You’ve decided to eat a plant-based diet, have you? You’re probably a little bit excited, and even a little bit scared. Are you coming from a Vegetarian place? Or maybe you’ve been eating meat and dairy your whole life? Perhaps you’re motivated for health reasons. Maybe your reasons are more about ethics than about your own health. Or both. Whatever your reasons are, I can assure you that it really doesn’t have to be difficult! There are some very simple changes you can make right now to help you get going on this plant-based diet for beginners.
Concerns About Taste
In the beginning, I was so concerned about how things would taste. How could things possibly taste good without animal products? Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve been eating such delicious food! There is a plethora of choices out there, and if you also grow a garden, the possibilities are limitless.
Making the Shift
For people who are already eating a plant-based diet, but who eat dairy, you obviously have fewer changes to make. There are awesome plant-based “milks” out there that work wonderfully in most recipes that call for dairy. Part of the fun is experimenting. My personal favorite is almond milk, but many people prefer soy milk. I’ve also seen rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and coconut milk, to name a few. There are also many plant-based “creamers” out there. Check the ingredients, though. Not all of them are created equal in terms of healthy ingredients. Many nutritionists recommend seeking out fortified plant-based milks. But you can also make it from scratch, too.
Taking the Plunge
If you have been eating meat, poultry and fish as well as dairy, you have a few more changes to make, of course. But don’t get discouraged! If it makes the transition easier for you to use meat substitutes, go for it. There are many products out there that are so good, even the non-vegetarians I know enjoy them! Again, I’d caution you to do your research and read ingredient labels. Not all “faux meats” or “mock meats” are created equal. Try to use these things sparingly, if at all. When you’ve gotten into more of a plant-based groove, you may actually find that you don’t even want to eat these items anymore! We certainly don’t eat a lot of them. However, once in awhile(as a “treat”) we do have our favorite vegan “burger” that grills up nicely and goes with corn-on-the-cob, cole slaw, fries, pickles, and fixings. Yum!
Tofu or Not Tofu
Tofu, an awesome protein source, tends to be a deeply personal choice. To quote my husband, Joel, “It’s a texture issue.” Flavor-wise, tofu is rather nondescript until seasonings are added to it. Cooking tofu in a way that gives it a crispy outer “crust” works beautifully if you like a little bit of crunch. Also, whenever possible, use firm or extra-firm. The only time I wouldn’t do that is if I were making something very creamy, such as a smoothie, pudding, or “cheesecake.” My recommendation is to only use organic tofu, whenever possible.
If you really despise tofu, you can certainly eat a well-balanced, plant-based diet without it. However, I encourage you to be open-minded and keep trying it in different ways. You may actually be pleasantly surprised!
Tips from our Experience
Once upon a time, when our kids were younger, two of them decided to be vegetarian. Their concerns were ethical, rather than health-related. All of my children love animals! When I thought about it, I considered all the foods we already ate that were vegetarian, such as: peanut butter-and-jelly or grilled cheese sandwiches, bean or lentil soups, pizza, pasta marinara, stir-fried vegetables with rice, and simple servings of fruit, vegetables, and nuts as snacks.
After awhile, one of these children decided to become vegan. The other soon followed. During this transition, I started reading to get the facts about eating this way.
And guess what? I was sold on the idea, too!
Working with the Doctor
Since I am not a medical professional, I must recommend that you work in conjunction with your own, trusted, health-care providers. I can only speak from my personal experience.
You see, my doctor was on the verge of putting me on cholesterol medication because not only was my cholesterol very high, I had a build-up of plaque in my carotid arteries, as well as family history of heart disease. The books I read went into great depth about the benefits of a plant-based diet, while shining light on the risks associated with eating animal-based food.
In my research, the best quality foods were recommended, non just any old plant foods! Things like potato chips, sweets, and other “junk” foods do not factor into a healthy eating plan of any kind.
Having said that, though, I will occasionally indulge in this type of food as a treat. But if I do, I watch the portion size and don’t let it creep into my everyday habits.
I’ve experienced awesome results with eating a plant-based diet!
My cholesterol not only decreased to what is considered a “safe” level, I lost several pounds in the process. The cardiologist, in fact, decided I no longer need a cardiologist! My numbers have been consistent. The ratio of good to bad cholesterol has been great. My coronary calcium score is zero, which means I have little-to-no plaque in my arteries. It also puts me at an extremely low risk for a heart attack. I’m letting you in on all of this in hopes of encouraging you to embrace and develop healthy habits.
If you are on the fence, I highly recommend that you start by reading “Eat to Live,” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, or “How Not To Die,” by Dr. Michael Greger. Then at least you can make an informed decision.
Something worth noting is that Dr. Fuhrman does not say that everyone should become vegan. His eating plan is what he calls, “Nutritarian,” which is, quite simply, maximum, healthiest nutrition. He has a formula for figuring this out in his books. And if you want to make a more gradual shift to eating vegan, this approach could be a good option for you.
If a person doesn’t feel that they can possibly forego all animal-based food, Dr. Fuhrman recommends a particular amount of meat, eggs, and/or dairy that can be consumed. This can be helpful if, like me, you have other household members who don’t wish to eat vegan food all the time. Dr. Fuhrman also emphasizes the need to source all food from the cleanest, freshest, most organic places possible.
Not Feeling Deprived
That said, I really don’t miss animal foods, except eggs.* And I take comfort in the fact that this is not a “fad” diet! Eating this way has been around for thousands of years. Research has shown time and time again that all over the world, people who eat a plant-based diet, tend to have lower rates of many types of illness.
Eat More Plants No Matter What
Still not convinced? Well, if I can encourage anything, it would be to increase the amount of plants in your diet, especially leafy greens. The more vegetables and fruit that you eat, the better off you’ll be, whether or not you stop eating animal foods.
If “Cold Turkey” Won’t Work
Let’s just pause for a moment and think about the expression “cold turkey.” How ironic! Quitting turkey(and other animal foods) “cold turkey!”
Getting back to the topic – make the commitment to start with, say, one large salad per day(or hearty vegetable soup in the winter). Make sure that, in addition to the leafy greens, you add lots of other raw veggies, onions, plus maybe some chopped nuts, seeds, and/or beans. Top it off with a little vinegar or lemon juice plus some herbs or black pepper, and enjoy the taste of the vegetables. If you are eating this type of food, it’s ok to “Super-size” it! In fact, it is encouraged!
Plant-Based Diet for Beginners
Be sure to grab my 5-Day Meal Guide!
What are your favorite plant-based foods? I’d love to know!
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