Tips for Starting a Plant-Based Lifestyle

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The Varying Approaches to Plant-Based Eating

There are different approaches to plant-based eating depending on an individual’s personal preferences and values. Generally, plant-based eating refers to an eating pattern consisting primarily of plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Varying categories of plant-based eating include vegan, vegetarian, and semi-vegetarian, also known as flexitarian.

  • Vegan refers to excluding all animal sources of food (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) or animal-based by-products, such as gelatin and honey.

  • Vegetarian refers to several different subgroups lacto-vegetarian, which includes dairy, and ovo-vegetarian, which includes eggs, or a lacto-ovo vegetarian, consisting of eggs and dairy products.

  • Flexitarian refers to an eating pattern primarily of plant foods with occasional meat consumption.

There are many reasons why people choose to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, including overall health and wellness benefits, as plant-based diets have been associated with reduced risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer (1).

Another reason may be ethical concerns about animal welfare and environmental sustainability since eating fewer animal-based foods is connected to lower greenhouse gas emissions, fewer natural resources used, and animal advocacy (2). Additionally, some individuals may follow a plant-based diet for cultural or religious practices.

It can initially feel overwhelming when moving towards a plant-based eating approach. With this new dietary and lifestyle change, there may be a lot of questions regarding nutrient needs, recipe modifications, grocery shopping, reading food labels, and navigating social occasions and dining out.

Reducing and Replacing Animal-Based Foods

It can be helpful to take a food inventory of your go-to breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinners – how many of those foods are naturally plant-based? For example, oatmeal or breakfast cereal with fruit, toast with peanut butter and jam, vegetable or bean-based soups, nuts and seeds, pasta, rice, or other whole grain products, and potatoes.

What commonly animal-based foods do you routinely eat on a daily basis? Such as dairy products, the type of milk you typically use in breakfast cereal, coffee creamer, cheese, butter spreads, or yogurt.

Plenty of plant milks and other vegan dairy products are on the market, making the switch to dairy-free super accessible. Many plant milks are also often fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. You can explore different kinds of plant-based dairy to discover which ones you enjoy most.

There are various plant-based egg options for replacing eggs in cooking and baking. Commercial vegan egg scrambles are available, making savory plant-based scrambled eggs and omelets easy. Alternatively, tofu makes for a terrific egg substitute in scrambles (cooking tip: adding a pinch of nutritional yeast, curry powder, or turmeric to tofu scrambles creates a golden egg-like hue!)

For baking, plant-based egg replacers include ground flaxseed, chia seed, pureed fruit, commercial egg replacer, and more.

When it comes to eating less meat, taking note of how frequently you eat meat throughout the week, and what meat-based dishes you usually make can be a helpful starting point. If eliminating meat completely from your diet seems unattainable, there are ways to gradually reduce meat consumption. For example, for pasta with meat sauce or meatballs, you can start by incorporating less meat and adding in beans or other legumes. Another approach could be to have a few meatless days each week. Exploring vegan meats, such as ‘beefless’ crumbles, or veggie meatballs.

A tip for making a plant-rich meal is to place vegetables as the focus of your plate! Vegetables offer numerous benefits, including dietary fiber, contributing to feeling fuller for longer, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Searching for Simple Plant-Based Recipes and Cookbooks

Going more plant-based can present an opportunity to expand your cooking skills and experiment with new recipes and ingredients.

Trying new recipes can be fun; However, not every recipe may turn out perfectly, and that’s okay!

It can be helpful to choose recipes based on your preferred cooking method, such as sheet-pan cooking or pressure cooker, starting with dishes that you’re familiar with and adding a plant-based twist.

There are countless creative possibilities with plant-based cooking, exploring different cuisines, using herbs and spices for unique flavor profiles, and making vegan versions of your favorite dishes.

Stocking the Kitchen with Plant Food Staples

To prepare for a week of nutritious and delicious plant-based eating, it can be helpful to stock the pantry and freezer with a variety of plant food staples, including vegetable broth or bouillon cubes, canned tomatoes, canned vegetable and bean-based soups, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, frozen fruit, and vegetables, or no-salt-added canned vegetables, herbs and spices, sauces, and condiments.

Having a few essential plant food staples on hand can save time and effort with meal planning and prepping. For instance, a quick pasta dish made with whole-grain pasta, jarred marinara sauce, and frozen green peas.

Seeking Plant-Based Support and Resources

Having support and resources when shifting to a plant-based lifestyle can be particularly helpful to connect with others on a similar path – sharing recipes, attending local vegan events, such as VegFests, and joining plant-based support groups and classes.

Calling restaurants ahead of time or checking out their online menu for vegan-friendly options can make dining out with friends and family more enjoyable and stress-free.

The online vegan restaurant guide, HappyCow, is a great resource for finding local vegan-friendly restaurants in your area and can be especially helpful when traveling.

It’s important to stay informed with reliable vegan nutrition resources to help ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need for a healthful and sustainable plant-based diet.

Vegan nutrition expert online resources with evidence-based plant-based nutrition information written by Registered Dietitians include: Vegan Health and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group.

To learn more about vegan nutrient considerations, check out my blog post: 7 Essential Nutrients in a Vegan Diet.

For personalized nutrition guidance and support, consider consulting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in plant-based and vegan nutrition. They can collaborate with you to set realistic goals and take an in-depth look into your eating habits related to your dietary needs.

If you’re looking for nutritional guidance and support on your plant-based journey, please reach out to schedule a free 20-minute discovery call here!

References

(1) Hemler, E. C., & Hu, F. B. (2019). Plant-Based diets for personal, population, and planetary health. Advances in Nutrition, 10, S275–S283. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy117

(2) Sabaté, J., & Soret, S. (2014). Sustainability of plant-based diets: back to the future. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100, 476S-482S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.071522

Disclaimer: This blog post is provided for informational and educational purposes only and should never be relied upon in any way as medical or mental health advice. Always consult your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any health-related questions and concerns or before implementing anything you may learn through this blog post.

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