Plant-based eating is becoming more and more popular every day as more people realise the health, environmental and ethical benefits of reducing their intake of animal products.
Before we made the switch away from meat, I considered myself something of a meatatarian, so I have some empathy for the reluctance you might feel before taking this kind of leap. The first piece of advice I want to give you is that it’s easier than you think. We often build diet changes into far bigger an ordeal than they need to be.
In saying that, removing animal products from your diet may seem like a daunting step, so here are my top tips for transitioning to a plant-based life.
Tip 1. Try cutting meat out first.
When you are considering switching to a plant-based diet, the idea of removing all animal products from your life can seem like a million miles from where you are right now. For most people, switching their entire diet takes time. It’s ok if you ease into it by first removing meat, then if that goes well, you can try removing cows-milk based butter, yoghurt, and other dairy products and replace them with coconut-based alternatives.
Extra tip: Many people find it easier to keep eating eggs while they are making the transition.
Forgive yourself if it doesn’t go to plan, you don’t have to be perfect. Be sure to keep reminding yourself why you are doing this though. Every meal is a new opportunity to make a choice that will benefit your health and the rest of the world in many wonderful ways.
Tip 2. Keep cooking the same meals but make them plant-based.
Another mistake people make transitioning to a plant-based diet is thinking they need to re-invent their entire meal repertoire. This is going to make your transition far harder than it should be. The fact of the matter is, there aren’t many meals that you can’t make a tasty plant-based version of.
Is shepherd’s pie a regular for your family? Easy. Simply swap mince for canned lentils and you are good to go.
Making a curry? Simply swap the meat for more veggies (potatoes, kumara, cauliflower) or tofu and swap any dairy for coconut milk or coconut cream.
Taco Tuesday? Too easy! Just pick up some Sunfed “chicken-free chicken” from any major supermarket and you are set.
Loves scrambled eggs on a lazy Saturday morning? You need to try this scrambled tofu recipe.
If you have kids in your life, it’s probably best to keep cooking meals and flavours that they like and are used to (while replacing the meat with plant-based alternatives). This will help with uptake and buy-in from the rest of the family.
Tip 3. Make sure you eat enough.
The mistake I made trying plant-based meals when I was much younger was that I didn’t eat enough and would walk away feeling unsatisfied.
This is going to sound weird, but when you eat healthy, plant-based meals you really don’t need to worry about portion control. Make a substantial amount of food at every meal. More than what you would normally cook. Eat till you feel full. Due to the clean nature of the food, your body will simply use what it needs and efficiently process the rest.
Tip 4. Cook with good fats and make vegetables the champion of your meal.
Most people treat vegetables as a necessary add-on when they cook. Simply boiling them or steaming them and plating them up to ‘tick that box’. My advice is to focus on adding flavour and healthy fats to your vegetables to step up the taste.
Nearly every vegetable we eat is either roasted or fried in a healthy oil (like coconut oil, olive oil, rapeseed oil) and we add flavouring using some combination of paprika, garlic powder, oregano, salt + pepper and nutritional yeast.
Wait… What is nutritional yeast? You are going to want this. It adds a savoury, cheesy flavour to meals or vegetables and is a staple in our kitchen (available at commonsense organics and other health food stores).
Tip 5. Spend some of the money you’ll save on meat buying avocados.
Don’t worry about how expensive they are. This is your satiating treat when you don’t eat meat. And overall you will still be saving money, so get stuck on and make sure you never run out of avocados.
Tip 6. You don’t have to like soy milk or tofu for this to work.
One common misconception is that your diet will be full of soy once you go plant-based. We eat a soy-based product once or twice a fortnight at most. And that’s not because we don’t like it (we looooove tofu), it’s just that there are so many choices when it comes to putting meals together.
For coffees, I always choose coconut milk where possible or almond milk at worst as I’m not a massive fan of soy milk.
If you haven’t cooked tofu before, try this: Chop it into small cubes or squares and sprinkle it with curry powder and salt before frying it in some coconut oil. You can then put it on pizza’s, into curries, or just eat it straight. Our toddler loves these simple little bites.
Tip 7. Avoid using labels.
If you tell anyone you are trialling a vegan diet, the questions will start pouring in straight away:
- Do you still eat eggs? Do you still eat honey? Are you going to throw out your leather shoes?
It’s best to avoid this altogether because early on it can get tiring having to take a position on all these choices. It’s easier just to tell people something like
“We are trialling a plant-based diet right now, which simply means we are avoiding meat and dairy as much as possible to see how it works for us…”
Healthy benefits I personally experienced following the switch away from animal products
- Got rid of eczema. I used to suffer terribly from Eczema. I went to sleep wearing gloves to stop my subconscious body from scratching itself until I bled. Since I stopped consuming dairy, my Eczema has gone away entirely.
- Clearer head. I don’t suffer from brain fog throughout the day after heating a heavy meal.
- Drastically improved digestion. My body now functions like clockwork. I go to the bathroom at the same time, every day, with incredible consistency, no matter what I eat the night before.
- Increased libido. I can only say I wish I had known this was a benefit before going plant-based. I would have made the switch years ago.
- More consistent energy and faster recovery. While I am not the fittest person in the world, whatever physical activity you suggest, I am up for it. I can also operate at a high level with either a hangover, or very little sleep, or both. If you like burning the candle at both ends like I do, then eating plant-based will help you keep up the fight.
What supplements do I take?
Magnesium / B12 and a vegan multi-vitamin.
I have no real reason for taking the multi-vitamin, it just feels like good insurance. The magnesium is to help me sleep and the B12 is generally recommended if you eat a plant-based diet.
One point on B12 supplements – the amount of actual B12 in each capsule can vary dramatically so look for something with a bit of bang for your buck. This one is 1,000 mcg and can be bought at most chemists or online from somewhere like iherb.
My favourite plant-based recipes
Pumpkin curry risotto. I sub the pumpkin for Kumara and don’t worry about making it puree. Just roast the kumara and chuck it in at the end.
Extra tips / resources:
Follow my wife, Annah on instagram where she shares toddler-friendly plant-based recipes.
Check out ‘How not to die’
Forks over knives: Beginners guide to a plant-based diet
I hope you enjoy trialling more plant-based meals. I also hope you see real benefits in your life like we have!