How to Switch to a Plant-Based Diet
Adopting a plant-based diet can seem intimidating, especially if you’re used to including animal products in most meals. Learning new recipes, cooking plant-based food you actually like eating, and getting a nutritious balance of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals may seem like a challenge if you’re new to a plant-based lifestyle.
Luckily, eating plant-based meals doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s as simple as avoiding animal products, focusing on simple, delicious recipes, and eating a balanced mix of different fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, and other plant-based ingredients. Here are our top tips for making the easy and rewarding switch to a plant-based lifestyle:
1. Stock up your pantry
The first step when it comes to embracing a plant-based lifestyle is to revamp the contents of your fridge and pantry. Now is a good time to give away or get rid of animal-based ingredients like meat, dairy, and eggs. If you’re committed to a plant-based lifestyle, it’s usually easier to remove any ingredients you won’t be eating to avoid temptation. If you share a fridge and kitchen with family or roommates, try to clearly delineate a space for your own food to help make it easier to keep track of.
After doing a deep clean of your fridge and pantry, it’s time to stock up on plant-based ingredients. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. Staples like beans, rice, lentils, nuts and seeds, and whole grains can usually be stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard, while fruits and vegetables often need to be refrigerated. It’s also a good idea to purchase a good supply of herbs and spices - these can help elevate simple dishes and create more variety in your meals. Pretty much everything you’ll need in a plant-based diet can be found at the grocery store - check out our ultimate plant-based diet grocery list for suggestions on what to buy.
2. Find recipes that work for you
Plant-based recipes can seem lackluster at first glance if you’re used to meals with meat as the main course. A plant-based lifestyle isn’t all about boiled vegetables and boring salads, however - there’s just as much variety when it comes to plant-based main courses as with meals focused on animal products. Before you dive into a plant-based lifestyle, you should do a little research and come up with a handful of recipes that work for you. Ideally, these recipes are filling, tasty, and not too complicated to make. Having a few recipes that you enjoy and can always fall back on will make it easier to form the habit of a plant-based lifestyle.
In addition to a handful of classic recipes, you can also build up a repertoire of dishes for various meals and other occasions. Try experimenting with a mix of different ingredients and cuisines to figure out what you like. These dishes don’t have to be elaborate - sometimes the best plant-based meals are the simple ones!
3. Strive for balance
Since you won’t be eating any meat, dairy, or other animal products, you’ll have to get all of your nutrients from plant-based ingredients. While this can seem challenging when you’re just starting out, it’s usually not too difficult to get all the nutrients you need on a plant-based diet. In particular, you should be sure to stock up on several sources of plant-based protein, such as nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains. If you enjoy smoothies in the mornings or post-workout, including protein powders is also a great way increase your protein intake. You should also be sure to include sources of healthy fats - extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and nut butters are all good choices.
In addition to getting in a good mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, you should try to keep your diet diverse in terms of fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients. A helpful common rule of thumb is to “eat the rainbow” - eat a diverse array of plant-based foods of all types and colors. This will help ensure that you get all the nutrients you need, and will prevent you from falling into ruts and eating the same things day in and day out.
4. Create new twists on old favorites
Adopting a plant-based lifestyle doesn’t mean having to give up on all your favorite meals. In many cases, there are simple plant-based substitutes for common comfort foods. Veggie and bean burgers can take the place of hamburgers, vegan pasta dishes can take the place of macaroni and cheese, and there are plenty of plant-based desserts and treats to sate your sweet tooth.
If you have a favorite meal you think it might be difficult to live without, there’s probably a way to adapt it to make it vegan-friendly. While it’s sometimes necessary to push outside of your comfort zone when pursuing a plant-based lifestyle, that doesn’t mean you have to give up favorite dishes and meals! Whether you go the route of a plant-based replacement like a veggie burger or opt for a more creative substitute, new twists on old favorites can help sticking to a plant-based diet that much easier.
5. Have healthy snacks on hand
Not only do healthy plant-based snacks help you stick to a new plant-based diet, but they can also provide energy and increase satiety in between meals. Especially when you’re just adjusting to a new plant-based diet, snacks can be helpful as you gauge how much you need to eat each day and how much fuel each meal provides. They can also help you resist the temptation to graze on unhealthy foods, or indulge in animal-based snacks. Some nutritious plant-based snacks to stock up on include:
- Nuts and seeds like peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Veggies like carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower
- Plant-based dips like hummus, tahini, salsa, and pico de gallo
- Nut butters like peanut butter and sunbutter
6. Plan ahead
It’s often helpful to plan ahead when first adopting a plant-based diet. This can help ensure that you stick to your commitment to avoid animal products, and that there’s always something healthy and tasty to eat in your fridge or cabinet. It’s a good idea to try to plan out your meals for the week and shop accordingly. Some people even take planning a step further and meal prep lunches and dinners in one go for the week, storing healthy, balanced meals in tupperware so that meals throughout the week are ready to go.
Preparation also comes in handy when it comes to going out to eat with family and friends. If possible, it’s a good idea to take a look at the menu beforehand and see what plant-based options are available. Chances are there’ll be a variety of vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes on offer. You may also want to select restaurants that explicitly cater to a plant-based lifestyle - this will make it even easier to find tasty, healthy options when you’re going out to eat.
7. Switch it up
While it’s good to have a routine, it’s also important to incorporate variety into your diet. This can help make sure that you don’t get bored, and can be a great opportunity to get outside your comfort zone and experiment with meals and recipes you might not otherwise have tried. If you find that you’ve been making the same meals over and over again, it might be time to switch it up and try something new.
To this effect, it can be helpful to accumulate a few plant-based cookbooks to help you brainstorm and give you ideas for new dishes. There are also a wide variety of plant-based recipe blogs that you can look to for inspiration. Try out recipes from different regional cuisines, or that use ingredients that you’re not yet familiar with. You can mix it up with salads and soups, pasta dishes and curries, old favorites and new experiments - there are so many options when it comes to delicious, nutritious plant-based meals that you never need to be bored.
8. Embrace plant-based comfort foods
Many people adopt a plant-based lifestyle for reasons related to health and wellness. They may want to lose weight, improve their diet, or avoid foods that disagree with their digestive systems. Bust just because a plant-based diet has many health benefits doesn’t mean that you have to eat healthy foods all the time. In fact, sticking to any diet too strictly may lead to unhealthy habits like binging or giving up on a diet altogether.
Instead of avoiding any foods that you perceive as “unhealthy,” it’s a good idea to embrace plant-based comfort foods. While these foods may be more like occasional indulgences rather than everyday fare, they’re a great way to treat yourself and your body. What’s more, plant-based comfort foods don’t have to be bad for you, especially if you stick to minimally processed whole foods. A couple of squares of dark chocolate, baked french fries, or even vegan pizza are all healthy, satisfying alternatives to animal-based comfort foods. Don’t be afraid to listen to what your body is craving and indulge in moderation!
9. Make a commitment
A plant-based lifestyle isn’t always easy. Especially if you’re used to eating animal products on a daily basis, it can be tempting to break your resolve and chow down on red meat, cheese, and other animal-based foods. A commitment to a plant-based lifestyle can help you to stay the course rather than giving up and reverting back to your old ways of eating.
Experts claim that it takes 21 days to form a habit. By the 22nd day of a plant-based lifestyle, you’ll have broken the habit of your old lifestyle, learned more about plant-based eating, and developed healthy new habits. In order to ensure that your plant-based diet is a success, you should make a commitment to stick to it for at least a few weeks.
10. View things holistically
Perfection is an admirable goal when it comes to any endeavor, whether you’re trying to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, enact an exercise regimen, or reach some other goal. However, in many cases, the perfect can become the enemy of the good, especially when it comes to healthy habits and dieting. If you slip up for a few days, it can feel like a failure, and may even encourage you to give up on a plant-based lifestyle altogether.
When this happens, it’s important to view things holistically and think about the bigger picture. You may have adopted a plant-based lifestyle for any number of reasons - to improve your health, to save money, to reduce animal cruelty, or even to help the environment. Every bit counts when it comes to working toward these goals, even if you occasionally fall off the wagon. Nobody’s perfect, and chances are you won’t always be perfect when it comes to a plant-based diet. It’s a good idea to remember why a plant-based lifestyle is important to you, and to recognize that even small adjustments, like eating plant-based meals several times a week, represent a step in the right direction.
What is a plant-based lifestyle?
In simple terms, a plant-based lifestyle just means that you eat things that are derived from plants. This means avoiding animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Plant-based diets are similar to being vegan, but have an additional emphasis on healthy, minimally processed foods that are better for your body and the environment. Common ingredients included in a plant-based diet include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
A plant-based diet contains all of the essential macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need to fuel your body, making it a healthy, nutritious lifestyle. But the benefits of a plant-based diet extend beyond health - plant-based diets also tend to be less expensive and better for the environment than a traditional diet heavy in animal products. Adopting a plant-based lifestyle can also help to change your relationship to food - relying less on unhealthy processed foods to sate your cravings, and instead shifting your attention to healthy whole foods that nourish your body.