5 Steps That Helped Me Go Plant-based
1. Start Slow with Simple Swaps
Starting a plant-based diet can feel overwhelming if you're new to plant-based eating. It's amazing how many foods and meals include animal products that we don't even think of! What's even more amazing is that we live in a world now where plant-based alternatives are readily available and more are hitting the market every day. My first piece of advice when transitioning to a vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, or meat-free diet is to start slow.
When I say start slow, what I mean is: when you run out of your carton of cows milk this week, try grabbing a carton of oat milk or almond milk this time. Try asking for chickpeas or tofu instead of chicken when ordering a salad or bowl at restaurants. Ask for a veggie burger instead of a beef burger. Pick up some dairy-free whipped cream, butter, ice cream, cheese, etc. and start there. You'll find that your tastebuds will adapt to these foods and you'll look forward to them, enjoy them, and your body will slowly get used to the added fiber and plant protein that you'll be fueling yourself with!
This is about a lifestyle change and making modifications that you can stick to and won't leave you feeling restricted. Also, when you try to do it all at once, your taste buds and body haven't had time to adjust adjust to eating more plants and you may experience some digestive issues like bloating, gas, or just not being "used to" the taste of things. Another reason I like the "start slow" approach is because it allows you to take your time really understanding the fundamentals of how to build balanced plant-based meals (more on this later) and allows you to discover simple swaps that you actually like.
2. Pick One Meal A Day/Week to Go Vegan
To build on the first point, I wouldn't recommend quitting animal products cold turkey. You may have a lifetime of knowing how to prepare meals with animal products behind you. So, you'll be learning some new things. You have your favorite meats, cheeses, milks, snacks, etc. Plant-based eating is going to open you up to new ways of preparing foods (things like pressing tofu, roasting chickpeas, etc.) Instead of adding butter to your toast in the morning, you may end up grabbing avocado or almond butter and bananas. Instead of adding ground beef and cheese in your tacos, you can have black beans and guacamole. Retraining yourself will take time and it's best to not overwhelm yourself by trying to change every meal of the day, every single day. Instead, aim for one meal a day or a week and once you've mastered it, tackle another meal.
I honestly found breakfast to be the easiest. I traded my buttered toast for avocado toast with pumpkin seeds, regular pancakes for vegan pancakes made with almond flour and oats, and made about a million different recipes for oatmeal and baked oatmeal - yum! No matter which meal you start with, my blog has hundreds ... literally hundreds ... of easy vegan recipes that will help you make this transition smooth and delicious.
3. Make Sure Your Meals Are Balanced!
As a recipe developer who is certified in health and nutrition, I cannot stress enough, the importance of making sure that every meal you eat is balanced and contains all three macronutrients. Our bodies need fat, protein, and carbs in order to function. Each macronutrient serves a different purpose and making sure that you have all three in each meal can help you feel full, satisfied, energized, and gives you a well-rounded meal. To build a balanced plant-based meal, you must first understand what plants contain what macronutrients. Here's a basic breakdown of some common foods I eat and what macronutrients they contain:
- Healthy Fats: Avocado, Olive Oil, Nuts, Nut Butters, Seeds, Coconut Oil, Vegan Butter (on occasion)
- Protein: Black Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils, Nuts, Seeds, Nut Butters, Tofu, Tempeh
- Complex Carbs: Quinoa, Oats, Beans/Chickpeas - all of these are also great sources of protein! Regular or Gluten Free Bread, Fruits, Vegetables, Squash, Dairy Free Yogurt
Many people find that getting adequate protein is a challenge on a vegan/plant-based diet. Which is why you should definitely talk to your doctor to make sure that a vegan diet is right for you. If you're looking for a protein supplement, I love the brand Nuzest. Their protein powder is vegan, gluten free, soy-free, uses clean ingredients, and gives you 20 grams of pea protein for only 100 calories. Not to mention, their vanilla flavor tastes like a dessert! You can use my code PBJILLY for 20% off your order with them.
For more information, this article from The Beet contains goes more in depth with plant-based nutrition and different vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients to keep an eye on.
4. Focus On What You're Adding, Not Taking Away
It can be really easy to feel discouraged when you take a look at the list of things you need to remove from your diet if you're going plant-based. But, I can truly say that since I've gone plant-based, my diet is more diverse and delicious than ever. And, I feel my absolute best. From gut health to skin health and everything in between. Going plant-based pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and try new foods that I wouldn't have tried otherwise. And, I actually like the way these foods taste and make me feel way more than I liked any animal products. Approach this transition with a "glass half full" mentality and you'll find abundance instead of restriction.
Try new meals, new restaurants, new recipes online. Have fun exploring a whole new world of plant-based eating!
5. You Don't Need To Be Perfect
If I could only give you one piece of advice for going plant-based, this would be it. You don't need to be perfect. You just need to try your best and do what is right for you! Being 100% vegan isn't for everyone. Whether that's because of your lifestyle, what people in your household like to eat, or ... what your body craves. Listen to your body and do what's right for you. Talk to your doctor too - while many of them do believe in a plant-based diet, they know your body's individual needs best and can tell you whether this is something that will be healthy for you!
Life is about balance. I have friends who are vegan Monday - Friday, but when they go to dinner on Saturday night, they might order a piece of salmon for dinner. I have friends who don't eat meat or fish, but eggs and cheese are ok. I have friends who try to eat 1 plant-based meal a day or a week. What matters more than anything is that you're making an effort to eat more plants which is going to be helpful for your health, the environment, and the animals.
There is no such thing as a perfect vegan. I'm not perfect ... I don't try to be! I don't like labels as it feels too restrictive. About 90% of the food I consume is plant-based/vegan. But I don't allow it to run my life and take away from my experiences. Most of the time it doesn't because like I said before, we live in a world where plant-based foods are pretty readily available and delicious! But, I make exceptions based on my body and what I'm feeling at the time. When I was in Italy, I had a donut. On my dad's birthday, he wanted omelets using farm fresh eggs. Find the balance that works for you and honor your body's needs. Every single body is different and we should never judge others or ourselves for how we choose to nourish it.
Life is short guys. Eat the cake, never restrict yourself, and have fun.