- A vegetarian (also called lacto-ovo or ovo-lacto vegetarian) is one who does not eat meat: no fish, no chicken, no beef, no pork, etc. They do eat dairy and eggs.
- A pescatarian eats fish but no other types of meat.
- A vegan is one who does not eat meat AND also does not eat any animal products: no eggs, no milk, no honey, no nothing with any piece or product of any animal.
I am a vegetarian/ovo-lacto vegetarian. But to muddy the waters, I avoid egg since I have a mild allergy to it and I generally cook vegan except for the occasional cheese. My substitutions in food are generally to alter a recipe towards being more vegan and more heart-healthy. By more heart healthy, I am referring to reducing cholesterol and saturated and trans fats. I’ll explain why I make each substitution in regards to health below.
1) Butter– If a recipe calls for butter, I use olive oil instead in the same proportions. To convert, use this measurement: a stick of butter is equivalent to half a cup of butter and thus I would use half a cup of olive oil instead. I also don’t hesitate to decrease the amount of oil from the conversion if I think the item I’m making honestly does not need that much fat to keep its consistency and general taste.
A note about oil: Many people think that oil is inherently unhealthy. But it really all just depends on what you call “healthy” and what oil you are using. Oil is fat inherently. However, the fat from olive oil (specifically extra-virgin) and many other oils is mainly monounsaturated fats, meaning there is one double bond and there are less hydrogen molecules attached and this actually decreases LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and increases HDL (“good cholesterol”). Monounsaturated fats also normalize blood clotting factors and benefit blood glucose and insulin levels, which reduces one’s chances of acquiring type 2 diabetes. In these ways, unsaturated fatty acids are good for your health. One point to note, however, is that all oils have a temperature at which they smoke, and when this happens, it becomes trans fat. Trans fat does the opposite for your health- it increases your LDL and decreases your HDL. Therefore, it is important that when you are cooking meals at high temperatures that you take into account an oil’s smoke point. For instance, olive oil’s smoke point is about 375 degrees Fahrenheit, while grapeseed oil’s is 420 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it would be healthier to use grapeseed oil over olive oil to saute food if you are planning on frying, baking, or sauteing over 375 degrees.
2) Eggs- Eggs are a little trickier to find a replacement for, as they provide meals with fluffy textures. I vary my substitutions of eggs based on what kind of food I am preparing.
– Recipe requiring more than 2 eggs: Food that demands eggs for the majority of its texture like quiche or pies need something like silken tofu or Ener-G Egg Replacer. The egg replacer will have explanations on its packaging of conversions for each egg. If using tofu to replace egg, it is better to have a recipe that is already using tofu within its recipe as a replacement.
3) Milk and Milk Products- Milk is one of the easiest substitutions to make. Just replace the required milk from the recipe with the same amount of almond, rice, soy, or hemp milk. Enjoy! The only exception is whole milk, which is more fatty and thus needs a milk with more substance. It can easily be replaced with low or high fat coconut milk.
Cream is also often a very important ingredient in thickening up food. Though some people may argue that alternative milks (almond, rice, soy, or hemp) will work just as well taste-wise, I find that most of the time I am disappointed in the texture. The best replacement for the texture of cream in my opinion is either high fat coconut milk (Thai Kitchen has some good high fat ones; the “lite” version will not be thick enough to give you the right consistency) or coconut oil or yogurt (or a combination of them).
4) Meat- When I first became vegetarian, I used fake meat products like GimmeLean and Field Roast to replace meat in recipes a lot of the time. However, as I ventured into cooking healthier and trying new vegetables and new ways of preparing them, I found not only did I feel like I needed “meat” flavoring less, but I also liked the taste of it less. Although you can obviously find numerous fake meat products to replace meat in recipes, I usually just replace meat with sautéed mushrooms (especially Portobello), black/kidney beans, or marinated and baked or sautéed tofu. As far as meat “stock” for soups, I just use vegetarian stock or vegetarian/vegan bouillon. I’m not the biggest fan of seitan, tempeh, or TVP but those are great options for getting similar taste and texture to meat in meals as well.
Why stop eating meat? This calls for a whole new post. Read more on this here.