Transitioning from a Vegetarian Diet to Eating Meat    

Ask a room full of vegetarians why they stopped eating meat, and you’ll probably get a bunch of different answers. Some might cite animal cruelty or environmental pollution, while others will point to their own personal health journeys. It may not seem as common, but the flipside of this dynamic happens, too.   

Some people on a plant-based diet end their estranged relationship with meat because they’re not getting all the nutrients they need, or maybe they just want to change it up. While consuming red and processed meats is associated with health risks like high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer, our health profiles vary, and everyone’s bodies are different. Many vegetarians go out of their way to get as much iron as meat-eaters do, and it’s possible to develop a deficiency. Consuming enough protein can also be challenging for some vegetarians, especially those who are pregnant, as their protein needs increase to support fetal tissue growth.   

If you are on the cusp of switching to an omnivore (plants and animals) diet, these tips and insights can help ease the transition.     

You have a say in the quality of your meat

If you went meat-free for ethical reasons, switching back doesn’t necessarily mean compromising your values. It’s not all black and white. Some who are against inhumane practices on factory farms may be open to the idea of reintroducing meat if they know where the item on their plate came from.   

Today more than ever, you can be selective about the meat you eat. Most supermarkets and major grocery store chains have large selections of grass-fed and free-range meat. It is possible for you to eat ethically treated meat. You can also research farms in your region or look into direct farm-to-consumer mail order options. Doing a little more homework could make the transitioning process more comfortable for some.   

Your digestion may slow down initially

Diets rich in fiber and light on fat makes for speedy digestion. In other, more pointed words, your bowel movements are likely quicker and more frequent when your diet is meat-free. Fruits, vegetables and plant protein sources like beans and lentils pass through our systems quickly because of their high fiber content. On the other hand, foods rich in fat, like meats, require specific enzymes and take longer than protein and carbohydrates to break down. Initially, the switch to meat may lead to constipation, bloating and an upset stomach.  

Combat this issue by introducing meats with less saturated fat at first. Skinless chicken, fish and turkey have much less fat than beef, pork and lamb. Start with small portions and continue to include plants to reduce the risk of digestive issues. Finally, remember your body doesn’t lose the ability to digest meat. 

You can trick yourself with taste and texture

If you are one of the folks who is back on the meat wagon a bit begrudgingly, for health and nutrient reasons, diving right into a plate of surf and turf probably doesn’t sound appealing. If taste and texture can make you squeamish, start slowly by initially avoiding raw meat like sushi and seafood and rare meat like some steaks and pork dishes. Add bone broth to your favorite soup recipe and sliced chicken into vegetarian chilis and curries. Make a chickpea pasta salad with just a tablespoon or two of tuna fish.   

Whatever your reason for making the switch, it’s wise to chat with your primary care provider about the diet change. Your provider can offer guidance based on your health profile and help you make informed decisions.   

For healthy recipes, use your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant-enabled devices, with MIBlue (pronounced “My Blue”) from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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