There is a buzz around veganism and plant-based diets, ranging from health benefits, positive environmental impact, cruelty against animals, and many others. Some are even stating that humans are not designed to eat meat since we are meant to be herbivores, not omnivores.
On top of that, documentaries like What the Health and the extremely convincing Game Changers highly persuade us to eat plant-based. Changing our eating habits and eliminating meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal-based foods can be daunting.
But don’t fret. There are many ways you can slowly change your food choices and eating habits. Read below for tips on how to start and maintain a plant-based diet for beginners.
How to Start a Plant-Based Diet for Beginners
1. Start Slow. Always.
When you want to change something significant in your life, or if you’re going to incorporate a new habit, always start slow. The same applies to switching to a plant-based diet.
You could start with eating plant-based foods one day a week, or maybe one meal a day — whichever suits you.
Alternatively, you can start by slowly eliminating the various food groups — remove red meat from your diet, then white meat, then seafood, eggs, and finally, dairy. Whichever method works for you, everyone is unique.
I started by removing meat from my diet, then reducing seafood, then eggs, and, last of all, dairy. The transition to an entirely plant-based diet took me about two years.
I would also like to add that you do not force yourself or do not suppress any feeling of wanting to eat meat. When I first started, I told myself if I ever do feel like eating chicken or salmon or whatever it may be, just do it.
The more you suppress that feeling, the harder it becomes, and we will quickly give up on the transition.
There were times when I felt like eating some sort of meat during the transition period, which I did. Eventually, the frequency reduced, and as I approached the 2-year mark, the cravings stopped — I didn’t want to consume any form of an animal-based product. After being a full-fledged vegan for about three years now, I have not had cravings at all; even when I think of it, my mind and body naturally dismiss it.
So start slow — even if it takes you five years or more — it is alright. The start is always the hardest part.
Be loving, kind, and compassionate to yourself. If you have not reached your target goals or feel like you are at a loss, don’t beat yourself. Keep your aim and vision in mind and work towards them, but welcome where you are right now and take it day by day.
By the way, there is a difference between a plant-based vs vegan diet.
2. Join a support group or develop your own support system.
One of the greatest things about the internet and social media is that there are numerous support groups you can join, and you are not limited physically.
There are several plant-based or vegan groups, pages, and forums that you can join for support and education.
If you have any doubts or questions, just ask and there will be a discussion about it. There are people out there supporting one another on this journey. A good start would be to frequent sites like Facebook, Instagram, or Quora to reach out to other people who might have gone through the same journey.
If you prefer something physical or close, start the journey with your friends or family and support one another along the way.
Having a support system helps tremendously.
If you are ever bored by thinking there are limited plant-based food options, they will help you get creative and show you otherwise; they will share recipes and ideas about how you can eat your favorite poutine or medium-rare steak again.
If you feel you can’t talk to people around you about your diet because they do not understand or question you, your support system will encourage you. Feel like you need to rant, your support group will be there for you.
Having someone to talk to about tasty plant-based food and having the opportunity to rant, or asking for help if you’re looking for a specific product is invaluable.
Support is crucial in anything and everything you do. Having a support group will help beginners transition to a plant-based diet and help maintain it.
3. Missing chicken? Search for plant-based meal substitutes.
We understand there may be days when you just want to bite into that tender, juicy, fatty steak or long for the taste of some crispy fried chicken.
Being on a plant-based diet does not mean omitting the meat. You will be sorely disappointed if your usual dinner, which may consist of chicken, rice, and green leaves, suddenly becomes just rice and leaves. But rather than removing the meat, just substitute the animal-based product for plant-based instead.
Many plant-based products provide protein with added fiber. Lentils, beans, soy, such as tofu or tempeh, are healthy and excellent substitutes. You can get creative by experimenting with adding jackfruit or banana flower into our diet. Cooked jackfruit substitutes pork in a pulled pork sandwich. And banana flower — fish for a spicy tuna sandwich.
One thing I’ve realized since going vegan is that your creativity soars. You will start thinking of ways to cook your vegan version of your favorite meal again. You will become more aware of plant-based foods and start thinking of ways to cook them as a meaty dish. Heck, even watermelon is now used to substitute steak.
4. Change your mindset.
To reinforce your transition to a plant-based diet, changing your mindset will help. We need to change our mindset on two things. The first being plant-based foods are more expensive.
Plant-based foods are not more expensive than animal-based foods. In fact, it is less costly. You will save money by not buying meat and dairy, and we also eat less processed food.
A complete plant-based diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
When you buy locally grown seasonal fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, you will save money on a plant-based diet. If you purchase faux meat, the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, packaged foods, and produce that is flown in from halfway around the world, it will cost you.
If your version of a plant-based diet is a high concentration of processed foods, you will probably spend more. Substituting hot dogs and hamburgers to soy dogs and vegetable burgers will not have much difference in your spending. That doesn’t mean you can never have those things, but they aren’t as healthy or inexpensive as whole foods.
The plant-based diet for beginners doesn’t depend on more expensive foods; we have built our diet based on foods consistently priced most of the time. Going on a plant-based diet widens our perspective and, whether directly or indirectly, helps us make healthier choices that reduce harm to the environment.
The second thing we need to change our mindset on is that we don’t get enough protein and nutrients on a plant-based diet.
This is not the case. I’ve learned protein comes from plants. Like cows, most of the meats on our supermarket shelves come from animals that get their protein from plants.
In an animal-based diet, instead of getting protein directly from plants, we get it from the animals. On a plant-based diet, we obtain the protein directly from plants. Our body will take time to adjust to breakdown the more complex protein, but we will get there.
The other nutrient, vitamin B12, is said to be deficient in a plant-based diet. Our vitamins and minerals come from the soil — we need to treat our soil with love and care to ensure it is healthy and be able to supplement us with vitamins and minerals. Our current commercialized, industrialized agriculture system is cruel and toxic to the animals and the environment. Genetic modification, monocultures, and overuse of chemicals and pesticides have caused our soil health to deteriorate. Our foods now have fewer nutrients than the same foods our grandparents ate.
It is said that eating meat doesn’t cause vitamin B12 deficiency. This is because the animals feed on foods fortified with vitamin B12. One way plant-based eaters can fix this is to take supplements or buy fortified nut-based milk like almond, hazelnut, or cashew milk. If you are the type to avoid supplements, get your food supply from small community farms that practice regenerative agriculture. You are what you eat, so care about where it originates.
This brings me to the next tip.
5. Educate yourself.
Going on a plant-based diet is a lifelong journey of education. You will be researching and educating yourself frequently.
While transitioning to a plant-based diet, you will get into many conversations about the complications and unhealthiness of a plant-based diet. In addition to that, there is a lot of misleading information circling. Don’t be discouraged; just research. As they say, Google is our best friend.
There are many documentaries and real-life stories of people recovering from chronic diseases and thriving on a plant-based diet. One of them even created a business out of it and went to Shark Tank for investment. They rejected a one million dollar offer from the investors to buy out their company.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has stated that a properly planned plant-based diet is healthy for everyone, from childhood to adulthood. To prevent chronic diseases, doctors and dietitians have recommended going on a plant-based diet.
Other than defending your choice of going on a plant-based diet, educate yourself on what is plant-based and what is animal-derived. Many ingredients are not commonly known to be derived from animals. One quick example that I can think of is gelatin.
Educate yourself on how you can get your amino acids. Tofu, lentils, beans are high in protein, broccoli — high in calcium. Surprisingly, we were taught that plant-based foods high in nutrients were only available from animals, dairy and eggs.
As you go further down the plant-based journey, you might even start to have sudden realizations or insights.
Do we realize that no other animal consumes another animal’s milk? It is also discouraged between human mothers. Yet, we have been led to believe that cow’s milk is essential for human consumption and wellbeing.
The capitalist system drives industrialization and commercialization of our food systems that harm all beings in all ways — the animals, plants, soils, water, and, in turn, comes back to us. You will learn we are all connected, and everything we put out, comes back to us. You will be exposed to regenerative agriculture and food sovereignty. You will start researching and buying produce from small regenerative farmers or you may even start your own food garden.
Going on a plant-based journey is a start to a lifelong journey of education, creativity, compassion, love, kindness, and wholeness. Trust me, it is one exciting journey.
6. Stay committed.
Once you have taken the first step, promise yourself to stay committed.
Clean out your kitchen, have all kinds of plant-based essentials on hand, keep a list with your favorite plant-based meals and snacks nearby, and enjoy every bite. Vital wheat gluten, chickpeas, cashew nuts will be essential.
Similarly, do also stock up on basic kitchen equipment: knives, cutting board, baking sheets, blender, pots and pans, and especially a food processor. With these tools, you will be exposed to a vast world of dishes which you can create and take you on a food creativity journey. It does not need to be expensive; ask friends if they have a spare tool or borrow one first. If you do become a regular user, then get yourself one.
If you find the cooking too tedious, set one day to prepare meals a week in advance. This will help you plan your meals and will also help to reduce food waste.
Not the type of spending a long time in the kitchen? There are remarkably many quick and healthy plant-based meals you can prepare in 30 minutes; smoothies are a great healthy and wholesome quick meal you can make. Follow plant-based eaters on social media for food inspiration and to help you feel less alone. There are thousands of influencers out there these days. They can convert anti-cooks to executive chefs. 😉
Date nights and eating out with family and friends do not have to be scary and disappointing. Call restaurants in advance, explain your dietary needs and ask if the kitchen can prepare something. Most restaurants are more than willing. If at a restaurant, there are no vegetarian options to choose from, get creative by combining side dishes, appetizers, or modifying a meal. If it proves too tough, it’s okay to go meatless for that one time. You do not have to pressure yourself that everything rides on just one meal decision. What matters is that you’re making an effort to take small steps toward eating more plants and less meat overall.
It’s only when you decide and commit to making this happen that the transformation will take place and you will be able to recognize all the fantastic benefits of living on a plant-based diet.
7. Keep things fun & exciting.
Once you’ve dabbled in plant-based waters, make things fun and exciting by making a plant-based version of your favorite meal. You can take it further by trying foods you may probably have not heard of or have not tried. Seiten anyone?
When you go to the market, pay attention to the fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. See all the different types and try new produce every week. As mentioned in tip 3, jackfruit can be pork, banana flower can be fish, or a slice aloe vera can be sashimi.
Instead of buying the faux and processed Beyond Meat, make your own natural burger or sausage. It is all up to your imagination. Browse the web for ideas on how to cook amazing new meals that you can implement as a weekly dinner option. Your favorite plant-based influencers on social media will have plans that may take a whole year to complete.
This moment in history is more exciting than ever to beginning a plant-based diet. There are plant-based restaurants and cafés popping up. On top of that, existing restaurants and cafés have plant-based options available. Plant-based eaters are not being excluded. It is time to embrace our plant-based goodness and not shy away from it.
Finally, as we come to a close, I would like to reiterate, be compassionate, loving and kind to yourself. Transitioning to a plant-based diet is not an on-and-off switch. Don’t put yourself down if you have not reached your targeted goal or feel you are not doing things right. There is no right or wrong, and there is no one size fits all solution.
Remind yourself of your goals and mission and work towards them. Thoughts are powerful and can impact and influence your reality and perception.
Break the journey down to smaller pieces by creating new habits, so much so, that eating meat becomes foreign to you. Beating yourself down or putting immense pressure on yourself can result in toxicity and negativity. This can cause you to abandon this transition. Always remind yourself of the big picture, the bigger goal and mission, and amend your expectations accordingly. You are your biggest fan and cheerleader. When you have reached that, success will come to you easily.
If you need support, always reach out to your support group, or you can always count on us to be there for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet mostly or entirely consists of plant-based foods from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. There is usually minimal to no meat, dairy and eggs in the diet.
Is a plant-based diet healthy and safe?
Yes, a plant-based diet is healthy and safe for your body. It is actually healthier and safer than a western diet that is high in meat and processed foods.
Is a plant-based diet vegan?
A plant-based diet is not vegan, but it can be. Read the difference between a plant-based and vegan diet.
Is a plant-based diet better for the environment?
Yes, a plant-based diet is better for the environment. Plant-based foods take up less land and consume less water than animal agriculture. In addition, plant-based diets have a smaller carbon footprint than an animal-based diet.