A Beginner’s Guide To Plant-Based Eating
Over the past few years, plant-based diets have gained a lot of popularity. Plant-based diets often have a lower carbon footprint than diets centered around animal products, can be less expensive, and result in many benefits towards your overall health. When transitioning to a diet centered around plants, many people are confused about what plant-based means and how to successfully follow this way of eating. Read more to learn about going plant-based and tips to help you on your journey!
Defining Plant Based
While the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘plant based’ are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two. Vegan diets avoid all types of animal products including dairy, meat, and fish. Meanwhile, plant based diets are more flexible. People who follow a plant based diet center their meals around plant-derived ingredients, but “they may, occasionally, consume meat, fish, or dairy products” (1). Whether you decide to eat a fully vegan diet or a plant based diet, both ways of eating have several health benefits.
What are the Health Benefits of a Plant Based Diet?
Eating a diet based on plants often gets a negative reputation for being low in protein, B-12, iron, and other essential vitamins that the body needs to function. However, plant based diets can provide “all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients” (2). Removing meat from your diet does not mean that your diet has to be low in protein. Beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds have adequate amounts of protein for anyone, even athletes.
Additionally, it is common for vegans to take B-12 and iron supplements since plant based diets are often deficient in these nutrients. Find B-12 in certain non-dairy milks, nutritional yeast and other fortified products. Plant based sources of iron include spinach, dark chocolate, and beans (1).
Before transitioning to a diet centered around plants, consult a medical professional to see if this way of eating is right for your body and lifestyle.
Tip #1: Ease Into It
When I first started my plant-based journey, I slowly started cooking more vegan meals during the week instead of immediately cutting out all animal products. I found it easy for me to make breakfast and lunch without any meat or dairy, but since I would cook dinner for my family, I usually had meat in the evenings. Slowly introducing more plant-based meals and ingredients is a great way to see if plant-based eating is something you enjoy. I have been lactose intolerant for my whole life, so I was already familiar with all the dairy-free options that were out there. For example, if you usually have an egg scramble for breakfast, try making a scramble with tofu crumbles and vegan cheese!
Tip #2: Look For Outside Inspiration
Another way to get into vegan cooking is to look for outside inspiration, especially if you feel like you’re having trouble with creating meals. Since most American food is based around meat and animal products, a lot of people don’t know how to cook meals without using meat as the main ingredient. Look for vegan or vegetarian blogs, social media accounts and cookbooks to provide you with recipes and product recommendations. There are two plant-based cookbooks that always have my back when I have no idea what to cook: Love To Cook It by Samah Dada and Love Real Food by Kathryn Taylor. Samah’s recipes are inspired by flavorful Indian dishes from her childhood. Meanwhile, Taylor’s book has everything to offer from comforting stews to delicious salads.
Tip #3: Invite Your Friends To Join You
Starting your plant-based journey with friends can also make the experience easier and more enjoyable. A great way to bond with friends and try out vegan recipes is to gather some friends to cook a plant-based meal or dessert with you! Another option is to have a vegan potluck and challenge your friends or family make their favorite recipes without animal products! Additionally, since plant-based eating has gained a lot of traction in recent years, it’s easier than ever to find vegan options when eating out. Perhaps try a vegetarian or vegan restaurant in your neighborhood or browse the HappyCow app to find vegan restaurants in your area! After your meal, think about how you can recreate some of the dishes you ate at home.
A lot of people think going vegan can be more expensive than eating animal products. While this can be true for certain specialty items like non-dairy milks, vegan cheeses, and non-dairy ice cream, dried beans and lentils or natural nut butters are inexpensive options that can be bought in bulk and won’t break the bank!
Tip #4: Get Creative
Turn vegetables into delicious main dishes with the right preparation and seasoning. If you thought you couldn’t give up chicken wings, cauliflower has the perfect meaty texture to replace chicken! Find Jackfruit in canned form at the supermarket. It serves as a substitute for pulled pork or chicken. From tacos to sandwiches, jackfruit is a very versatile vegetable in vegan cooking! Look online for other vegetables that you can transform into delicious dishes.
I also started to eat more grains since I went vegan. Grains including farro and quinoa are a great base for meals and can add some extra protein and fiber to plant-based recipes. Some other staple grains that I always have on hand include whole grain pasta, chickpea or lentil pasta, rice, and soba noodles. Pad thai, pesto pasta with veggies, and quinoa salads are all meals that I cook weekly.
While I love being vegan for environmental reasons, health benefits, and animal rights, I don’t eat plant based 100% of the time. If I’m craving tuna, sushi or Greek yogurt, I will eat those foods. Eating a more plant-based diet does not mean that you have to strive for perfection and it should never feel restrictive. With all of the amazing alternative products, recipe inspiration, and restaurants that exist today, eating plant-based is now easier than it’s ever been.
Looking for some no-cook recipe ideas that incorporate some plant-based meals? Click here!
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