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Questions that everyone asks when you follow a plant based diet (and how to answer them)

When you first embark on meat-free living, the people around you might have a hard time dealing with your changed diet.

Below are some of the questions and comments that most people following a plant-based diet will receive at one time or another, with some suggestions about how to politely answer them.

One of the common misconceptions about the plant-based diet is that is "meat and two veg" without the meat. Not surprisingly, non-meat eaters don't just eat the potato mash and peas that usually comes with the steak (although sometimes at restaurants this is the only option).

A balanced vegetarian diet should be tasty, varied and nutritious. Glance at any vegetarian cookbook and you'll find an enticing range of meatless options. Lasagne, curry, stir-fries, burgers and soups make vegetarianism a delicious way to live.

When someone asks you this question: Offer to take them to a meat-free restaurant or suggest a great meat-free recipe to them. Go through what a typical week might be for you: lentil burgers, vegetable soup, curried chickpeas, pasta etc.

In fairness, this question is probably the result of pescatarians (fish-eaters) and pollotarians (chicken-eaters) describing themselves as "vegetarians" when, in truth, they don't fit the definition.

When someone asks you this question: Politely explain that you don't eat any flesh from animals, which includes beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish and others.

Housemates, partners and family members are likely to spring this one on you at some time or another. It can feel hurtful when the people around you are turning your lifestyle change into an opportunity to complain.

Remember that this response is more than likely not how they really feel, rather they're temporarily scared that meat-free living represents a big change in their life, too.

Even if you really DO want others to make the change with you, it's a good idea not to put pressure on them, or to make them feel guilty about their choice to keep eating meat.

When someone asks you this question: Let them know that this is a lifestyle change that YOU are making and that they are under no obligation to give up meat. Tell them that it's important to you that you have their support, but don't let any negative response discourage you from making the decision if it's what you really want.

Protein and iron are easily found in non-animal products.

Proteins, which are vital for healthy cell growth and protecting the body against infection, are available from grains and cereals, lentils, tofu, nuts, beans, eggs and dairy products.

Although necessary, too much protein is bad for you. Better Health warns, "one of the byproducts of protein metabolism is ammonia. In high levels, ammonia is extremely dangerous to the body and so is converted into urea. This water-soluble chemical is collected by the kidneys and eliminated from the body in our urine. The more protein we eat each day, in excess of our needs, the more work our kidneys must do to get rid of the ammonia."

Iron, necessary for healthy growth and maintaining the immune system, is usually associated with red meat. While a steak is one option, there are plenty of iron-rich foods that vegetarians can consume, such as seeds, nuts, lentils, chickpeas, beans, whole grains and quinoa.

When someone asks you this question: Point out the options for meatless iron and protein sources. Also point out that meat eaters can put themselves at rick of disease due to overconsumption of protein.

Vegetarianism doesn't automatically equal a healthy lifestyle (for example, you could eat nothing but potato chips and soft drinks and be vegetarian!), but by the same token it is not "unhealthy" if managed correctly.

The most important thing in any diet is to get a range of nutrients in order to keep the body healthy. The Australian Women's Weekly reminds everyone to make their diet "varied and balanced" as "vegetables by themselves are not enough."

When someone asks you this question: Explain where you get your sources of nutrients from, then suggest that perhaps they could do some research into meat-free living if they're interested in finding out more. Also point out that meat consumption is putting pressure on various aspects of human health, so cutting back is something everyone should be aiming for.

This is a matter of taste, I guess, but if you meet someone who hates any of these, they've most likely had a bad experience. Soggy tofu, droopy vegetables and gluggy soymilk would be enough to turn anyone off, but these foods can be mouth-watering when prepared effectively.

If you're new to tofu, try eating at a good-quality Thai or Japanese restaurant the first few times (order tofu stir-fry or curry) to get an idea of how it can be prepared. When you're feeling braver, find some recipes and pick up some fresh tofu from your local Asian supermarket (I find these have the greatest variety and are generally cheaper than other supermarkets).

When someone asks you this question: Ask them how they've eaten these things before. Suggest that you cook for them/take them out to a meat-free restaurant to change their mind.

Again, a matter of taste. Someone using this argument is probably not in the most open frame of mind.

When someone asks you this question: Shrug, say that you prefer veggie burgers, zucchini lasagne and Pad Thai with tofu. Alternatively, pick up a cute, cuddly lamb and/or piglet and cuddle it until your meat-eating friend has walked away.

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