What is your reason for starting on a plant-based diet?

Plant-based diets are a great way to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, and stay healthy in the process. Plant-based diets also help reduce the risk of certain diseases like cancer and heart disease. Eating a plant-based diet can reduce inflammation.  Being on a plant-based diet will also help you with cholesterol levels.

Your plant-based journey is yours and yours alone

You may have thought about starting a plant-based diet but you don’t know where to begin.  What do you do with all of the non-plant-based foods in your kitchen right now?  You may still want real cream in your morning coffee.  You may not be willing to give up certain other foods and no one here is judging you.  Your plant-based journey is yours and yours alone.   

Don’t go out of your way for specialty items

You don’t want to go out of your way to shop at specialty stores for vegan and vegetarian items.  Time and cost are both issues when it comes to shopping.  

If you live in smaller urban areas or in rural areas specialty stores (if you can find them) are often out of stock of many products and ridiculously expensive.  Resist buying many of the premade “burgers” and similar items.  These can pack on the pounds and be as expensive as meat.   

Plan small steps for your plant-based lifestyle

For many people eating a plant-based diet starts with small steps.  Over a period of time, you can incrementally remove meat and its byproducts from your diet.  At the same time, add plant-based alternatives.  Planning, for now, will be important in your shopping 

Do a Cost Comparison and you might be surprised

Cost is often viewed as a major factor.  It shouldn’t be.  The cost of meat products is skyrocketing and is not cheaper than buying plant-based alternatives. Go to your supermarket and do a comparison. 

A good steak will cost upwards of $10.00 per pound.  So a one-half-pound steak will cost you five bucks. Now go to the produce department and pick out your absolute favorite vegetable and see what the price would be for one-half pound of that veggie. I bet that the cost will be half as much and maybe even a quarter as much.  

If you live close to greenhouses you may be able to save money by buying direct.   Sometimes you can find a retailer as I have in my area that carries the best fruit and vegetables and they supply local hotels. You may not save money by going here but you’ll get large fresh fruits and vegetables. If you have a supermarket like this close to you you’ll find them immensely different from going to other grocery stores in the area. 

Look for foods that are in season

One of the keys to shopping well on a plant-based diet is buying food that is in season and buying a variety of root vegetables as well.  As an example check the price of fresh corn on the cob when not in season.  You could probably buy 5 pounds of carrots or sweet potatoes for the same money.  

Don’t be afraid of fruit

Your meals do not need to consist entirely of vegetables.  If you are having a salad or a veggie plate, you can add some fruit.  Grapes or cantaloupe are often good ways to get some extra flavor.  Fruits can play havoc with blood glucose levels but a few grapes, a few cubes of cantaloupe, or a few apple slices mixed in with your veggies will brighten up your dish and not raise your blood sugar to any great degree.  If you have diabetes you need to know your tolerances and live within them.  

Take your vitamins

Iron and B12 are often cited as problems for vegan diets and vegetarian diets.  If you are a vegetarian adding a boiled egg can help you get B12.  Shitake and cremini mushrooms are also excellent sources of B12.   

You won’t notice a B12 deficiency right away.  B12 is stored in your body and is slowly released over a period of months.  Going a day or a week without adequate B12 should not be an issue for most people.  It is important however to keep these levels high enough to prevent cognitive decline or anemia.  Your doctor may recommend B12 injections.

There are many fortified foods that boost the levels of B12 and three that come to mind are fortified nut milk, breakfast cereal, and nutritional yeast.  

Iron is contained in many legumes, nuts (like cashews), and seeds (like quinoa) You can also get iron from a variety of dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.  

If you doubt you are getting enough vitamins in your diet you can take a vitamin supplement.  Be sure to get a supplement with B12 as this is the only real drawback to vegetarian and vegan diets.  

Understand your protein needs

Protein should not be hard for a vegan or vegetarian. Protein is contained in many nuts and seeds. Most people need about 55 g of protein per day and this should be easy to get from a plant-based diet.

Protein can come from a number of sources. Beans and other legumes are often great sources of protein for people on a plant-based diet. Quinoa is another great source of protein and even your vegetables have a degree of protein. If you think you are not getting enough protein in your diet you can supplement it with a protein powder. There are many vegan protein powders that contain no animal-based products if this is what you prefer.

Short term or long term?

One factor that we didn’t talk about so far is do you want to diet for short time or in the longer term. 

People who are dieting often use a short-term plant-based diet to lose some weight. A plant-based diet is ideal for weight loss. If you were trying to lose weight with a plant-based diet you should avoid starchy foods such as flour and high volumes of processed seeds and grains.

Losing weight on a plant-based diet should be easy. If you feel that you are not losing weight at the speed you wish consider keeping a diary of your food and also keeping records of your weight and measurements. While many diet experts say we should only weigh ourselves once a week I believe to stay focused on a diet you should be yourself daily. The scale might not change dramatically but the idea is to remind yourself that you are watching your diet and trying to lose weight.

Make sure you eat enough food

One of the problems that people have with a plant-based diet is that they feel hungry all of the time. This may be caused by a lack of food in their diet or by not eating regularly. If you were eating like an omnivore you would probably be having extra coffee snacks in the morning and afternoon and maybe the evening. People following a plant-based diet also need snacks and occasionally evening treats. 

If you replace your food calorie for calorie you would find that you would be eating more food on a plant-based diet. Just maybe you need that extra slice of whole-grain toast in the morning and a large salad at lunchtime instead of a small one. Maybe have two servings of vegetables on your dinner plate rather than one.

You can include low-calorie snacks such as tomato slices, chickpeas, hummus, salsa, and more.

Keep your kitchen stocked adequately

Keep your kitchen well stocked with plant-based foods and seasonings

One thing you’ll notice when trying new recipes is how diverse the ingredients and spices are from culture to culture. As an example, a Thai culture will use a lot of coconut and curry while  Italian culture will not.  

Keeping your kitchen stocked with everything is next to Impossible. I recommend sticking with one or two cultural flavor profiles and making sure you have the ingredients for those sorts of recipes.

If you are too diverse in your recipes, you will find that you will have a lot of waste.  You will have a refrigerator full of half-empty jars of seasoning pastes.

My advice is to find cultural profiles you enjoy that are not too difficult to find in your local grocery store.

Enjoy your normal foods and start swapping vegetarian alternatives

As you start your journey of plant-based foods you’re about to crawl before you can walk. Maybe one day a week you swap out meat for a vegan or vegetarian option. Maybe you swap out regular milk for soy milk, almond milk, or cashew milk. experiment and find one product you like and then try to stick to it. if you like cow’s milk in your coffee then go ahead. maybe eventually you’ll enjoy the taste of nut milk more than the dairy alternative.

Prepare your foods ahead of time

One of the reasons that people fall off of a plant-based diet or any diet for that matter is the lack of foods that are ready to eat when you just don’t want to cook. In our household when we make a vegetarian lasagna we generally make two of them, one to freeze for the following week.  Curry dishes, where a sauce is used are easy to bag and freeze.   

I’ve seen bloggers on YouTube (six sisters) who use their food processor, a slow cooker, and an Instapot to prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them in large freezer bags.  It’s a lot easier to make more than one meal at a time and maybe even take half of a Sunday and prepare a number of meals for the entire week.  

Find groups on social media that share your lifestyle

Find your tribe and share experiences and tips that we all have on dealing with plant-based diets,  It could be recipes, dealing with people who are negative about your choices or new products. There are a number of plant-based forums on Facebook and other social media platforms. 

Find a few recipes that you will enjoy

There is nothing wrong with finding around a dozen different recipes that are tasty and cover your nutritional needs. You don’t need to come up with hundreds of recipes when starting a plant-based diet. Simplicity is the best and easiest. There’s nothing wrong with a pasta night here and there as well. The goal here is to maintain your plant-based diet and you do that by maintaining an easy to replenish kitchen stock.

Experiment with smoothies as a meal replacement

Smoothies are a great way to replace a meal from time to time and are easy to make. Green smoothies are made from vegetables and are packed with loads of vitamins and minerals.

Smoothies can also have a pleasant flavor without being sweet. Try a basil leaf in one and a sprig of rosemary in something different.  Maybe curry is your choice of seasoning.  

Be on the lookout for refined carbs

Refined carbohydrates include white flour, cornstarch, sugar, many doughs, white bread, pasta, pastries, sweet desserts, and many kinds of breakfast cereal.  These carbs have had the nutritious parts stripped from their grain (like bran and fiber) and all that is left is the filler.  

Better choices are unrefined grains, naturally ripened fruit, vegetables, and nuts.  You can purchase whole wheat pasta to replace plain pasta and true whole grain bread.  This will slow down the absorption process and make you feel fuller, for longer periods of time.

If you still need to eat meat think of it as a side dish rather than the main portion of the meal.

Are you having chicken tonight? Why not try a 2-ounce chicken instead of a 6-oz piece of chicken and substitute vegetables with the other 4 oz of chicken that you gave up?

Four ounces of a green vegetable will give you way more food than 4 oz of chicken. A 2 or 3 oz portion of chicken will still give you enough protein for that meal. 

If you’re having a stir fry and you want to add meat to it, think about adding smaller pieces and less of them. You will still get all the flavor from the meat without the calories or saturated fat.

If you’re a diabetic take your blood glucose readings regularly and pay attention to how your diet affects your glucose readings

When going to a plant-based diet that has less refined carbs and Less or no meat you can count on your blood glucose readings changing.  You may even feel a bit lightheaded at times on a plant-based diet if you have issues with diabetes. If you ask your doctor to change your medication because you know you will stick to this diet then it’s important to have data to help the doctor make the decision. Therefore you should be taking your blood sugar at several intervals every day.   The doctor may ask you to have blood work done as well to see the A1C number.  

So, if you do not have drug plan coverage a plant-based diet may assist you in lowering the cost of your medications.

In Closing

Whatever your reason is for taking on a plant-based diet you will find that there are many health benefits including less inflammation, a better complexion, weight loss, and other health benefits.

There’s a good chance that you reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke as well.

There’s nothing stopping you from getting started. Remember that you can get started in small steps you don’t have to take the giant leap at once. Find a Facebook group to help you along the way.  Change in this case is good and you’ll never look back.