10 Jan What You Need to Know Before Starting A Plant-Based Diet
Rail thin, pale and a little grumpy, Dean was my first introduction to veganism. We lived together as college sophomores in 1995, in a communal living space called the Environmental House at Tufts University. As empty pizza boxes, sub wraps and chicken wing bones piled up in my room, Dean subsisted on lettuce, carrots and the occasional piece of tofu. I could not fathom how he managed to survive on his diet. Thankfully, twenty years later my diet is more similar to Dean’s than to my college diet.
These days, most of us have a friend, relative or favorite superstar who has embraced the new veganism, plant-based eating. That is a good thing. Eating multiple servings of vegetables and fruits each day can help manage and prevent many chronic diseases. Moreover, consuming less meat adds an additional health benefit and may benefit the environment. My diet has shifted significantly away from meat over the last few years, and I feel better for it. It appears to be the right diet for me.
If you have never heard of a plant-based diet, it’s a diet that focuses on plants (obviously)—meaning fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. A person trying to adhere to this diet will limit refined sugars, animal products, white flours and oils that are highly processed (though exactly what that means is debatable).
If you are thinking of embracing plant based eating, you should know a few things. Going in with realistic expectations will help you make this a sustainable, lifelong change.
You will need a B12 supplement. B12 is available mainly in animal products, so once you cut those foods out of your diet, you have to ensure that you are getting enough B12. Without adequate B12, you can develop neurologic symptoms and anemia.
If you are active and busy, switching to a plant-based diet will require you to work harder and think longer than you did on an omnivorous or pescatarian regimen. Anytime you remove a group of foods from your eating routine, keeping a varied and delicious diet takes more work.
TIP: Buy a cookbook. Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov has some incredible vegetable dishes and taught me a lot about preparing fresh salads. He also has a recipe for the world’s best hummus.
Get ready to chop! Making vegetables the staple of your diet requires you to chop and peel, chop and peel, chop and peel, and clean. This can be time consuming.
TIP: Pick a two-hour period once a week and chop as many vegetables as you can. Store them in Tupperware in your refrigerator. Also, buy one or two containers of already chopped vegetables (because none of us are perfect) and keep a stock of frozen vegetables in the freezer.
Vegetables and plant-based proteins often require a little more work to make them taste good. You may notice an extra step here and there in your recipes such as a slower sauté, some added seasoning, an additional pot, etc.
TIP: Experiment with meat substitutes such as the No Evil Foods or Beyond Meat. Be aware that most of the protein substitutes are highly processed and high sodium. Make sure they fit into your other dietary requirements.
Your diet will be more limited, and your kids may not like it. If you have children, be prepared to make two meals every night.
TIP: Roast a large chicken on Sunday. Use this chicken throughout the week on days when your children balk at your plant based dishes. Chop it up and add it to a salad, shred the breast and make a quick quesadilla, strip the meat and mix with is some beans or reheat it and eat simply.
As you try to choose the best options at a restaurant, eating out will become less fun and more of a chore. I discussed this in a couple of my blog posts – you can read it here! Although this is starting to change in my hometown, Greenville, SC, I don’t expect it to ever disappear.
TIP: Create a plant based eating group in your town and approach your favorite restaurant by asking them to create a few dishes for you and your friends to enjoy.
The temptation to default to easier and less healthy vegan meals, like large servings of pasta or French fries, may overwhelm you on busy days or if you feel unsatisfied after finishing your plant based meal.
TIP: Buy a rotisserie chicken and keep it in the refrigerator to help you with the transition. Dig into it when you are still hungry after a meal. Also keep some low sugar plant-based yogurts or Greek yogurts for these times.
Get ready to give up your favorite braised and grilled meat recipes.
TIP: I find that I still occasionally braise a brisket because I enjoy the cooking process so much. Find a meat loving friend or relative and let them reap the spoils from these “meat withdraw” cooking adventures.
Your grill will lose some of its excitement. Grilling vegetables or tofu often pales in comparison to the slow anticipation of a smoked pork shoulder or the precise searing of a rib eye steak over roaring coals.
TIP: Learn to create some complex grilled vegetable recipes such as this one from my recent visit to my favorite restaurant in Greenville, SC, The Anchorage.
Lastly, ease into plants. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to go all plant-based at once. Start with a #MeatlessMonday and let it spread naturally into your dietary patterns. Let your taste buds and cooking habits change over time.
Check out my plant-based YouTube playlist for some additional inspiration.