of people in society. Of course, there are healthy vegetarian diets and unhealthy vegetarian diets but the trick is to eat a balanced diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats, and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, iron and protein (in other words, don't eat macaroni cheese every night for dinner!).
3. Aren't all vegetarians anaemic?
There is another myth that all vegetarians are anaemic. If you eat a balanced diet, and eat iron rich foods then you're more than likely not going to be anaemic.
Iron rich foods include dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach and broccoli; iron fortified cereals and breads; brown rice; pulses and beans (even baked beans!); nuts and seeds; dried fruit, such as apricots, raisins; eggs; and tofu. Eat a mix of these on a daily basis and you need not worry about having a low iron count.
4. Aren't all vegetarians tired all the time?
I think this myth is related to the anaemia myth, but again just because you're vegetarian doesn't mean you're going to be so lethargic you can't get out of bed. Again, your energy levels are related to eating a balanced diet, regardless of your diet. A meat eater is going to be lethargic if they just eat meat and potatoes all the time; likewise a vegetarian is going to be lethargic if they just eat chips all the time.
5. Vegetarians must really miss meat.
Obviously this is a one personal to individual vegetarians, and I can't speak for all vegetarians on this. Personally I don't. For me, within a couple of months of stopping eating meat I stopped viewing meat as food. Now the idea of meat is so alien to me that I can't physically imagine chomping down on a big bit of steak - the idea makes me feel sick.
6. What about the smell of bacon, doesn't that make you hungry?
Again, a personal one, but for me, the smell of bacon just doesn't do it for me! Because I haven't eaten meat for so long I don't associate the smell of bacon with food. I asked a few vegetarian friends and found they offered up the same answer.
The smell of bacon wasn't something I found particularly hard to deal with at the start of becoming a vegetarian, but if you are finding it difficult there are vegetarian bacon substitutes on the market - such as Quorn bacon if you really fancy a bacon sarnie.
7. But vegetarians eat chicken, right?
This is such a common question, but the thing is the clue is in the name - chicken isn't a vegetable, it's a living animal that needs to be killed for it's meat. I think that when people say that they're vegetarians but that they eat chicken, then this gives vegetarians a bit of a bad name. It's also confusing to meat eaters and perpetuates this myth. The bottom line is if you eat chicken you're not a vegetarian!
8. Ok, so not chicken, but vegetarians eat fish, don't they?
No. Fish are still living animals that need to be caught and killed. Again, if you don't eat meat (including chicken) but still eat fish, you're not a vegetarian - you're a pescetarian. Don't confuse people by calling yourself a vegetarian that only eats fish!
9. It's difficult eating out as a vegetarian.
Most largish cities in the UK cater to vegetarians quite well. I live near Edinburgh, and we have some great vegetarian cafes and restaurants. If you don't live in a big city, then, in the UK at least, most cafes and restaurants cater to vegetarians to some degree - some better than others. Indian restaurants are generally really veggie friendly, as are Italian restaurants as long (as you lay off the Parmesan cheese).
In some places there might only be one vegetarian option on the menu, but if it doesn't suit then you can speak to the chef and they might be able to whip you up something else up. If you're in doubt about where you're going then do call ahead to let them know your requirements. Most restaurants will cater for you!
10. Vegetarians must feel awkward at dinner parties?
If you're planning on becoming vegetarian then let your friends and family know, and if people invite you for dinner remind them you're vegetarian. Don't just turn up and expect to be catered for! My top tip to keep hosts happy and to avoid stress is to offer to bring a vegetarian dish/main course to share. I've put together a Pinterest board of vegetarian recipe ideas for inspiration!
Any more myths you want to bust? Please do in the comments below!
Wendy also blogs at Moral Fibres - the home of eco-friendly and vegetarian living.