Though meat eaters love to ask vegetarians where they get their protein from, there's a lot more to being meat-free than that. In fact, being a vegetarian is pretty awesome! It's not about what you're missing out on, but what you're choosing to focus on instead — whole-food, plant-based meals that leave you smiling and satisfied. Here's a roundup of 10 things all vegetarians know. And if you're not a vegetarian, who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to give Meatless Monday or Veganuary a try.
1. Veggie burgers are a way of life.
Veggie burgers are like frozen pepperoni pizzas for carnivores: You've always got to have at least one package of veggie burgers rattling around in the freezer — just in case. You never know if you'll get invited to a barbecue or if you'll be starving at midnight and need a quick snack. And these little frozen hockey pucks are so versatile: They can be plopped on a salad, eaten for breakfast with hash browns or chopped into marinara sauce and served over pasta. And each vegetarian has his or her favorite brand of frozen veggie burgers. Some like high-protein performance burgers like Beyond Burger, while others like the hippy, natural formula of Hillary's. And some gourmet vegetarians even make their own to store in the freezer.
Read more: The 10 Best Homemade Veggie Burger Recipes
2. The best fast food places have certified vegetarian menus.
Yes, vegetarians know just where to go when they have a fast-food craving because of clear-cut vegetarian and vegan menus — some even certified by the American Vegetarian Association. Thanks to specific, easy vegetarian menus and offerings, some restaurants have become cult favorites that spread like wildfire among the veggie set. Case in point: Taco Bell is a vegetarian nirvana, with 5.7 million vegetarian combinations on the menu. Other favorites include P.F. Chang's, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Olive Garden.
3. Your daily dose of omega-3s comes without fish burps.
Veg-heads can get their heart- and brain-healthy omega-3s from things other than fish, such as walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds. What's more, vegetarians can get the important long-chain omega-3s DHA and ALA from marine algae, a much more sustainable source of these healthy fats. In fact, fish get their omega-3s by consuming marine algae to begin with: Small fish eat algae, and then the larger fish (like salmon) eat the smaller fish. Considering that more than 30 percent of the world's fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits, this may not be such a bad way to go.
4. Protein bowls reign supreme.
Sure, protein bowls (bowls filled with whole grains or sweet potatoes, veggies or fruit, lean protein and a flavorful sauce) are having their moment in the spotlight. But vegetarians have long relied on their protein bowls. They've been eating them since before there were trendy, quick-serve places dedicated to them. What's not to love about this healthful, delicious combination that can take on a variety of formulas and combinations? It's easy because your meal prep is done in a single bowl by combining ingredients you have on hand with a simple formula: complex carb (whole grain, corn, potatoes) plus veggies and fruits (greens, berries, cruciferous veggies) plus lean protein (nuts, seeds, beans, tofu) plus a flavorful sauce (Thai sauce, hummus, vinaigrette). Here's one to try: Tofu Kale Power Bowl With Tahini Dressing.
5. Red meat hasn’t cornered the market on iron.
Most people think of red meat as the No. 1 source of iron in the diet, but plants have their own type of iron too. Plant iron may not be quite as absorbable as animal-derived iron, but it adds up. Sources include lentils, beans, peas, soybeans, tofu, quinoa, oats, tomatoes, greens, nuts and seeds. Because it's less absorbable, vegetarians have to aim for about one-and-half times more iron in their diets than carnivores. But you can significantly boost the absorption of iron in your diet by eating it with a vitamin C-rich source, like fruits and veggies. Something vegetarians have a knack for doing this anyway.
Read more: How to Build a Protein Bowl You'll Love
6. It’s all about those legumes.
If you're a vegetarian, the legume is your best friend. This humble little gem is at the very core of your diet. Legumes, including beans, lentils and peas, are nature's best source of plant protein, all wrapped up in a high-fiber, nutrient-rich package. That means they should be the basis of at least one meal a day. Think black bean veggie burritos for breakfast, hummus (made with garbanzo beans) with snow peas for snack time, spicy vegetarian chili with cornbread for lunch and curried lentils with brown rice for dinner. You can use them in everything for a punch of plant protein. You can even blend them into a smoothie or a peanut butter chocolate-chip bar!
7. Peanut butter is just as cool as when you were a kid.
Vegetarians love them some peanut butter. That magic little jar is the foundation of so many easy and healthy meals, from the classic PB&J to a Thai stir-fry. Packed with high-quality protein, the humble peanut (actually in the legume family) is an important part of a plant-based diet, offering an economic, healthful, nutritious component to your day. Not to mention that peanut butter is just downright tasty and comforting. That's why you should never make fun of a vegetarian with a peanut butter jar and a spoon.
8. Ethnic food is really (really) important.
Sure, pretty much everyone loves a little Chinese, Thai or Indian food. But vegetarians are enthralled by ethnic fare. (We mean really in love with it.) That's because most cultures around the world evolved on a more plant-based diet, and it's on full display in traditional cuisines from around the globe. The flavors, textures and aromas of such plant-based dishes just sing. Just think of Caribbean red rice and beans, Indian chickpea masala, Italian pasta puttanesca and Moroccan vegetable tagine — then you'll know what we're talking about.
9. Sorry, but protein is overhyped.
Americans are obsessed with protein, always fearing that they're lacking in this macronutrient. But is the hype necessary? Most Americans are eating more than their recommended daily allowance, but protein intake isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Of course, protein is an important nutrient that is required for healthy bone, muscle and organ function. But you don't have to eat a steak the size of your head to meet your protein needs. If you're a vegetarian, getting a good protein source at each meal through dairy products, eggs, legumes, soy, nuts and seeds will do the trick. Or if you're really concerned about your protein, try logging your meals on an app like MyPlate.
Read more: How Much Protein Is Right for You?
10. Farmers markets are like Disneyland.
There's nothing that brings a smile to vegetarians' faces like a trip to the local farmers market. They'll be riding high, thanks to piles of gnarled carrot roots in rainbow colors, Easter egg radishes in tones of pink, royal purple eggplants and crisp apples with names like Arkansas Black and Crimson Gold. Just watch how gleeful vegetarians become as they fill their canvas bags to the brim with seasonal produce. You'd swear they just exited their favorite Disney ride.
Read more: 13 Reasons to Shop at a Farmers Market
What Do YOU Think?
Are you a vegetarian? How many of these things do you identify with? Are there other awesome things about being a vegetarian that you'd add to the list? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!