Going vegan and wondering where to start? We've got you covered with these 12 tips to a plant-based diet.
Jumping into a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle isn’t always an easy decision or something most of us can manage overnight. There are many reasons to make the switch: to enhance health, honor religious beliefs, save money, support animal rights, improve the environment, or to kick start a change in your life. Whatever the reason, there are road blocks to overcome and rewards to reap ahead.
How to Start
Ease into it. Habits are hard to break, so chip away at them bit by bit. Eliminate meat from your meals just 1 day a week to begin with. Then move up to 2 or 3 days a week a few weeks later. Follow that trend from there to eventually remove all or the majority of animal products.
There are the occasional people who do things better cold turkey. If you know you are one of those people, then go ahead and go that route, but know it can be a hard road. Good luck either way.
Tell your friends and family what you want to accomplish. Having support makes just about anything easier. Yes, some of them may give you a hard time about the drastic change. Use that as fuel and prove to them that you can do it, because you truly can.
Find Those Alternatives
Transform, don’t replace, the foods you already know how to make and love. Vegan or vegetarian recipes for your favorite meals are available in cookbooks at your local bookstore or you can find many more free online. These recipes cover almost any food you can imagine, from burgers to pizza and from lasagna to gumbo. The possibilities are endless.
Meat substitutes can be purchased in many grocery stores and health food stores almost anywhere. They can be marinated, baked, grilled, sautéed, crumbled into sauces, and they are surprisingly better tasting than you most likely think. They give you the protein you need and crave with thousands of recipe options and uses. Most of them are somewhat processed and most are made from soy, so they aren’t the healthiest options, but they do help in the transition until you learn to make your own or do without them.
Miso paste is another soybean product that serves as a fantastic base in place of chicken or beef stocks. You’ll still be able to make that winter comfort food; soup with creamy potato, hearty roasted vegetable, delicious tomato basil, and much more are still on the menu. Miso is also fermented, making it better for you than straight soy.
Salads are one of the easiest plant-based meals to make and there are a million ways to make each one unique and satisfying. Lettuce is not the only fresh green you can use. Arugula, spinach, cabbages, many types of lettuce, dandelion leaves, turnip greens, microgreens, basil, and even carrot tops make salads more interesting. Add lentils, seeds, beans, nuts, or tempeh for more texture and protein. Don’t forget the fruits. Berries and citrus can be a refreshing addition to green salad, but fruit salads, without the greens, also make a perfect breakfast or a sweet treat when you need one.
Fruit and veggie smoothies are quick, easy, and simple while still leaving you feeling full and satisfied. They’re great for between meals or as a quick breakfast when in a rush. Bananas, berries, leafy greens, and some hempseed make a mouthwatering mix. You can also find plenty of plant-based proteins, along with recipes online that will help you make a healthful beverage in a snap with a blender and a couple minutes. Sunwarrior has plenty of recipes for you too.
Get to Know Spices
Spices and herbs help make food taste better and are often full of valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Use them when they’re called for in recipes and experiment with them to find what you like and don’t like. The spices you use make a big difference in how a finished meal tastes. They also let you cut back on sodium and sugar because you need less of those to flavor a properly spiced dish.
Try new things. Browse your local health food stores and test things out that sound interesting. Don’t give up on something that you didn’t like the first time. Often, just changing brands gives you completely different flavors and textures. The rule of thumb is to try something twice from two different brands before deciding not to like it forever.
Don’t Get Upset
You’re new at this. Be patient with yourself as you learn, grow, and develop your skills and tastes. Forgive yourself when you make a mistake, botch a recipe, or cave to cravings. We’re all human, and we all slip up. A little relapse is not the end of the world unless you make it so. Let it go and move on.
Still Eat Out
You may think that you can no longer go out to eat. It’s true that fast food options are limited, but sit-down restaurants with vegetarian and vegan options are still plentiful. Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Middle Eastern restaurants offer delightful vegetarian and vegan dishes. Most Italian restaurants also have terrific choices. Even some fast food restaurants have options if you ask.
Write Things Down
Gather recipes in one place for easy access and reference. Starting a journal will help you voice and release frustrations, track how you feel, and show your progress on this journey. You can go back to it when you feel down and see all you’ve accomplished.
You’re starting out fresh, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Take each step slowly, and learn from your mistakes and triumphs. Turn to like-minded people and learn from their stories and expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at the health food stores or search online for answers. There are many people who have gone down this path before you who are willing and happy to help.
Supplement or Not
Vegan and vegetarian diets can give you everything the body needs, but there is some risk of not getting the protein, B12, iron, or omega-3 fatty acids you require. Many soy, rice, almond, and coconut milks are fortified with calcium, B12, and vitamin D. These are, once again, somewhat processed, but can serve as a good bridge toward your healthier lifestyle. Iron is found in green vegetables, lentils, beans, and dry fruit. You can increase the absorption of iron by eating iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods. For omega-3, eat flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, hempseed, almonds, cashews, avocados, sacha inchi, and purslane. Vitamin D comes from modest sun exposure, about 10 to 20 minutes each day. Vitamin D2 can be found in mushrooms. Vitamin D3, the more absorbable form, can be found in supplements from lichen or in cheese and fish for those who don’t go entirely vegan. If you’re worried you won’t get enough of a vitamin or nutrient, there are health food supplements available that are plant-based and ready for your new lifestyle, including all natural multivitamins.
Whether you are going vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or any other modification of a plant-based diet, we wish you the best on your new journey. You will notice some major differences in how you look and feel as you start adding more whole-food nutrition to your life in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables.