Making the Switch to a Plant-Based Diet
How to Incorporate Natural Food Without Going Nuts
By Chelsea Vincent
Looking to get healthier with plant-based eating? Read on to find out where to start and which resources can help!
These days, as one Hollywood actress from days gone by remarked to me, “Everyone’s got an opinion.” She isn’t wrong.
If you pick up a magazine or scroll through the many documentaries on Netflix, everyone seems to have staunch opinions about everything, especially which diet reigns supreme. Yet, from vegans to grandmothers to paleo die-hards, one thing seems to be pretty clear: eating more plant-based food is a win.
Essentially, plant-based diets focus on natural, plant-based sources for food — including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts — with little to no consumption of meat, dairy, eggs, or other processed or refined ingredients.
I get it — that sounds like sucking all of the fun out of life. But plant-based meals can actually taste awesome if prepared with a little patience. It’s no wonder that the general public is shifting its attitude more toward plant-based options, especially given the scientifically-backed pros that come with eating this way.
What’s In It for Me?
What if we changed our mindset from eating for pleasure to eating to optimize our health? What if we could reduce or eliminate the pills we rely on by focusing on what goes onto our plates a bit more?
Is the work required to change the diets we grew up with worth it?
Switching to a plant-based diet brings a whole host of proven benefits that affect both people and the planet, including:
- Less risk of obesity for both children and adults
- Reduced diabetes risk by up to 50%
- Lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure
- Lower annual weight gain than meat-eaters
- Far lower greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water use than animal-based diets
Talk about some pretty solid reasons to consider — and actually incorporate — change.
What About Protein and Other Essentials?
While many fear that swapping to a plant-based diet means they won’t get sufficient protein, generally speaking, those on plant-based diets don’t develop protein deficiencies. In fact, many are surprised to find out that most developed nations exceed suggested protein consumption, especially with meat.
There are multiple plant-based sources of amino acids — the building blocks of protein (which we need to get from food) — including quinoa, tempeh, lentils, chia seeds, pistachios, or even certain food combinations. Other important nutrients — including iron, vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and fatty acids — can also be gleaned from plant sources. Plant-Based Dietician and the UC Davis Integrative Medicine site both offer a slew of resources that can help you find plant-based, nutritious options.
How to Gradually Add More Plant-Based Items
So, what about actually going for it? If you’ve grown up following the Standard American Diet (ironically shortened to S.A.D.), this sort of lifestyle change can seem daunting at best and impossible at worst. Where does one even begin to look for things like nutritional yeast, and what on earth is a dehydrator?
Not to worry, plant-curious friends. By understanding a few basics, and armed with a few key resources, you’ll be surprised to realize that switching over to plant-based is actually doable. And, just like getting into a new workout routine, while the first month may feel tedious and trying, after a few weeks, you’ll likely find that the new lifestyle has you feeling better than ever.
Make Simple Serving Swaps
Start by swapping out a daily protein source to a plant-based option, like your daily breakfast. Once you feel comfortable with that, try reducing animal products to a single meal each day or week. By making gradual changes, as well as allowing your palate to adapt, you’ll soon realize that plant-based eating really can be done (not to mention taste great). You can look to multiple online resources for plant-based recipes, including Forks Over Knives, the Engine 2 Diet, and One Green Planet (which posts recipes every day).
Focus More on Quality, Less on Convenience
It’s also important to let your mindset shift, as the quality of the plant-based food you consume is important as well. Taking out meat and dairy to eat more refined grains or refined fats isn’t going to do you any favors (and could actually have detrimental health effects). And as much as we think we don’t have time to waste on meal prep, eating well is almost never the same as eating what’s convenient. You can have one or the other.
If you want to focus less on processed and refined foods (most of which are lacking in nutrients, while high in calories, sugars, and/or fat), then you’ll need to shift your attitude toward food preparation. How do the flavors taste different when you take the time to prepare your own food? Begin to consider where your food came from as you take your time eating. Was it grown and nurtured on a farm, or did it come from a lab?
Connect With More Farmers & Local Options
By focusing on eating more plant-based ingredients, which are grown locally, you can further reduce the environmental impacts of what goes onto your plate by limiting the amount of gas and other resources needed to transport perishable items. Additionally, getting to know local farmers will help foster a sense of community, deepening your own connection to where your food comes from (and thus, to your overall eating experience).
Check out the National Farmers Market Directory to find options near you. You can also consider signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box, where local farmers deliver boxes to consumers, generally with a subscription or membership. This also helps farmers have a consistent cash flow throughout the farming season. Companies like Imperfect Produce have even taken this concept a step further by delivering odd-shaped produce to reduce food waste.
Embracing the power of plant-based eating doesn’t have to mean going full-out vegan. Yeah, you’ll need to think through what you put in your mouth, but a little mindfulness and personal care always leads to healthier habits.
You’ve Got This
At the end of the day, you don’t need to go cold turkey — or totally sans turkey, as it were — to successfully work your way toward better health, by way of plants. All it takes is a little bit of discipline and careful label-reading to incorporate more plants into your diet while eliminating reliance on animal products. With a plant-based diet, you will feel better, live longer, and help the planet.