How To Transition To A Plant-Based Diet
More and more are switching to a plant-based diet because of it’s proven benefits for health and the environment. In May 2018 the Guardian published an article about how avoiding meat and dairy is the single best thing you can do for the planet, as it “provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland” and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Loss of wild areas is also the main cause for the extinction of wildlife.
Making the switch has never been more timely as the Amazon burns to ‘make room’ for meat production, but for those of you who want to change their ways, but are unsure on how to do it, I’ve collected a few tips to help you transition as smoothly as possible. The word ‘vegan’ has purposely not been used as I know it can be a very intimidating and strict world, whereas plant-based instead promotes the idea of a process, and doesn’t make you feel guilt if one day you crave fish. If you feel forced into a decision it will never be sustainable for you to maintain long-term. Plus remember that eating oreos and processed vegan cheese everyday while sipping diet coke is technically a vegan diet, but not the healthiest - focus on wholefoods instead. So, here we go.
Start with breakfast - it’s the easiest meal to swap out and make plant-based, my go-to is porridge cooked with part water part oat milk and topped with nut butter, fruit and hemp seeds.
For mains start with rich hearty meals and skip the kale salad (that’s for pro’s ;) ). When switching to a plant-based diet people are often scared that they will never be ‘full’ and instead be constantly hungry, but that really depends on what you eat. Of course, eating salads for lunch and dinner everyday is not going to be enough, but instead you could make delicious pasta dishes, rice with beans and veggies, curries, stews etc that will leave you super satisfied.
Preparation is key. I’m not going to lie being organised with your food shops and meals is quite important at the beginning (later it will just be second-nature), but you can plan ahead so that if you get home tired from work one day and you understandably don’t want to cook a buddha bowl and are tempted to just pop some fish in the oven with some pre-chopped and seasoned potatoes, you have a backup in the fridge. Usually what I do is Sunday prep by looking through my cookbooks, blogs / apps or saved images on Instagram at recipes I could cook for the week and write them out along with ingredients I need. You could, for example as a standard and easy base, make a big batch of brown rice or quinoa and a batch of beans in tomato sauce with chilli to store in your fridge and simply heat up after work plus cut a fresh avocado to top it. Or even easier, make a one-pot stew or curry that you can just leave to simmer for an hour and have at least 3 homemade, hearty meals that week. This way your shopping will also be more targeted and prevent unnecessary food waste. This being said, we’re all humans and there is days or even weeks were prepping is impossible, so you revert to an easier option - don’t be hard on yourself, it’s a process.
Protein - this always seems to the #1 worry people have when switching to a plant-based diet, but not to worry - we require about 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of our bodyweight a day and luckily there is lots of plant-based protein sources.
Lentils, Kidney beans, Black beans, Butter beans, Chickpeas, Almonds, Peanuts, Quinoa, Hemp seeds (or powder). Fancy sources: Spirulina (if you can’t deal with the taste there is also capsules you can take), Chia seeds. Even a few veggies like broccoli and kale are quite high in protein. Edamame, Tofu and Tempeh (+ soy milk) are a tricky one because soy agriculture can be quite environmentally heavy as it requires a lot of land, pesticides and water. I recommend buying organic and grown in Europe if you can. Because there are 20 different types of amino acids and most foods don’t contain all 20 at once, it’s important to mix and match and not recur to eating rice, beans and broccoli everyday.
I tend to avoid super processed plant protein, but if I order a burger at a restaurant I’m super happy about the lab-grown option :)
This being said, if you are lifting weights or generally training often you will need more protein, it’s best to discuss the exact amount with a qualified expert, but chances are you will need to drink a protein shake after your workouts. I personally do, and my favourites are Vega Chocolate, Form Nutrition Salted Caramel and I have been keen to try Vivo Life’s, but haven’t bought it yet.
If you’re worried about not getting enough protein track your intake with the MyFitnessPal app.
Eating out - When you first go plant-based going out with your non-plant eating friends can feel quite intimidating. You don’t want to feel like an outsider or that lecturing vegan we all know
If I’m being honest, I find that most restaurants have adapted to at least have one vegetarian option on the menu. A few years ago when I first started i definitely had my fare share of steamed broccoli side dishes with fries, but most restaurants (and even pubs!) have evolved. If you just tell your waiter that you are vegan they will help you choose either vegan options from the menu or tell you about a vegan dish the chef can prepare that isn’t on the menu, they are usually pretty accommodating. You could also come up with a system where each of your friends chooses a restaurant on rotation and when it’s your turn you can introduce them to a plant-based restaurant (you never know, might have some converts after)! Hosting a plant-based dinner at your place can also really help introduce your friends to plant-based meals and you don’t even need to tell them it will be vegan beforehand. Just choose some rich, filling dishes to prepare and let them taste how delicious they are :) Should I make a dinner party menu?
Resources: blogs, cookbooks and apps:
Deliciously Ella (cookbooks, app, podcast, blog)
Max La Manna’s new book More Plants, Less Waste
Eat This! (German)
The China Study - book
Cowspiracy - documentary
Food, Inc. - documentary
Forks over Knives - documentary
Food Choices - documentary