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Thinking of Going Plant-Based or Vegan? Here Are My Top 10 Tips to Getting Started.

Updated: Jan 22



plant-based meal

I'm hearing from a lot of folks that they are considering going vegan or adding more plant-based meals to their diet after watching the Netflix docuseries, 'You Are What You Eat'? The docuseries was compelling, especially from an environmental and animal welfare perspective, and it definitely seems to have raised awareness and sparked conversations around how food gets to our plates. I love that these conversations are happening as a result of the series!** However, while it piqued viewers' interest and motivated many to get curious about plants, it didn't provide guidance or tips on how to go plant-based, plant-forward or vegan successfully and how to make it sustainable.


What I mean by sustainable is being able to create delicious, satisfying and nourishing meals so that you're not left wanting or needing meat and dairy to fulfill flavor or nutrient needs. Plant-based eating can be incredibly scrumptious, satisfying, and beyond nourishing when done properly. The challenge is that, since most of us are accustomed to preparing dishes with meat and dairy, we just don't know where to start or how to easily prepare meals using plants that are just as satisfying as the meat and dairy dishes we knew and loved (been there!). The good news is that just about any meat and dairy dish can be replicated with plant-based ingredients that have similar textures and flavors, while making the dish much more nutritious. This is because plant-based ingredients provide fiber and boatloads of phytonutrients and significantly less saturated fat, plus no antibiotics or hormones, compared to meat and dairy. So you leave the table feeling fulfilled, plus energized and nourished. Feeling this way after you eat, and experiencing various health benefits as you continue to eat this way (see a list of benefits here), will inspire and motivate you to continue this way of eating long-term. This is what makes plant-based eating sustainable.

 

**By the way, I had no idea how food arrived on my plate until 2013! When I discovered the origins of my dairy-centric diet, I made some serious changes for ethical reasons that resulted in major changes in my health, like better skin (I had horrible cystic acne before ditching dairy), less anxiety, more energy, and the best sleep on the planet (which, I'm sure contributed to the other health outcomes I mentioned!).


Below are my top ten tips if you're curious about plant-based eating, want to try eating plant-based eating a few days a week, or want to go completely vegan. These tips are based on my personal experience and experience with clients who have wanted to simply eat more plants or go completely vegan.


veggie burger


Know your why. Whether you'd like to eat more plant-based foods for your health, the health of the planet, for animal welfare, or all three, understanding and revisiting your why can help to seal in your conviction and move forward with intention. Your why inspires you to take action. Perhaps consider writing down your "why" on a piece of paper or in a journal to solidify it and help you move forward with purpose. Visit your why at any time when you’d like a little inspiration or motivation.


journaling

Reframe your mindset from one of restriction to one of abundance. A plant-based diet can be lower in calories compared to the traditional standard American diet, and it's also extremely nutrient- and fiber-dense, meaning that it contains a ton of nutrients and fiber in proportion to the energy content. Essentially, you're optimizing your nutrition and benefiting your health with every bite. In the docuseries, You Are What You Eat, participants didn't have any calorie restrictions. They ate until they were full. Since they were eating all fiber-rich plant-based foods, they ended up naturally eating approximately 200 calories less each day, which resulted in weight loss and lower cholesterol levels. Plant-based foods fill you up quickly and leave you feeling full for longer, resulting in less overall calories consumed, which is one reason why plant-based eating is so effective in weight management. Here's the thing: there are thousands and thousands of edible plant-based foods! The options for creating a variety of tasty, nutritious, and satisfying meals are endless and you don't have to worry about counting calories or watching what you eat.

 


vegan pizza

Go slow. Doing a complete overnight overhaul can be tough and is not typically nutritionally sound or satisfying. That's because it takes time to learn new things, especially when completely changing your diet. It probably took me two years to really understand what I was doing and I'm still learning new things daily (and it's been 11 years since I went vegan). It's okay for your plant-based journey to be slow and steady, building one small habit each week so that you have a lifetime of healthy habits by the end of the year.


smoothie bowl

Start small. Small changes create a big impact, both on your health and the health of the planet. Swap out meat one day a week, substitute dairy milk with plant-based milk, or try cutting back meat portions from 4 ounces to 2 ounces (and add beans and veggies in its place). Celebrate every small step in the plant-based direction.


vegan meal

Don't forget the protein. Whenever I see meat removed from the plate, I often see an empty plate. When first starting to eat plant-based, it's hard to know what to add in meat's place that will be nutritionally equivalent and culinarily satisfying. Personally, I recommend grabbing one good cookbook to start. A cookbook was a lifesaver when I first learned about plant-based eating. Plant-based meals will include protein-rich foods, like beans, lentils, tempeh or tofu, plus colorful veggies, whole grains, and delicious sauces. This one by Isa Chandra Moskowicz was the first plant-based cookbook I used (and still use to this day!). If cookbooks aren't your thing, find an awesome vegan recipe blog that has tried and true recipes you can bookmark. Start by making one or two recipes a week. Here are some quick and easy meal ideas that are satisfying and nourishing, and here is a list of 47 protein-packed plant-based foods.

 


lentils

Begin with what you know and love. Take an inventory of what’s always in your pantry and fridge. If you always have black beans, tomatoes and tortillas, start by making plant-based tacos. If you love pasta, make it with your fave red sauce and toss some veggies you enjoy in there. It could be onions, peppers, and spinach or anything else you like. Starting with what you know and love will not only get you started with eating plant-based foods but also give you reassurance that you got this! For more on this visit How to Stock a Plant-Powered Pantry and 10 "Already in Your Pantry" Plant-Based Protein Sources.

 


plant-powered bowl

Be gentle on yourself. While you can create a gazillion plant-based combinations that are delicious, it can be overwhelming when you're not sure what to create. Again, that's where the cookbook or online recipes come in handy. Take it one meal at a time. You don't need to know all the things in one day. Try one new plant-based meal a week. Start with what you know and love. Recreate a plant-based version of your favorite meal that is traditionally made with meat and dairy (there's a plant-based recipe for everything these days! Google it. :)) Don't beat yourself up for not going all in with plants or if a recipe doesn't turn out exactly the way you wanted (that's why I have a compost bin!). Things happen and it takes time. Every time you set out to cook a plant-based dish, treat it as a fun learning experience, no matter the outcome. Give yourself grace and be gentle, knowing it's a lifetime journey, and try to learn one new small thing each day. And celebrate the one thing you learn, no matter how big or small it is!


pumpkin soup

Variety is key, unless beans aren’t a staple in your diet. The ultimate goal in getting enough nutrition on a plant-based diet is to eat a variety of whole plant-based foods, like beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. However, one of the number one challenges I hear from folks just starting on their plant-based journey is that beans give them too much gas. To clear up the (stinky) air, rest assured that you’re just waking up those healthy bacteria in your gut that are getting to work breaking down the fiber in the beans by chomping away. When bacteria eat the fiber in beans, and other plant-based foods, compounds are formed that support metabolism, brain health, mental health and more. This is a great thing, but if you add lots of different beans or consume a large amount at once when you’re not used to eating them, you may experience gas, bloating and discomfort. My advice is to start very small and with one new bean or lentil a week. Maybe start with 2 tablespoons or 1/4 cup cooked beans or lentils. Then slowly increase the portion or try a new bean the following week. Rinsing canned beans may help get rid of some of those gassy compounds. If you’re able, cooking beans from scratch may help since you can soak them, cook them longer, and add a piece of seaweed to the cooking water, all of which help to decrease those gassy compounds. 


The same guidance can apply to all plant-based foods. Since plant-based foods contain various types of dietary fiber and fiber passes through your body whole, it can be a lot on your digestive system to go from eating barely any fiber (if you're eating mostly meat and dairy with a side of veggies now) to eating a ton of fiber overnight. Start small and go slow.


Also, don't forget to drink plenty of water to push the fiber through! To understand the importance of fiber, visit 10 Simple Swaps to Boost Fiber Intake (and Your Health!) and 10 {Fun} Facts About Fiber and How to Boost it for Health. To learn more about preparing beans to minimize those gas-forming compounds, visit 7 Reasons to Eat Beans and How to Incorporate Them.


supplements

Supplement with B12 ... and maybe a few others. 'You Are What You Eat' showed a big decline in B12 intake when participants went vegan. This isn’t uncommon. Most vegans do and should take a B12 supplement. Some of the naysayers like to say “see you need to supplement on a vegan diet, therefore it’s not good for you!” However, B12 used to be in our soil. Before large-scale farming and pesticide use, humans and animals received their vitamin B12 from food grown in soil. But due to soil desertification and mineral depletion, B12 is no longer found in most of the soil where food is grown. It’s not the vegan’s fault the industrialized system is depleting essential nutrients from our soil. Cows are also supplemented with vitamin B12 so why not just go directly to the supplemental source? It can be liquid or tablet or the cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin forms of B12. Take 150 mcg daily or 2000 mg 1–2 times a week. Also consider taking vegan omega 3 and vitamin D supplements, both of which are lacking in many people’s diets, vegan or not. And make sure you're getting enough iodine if you plan to go vegan or all plant-based. Iodine can be obtained in a multivitamin, seaweed, or iodized salt. To dive deeper into this topic, visit 7 Nutrients That Could Fall Short on Your Plant-Based Diet and Where to Get Them.


kale and broccoli

Try plants a variety of ways before saying no. Having a hard time swallowing vegetables? I get it. Some have very distinctive flavors that may be unfamiliar to you. Kale can taste bitter; beets have an earthy flavor; and cooking Brussels can smell like a sulfur bomb went off in your kitchen. First, you should know this — your taste buds change every 7–11 days. You can actually train your taste buds to adapt to the flavors of certain foods. They may not be crave-able right away, but the bitter, earthy, sulfur compounds may be less offensive over time.


That said, you CAN learn to love veggies if you're open to trying them a variety of ways before saying no. For example, I love kale but the only way my husband will eat it is if it's cut into really tiny pieces and mixed with Romaine lettuce. If it means he's eating kale, that works for me! I personally don't love whole beets, but when they're shredded in a salad, mixed with other ingredients and a yummy dressing, I enjoy them. I also do not love raw cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower, but love them steamed.


My point is to try different cuts and different ways of preparing vegetables you think you don't love before taking them off your list of things to eat.


P.S. One extensive study showed that people who consumed 10 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily had significantly fewer lifestyle diseases and lived longer lives.


One serving of fruits and vegetables can look like:

  1. 1 cup raw leafy greens

  2. ½ cup other vegetables, raw or cooked (potatoes, tomatoes, squash, peppers, cabbage, etc.)

  3. 1 medium fruit such as an apple, banana, orange, or pear

  4. ½ cup chopped fruit



grocery shopping


I'm going to stop here for a moment. Are you counting the tips? You may have realized that you reached the top 10 tips — hooray! If you feel that you're equipped and ready to get started on your plant-based journey with those 10 tips then feel free to do that and come back later to revisit the blog and view the last three bonus tips (they came to me after writing the top 10). If you're the type of person who needs to read all the details before getting starting, then carry on and enjoy your last three tips!



Plan and prepare meals. Okay, to be completely honest with you, I am not a planner. Like, at all. I like to move through the moment and see how I feel and where it takes me. That can oftentimes lead to something really fun and exciting or lead to a disaster. This applies to meals too! Nine times out of ten, chocolate is calling my name in the moment. While dark chocolate can certainly be worked into a nutritious diet, it shouldn't be consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Having a plan for the week is KEY to healthy eating success. If you need to read that again, please do (I did). While I don't love planning, I am beyond happy and grateful once I have a plan in place and the busy week hits. I strongly encourage you to take an hour or two on Sunday, or whatever day works best for you, to plan at least two or three meals for the week. Maybe you and your family adopt Taco Tuesday, Friday night pizza, or Sunday night pasta. Whatever it is, find a few recipes, write down the ingredients you'll need, grab the ingredients from the grocery store, and prepare what you can ahead of time so they're ready to assemble when you get home from work (and feel like doing nothing!). I promise that you'll be super grateful that you planned ahead. Or, prepare a huge batch of grains and beans for the week and cut up a ton of veggies. This is my favorite way to plan for the week. Once the grains and beans are prepped, you just need to throw them in a stovetop pan with a little olive oil, seasonings of choice, and chopped veggies to make a complete meal. It takes minutes! See Fail-Proof Formula for Building a Perfect Plant-Based Meal-In-A-Bowl for more on this. Maybe pick out a plant-based version of your favorite meat or dairy-based dish to start and make that this week!



cooking dinner

Find a plant buddy or community group. Do you have a friend or maybe your partner is interested in joining you on this journey? Having a buddy alongside you can be extremely encouraging and helpful. Or, tap into your neighborhood or online communities for support. Connecting with others to share ideas, knowledge, challenges, and successes can offer insights and encouragement, paving the way for continued, sustainable growth. If you like to fly solo, then perhaps you can simply find three plant-based websites you love and bookmark them (don't forget to include purelyplanted.com ;)).


mindful eating

Listen to your body, focus on what feels best, and celebrate every step in the plant-powered direction! Celebrate each step, knowing that the plant-based lifestyle is a journey, not a destination. Every day is a chance to learn something new to add to your plant-based knowledge and recipe library. It’s about progress, taking it one step at a time, moving in the right direction. There is no perfection as everyone is on their own unique journey. Be gentle on yourself and expect this to be a lifelong learning experience in which you can continue to explore new plant-based foods, experiment with new recipes, and discover new nuggets of wisdom — you get to choose your own adventure!


If you’re ever feeling lost, overwhelmed, or unsure, revisit your “why” and circle back to your intention. Focus on the present moment, not the past, and not what might happen next week or next year. What can you do right now for your health? Take it one day at a time or one meal at a time, knowing you’re doing good and good is good enough!


Have you found something, not mentioned above, that helped you on your plant-based journey? Please share below!


 


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