So many people have asked me to help them get started lately, that I thought I would put out a little guidance all in one spot. Starting a plant based diet can be daunting. Especially if you have just perfected all of your meat based dishes and are in a routine of making them, as I was when I decided to make the switch. Everyone was happy and not complaining and I upended all of that with turning the last page of The China Study, and the subsequent afternoon family viewing of Forks over Knives. I told them I am done eating animals and anything made from them, and there will be a whole lot less of that going on in our house. Fired up after seeing the movie, they all said O.K. I am pretty sure that they thought it was a phase, but 2 years later I know that they have realized it is not.
Upon deciding to go plant based, or dabble in it, you have to adopt a new mindset when you enter the kitchen, and go out to eat (which gets reeeaaallly hard after you have been cooking your own dishes for a while.You start tasting all of the fat in everything when you go out, and it gets tough to find a good meal that tastes healthy and delicious!!) You have to find new go to's. I think it is important to plan since it will all be new to you. Breakfast and lunch seem to be the easiest for people. Granola with vegan yogurt, vegan pancakes, cereals, oatmeal, quinoa porridge or my family's favorites, smoothies. All no brainers. For lunch, tempeh/veggie sandwiches, robust salads, and bowls of quinoa and roasted veggies, or brown rice with greens, beans and a savory sauce are delish and easy. Whole food plant based dinners are usually unchartered and scary territory. I have to mention a course that I just discovered Forks over Knives is offering. It is a 90 day online plant based cooking course and if you are not used to cooking at all, or cooking this way, I think it would be amazing. Here is the link in case you are interested! It is $299 which is a great price compared to the others I have seen out there.
A very important thing that you must keep telling yourself is that you NEED ONLY 10-12% of your daily calories from protein. We are so over proteinated (my own word... don't look it up). We are too used to having 20-30 percent of our calories from protein (usually in the form of animal protein) and hurting our bodies and environment in the process. Know that most vegetables and fruits are comprised of 10% protein. If you eat lots of them, grains, beans, legumes, and some nuts and seeds you will be good. Trust me, you will feel even more than good.
If you already cook, jump in and try some new recipes. Remember that whole food plant based recipes are low in oil. The are some vegan recipes out there that load the oil in. Get your fats from whole food sources like nuts, seeds and avocados. If you are searching recipes online google "vegan, no oil or vegan low oil recipes"
Here are some of my favorite websites for plant based recipes:
Forks over Knives - Lots of great recipes and they are not super complicated. They also have an app you can buy that is fantastic.
Plant Based Cooking - Lots of great recipes that are fairly simple and follow the whole food plant based diet.
Oh She Glows - Lots of creative recipes, but some are more time consuming. Not all low oil but very creative and delish.
Thug Kitchen - Don't pull this one out with the kids in eyeshot. You'll see why... although it did get my teen try a couple of new things with it's offbeat delivery. It's not all whole foods but is all vegan and has very tasty recipes.
Again, just google Fat Free or Low fat vegan recipes and you will be inundated with recipes and decisions...
In my opinion, there are a few ways to start.
1. Cold turkey or shall we say, Cold Tofu. Just dive in. Get rid of all the meat based products in your kitchen and replace them with the staples listed in the next section. If you need to , tell yourself that you are going to go for it for a month. I guarantee you feel so good, and look so good, you never go back.
2. Ease into it. Pick 2 meals a day to lose the animal protein in, and stick with it for a couple of weeks. Then go a few days a week with no animal protein at all , and continue the transition until you are on just plants. Set a goal... 3 months perhaps, and be fully converted by then.
3. Eliminate all but a few animal products for a few weeks, then slowly start to eliminate those too. A lot of people find cheese hard to give up so they eliminate meat, chicken, pork etc. first, then dairy. Don't expect to see a lot of weight loss if you don't give up cheese and are using it to fill in the holes of the meat you are not eating though.
I went the first way, just gave it all up. JD did much better the 2nd way, in that I did vegan meals for breakfast and dinner and he was on his own for lunch. He eventually switched his lunch over too.
Whatever way you choose, look at it as an adventure in eating. Think of what you are gaining... not what you are losing (trust me, steak and cheese feel like big losses at first, but not for too long.) Not only are you gaining a healthier heart, as well as a much decreased stroke, diabetes, and also less of a cancer risk of many common forms of cancer, you will just feel better. The environment will thank you, as will the animals you didn't eat. Pay attention to how you feel after a couple of weeks. Are you less tired, less bloated, more clear minded, sleeping better, and thinner? I had been hitting a wall every afternoon around 3pm and that completely went away when I changed my diet. I had also been holding onto some weight for a year and couldn't shake it. It came right off.
Committ, and do it. Pick a time frame, but make it at least 2 weeks. Or go cold tofu and just DO IT!!!!
Below are some of the things that I have learned and implemented these past couple of years and a shopping list.
Variety is the spice of life!!! 1. Vary the colors of the fruits and veggies that you are eating. You will get a well rounded shot of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. 2. Try some different grains. Spelt, kamut, quinoa, millet, barley amaranth all have different textures and tastes, and nutrients and will help you to have different choices and never get bored. 3. Beans come in so many different varieties!!! I never knew until I started eating plant based. They are so easy to make and taste so good when you make them yourself. Soak overnight so cooking time is reduced. Also, don't go full on with the beans at first. They reason is obvious. Beans, beans, good for your heart.... you know the rest. I eat so many beans and have no issues, but I have heard from some friends who dove right in that they were sleeping in separate bedrooms the first week or so. 4. There are so many different seeds and nuts out there!! Try them all!!! Go easy on 'em as they are very caloric and high in fat. Do enjoy in moderation as an accent to a salad or a dish. 5. Spices, seasonings, and sauces are big in the plant based cooking world. They add flavor and excitement to the dishes. Experiment with lemon, and tahini and rice wine vinegar and bragg aminos. So many yummy flavors out there. I am still working on my sauces. Not my forte, but I am getting there!! 6. Yes, there are so many fake meats, but try and stick with whole foods. Don't fall into the processed fake meat rut. Use that as a "treat". I stay away from isolated soy protein. You can safely have 3-5 servings a day of soy. Stick with organic sprouted if possible. Tempeh is another great option and way less processed. 7. If you are missing milk and dairy, experiment with making your own nutmilks. Homemade almond milk is so easy to make and sooooo good. Brazil nut milk is a close second for me, 8. Experiment with vegan Mexican, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai. There are so many different flavors to try. Do a different region a couple of nights a week.
Whole Food Plan Based Staples
This is just a list of the basics!!! You can get as fancy as you want, but I always have these on hand!
Fruit and veggies
organic in season fruit - at least 6 types at all times. Right now it's summer so I have peaches, pluots, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, mango, apples, and cantaloupe. I have to shop 3 times a week for these because my family mows through them.
lemons, and limes
organic frozen fruit for smoothies
greens i.e. kale, collards, chard
peppers... green, red, yellow
romaine lettuce and whatever other lettuce you like. I like romaine because it is filling
tomatoes... all different types
potatoes (all types including sweet and yams)
starchy veggies for roasting like delicata squash, butternut squash
sprouted grain bread, or if you need to be gluten free, like I do, gluten free
brown rice wraps or whole wheat wrap
brown or wild rice
spelt and/or kamut
whole grain, or brown rice pasta
cereals with low sugar whole grains/high fiber
beans for soaking - do a variety so you don't get bored!
canned beans on case you need em in a pinch. I buy Eden or Westbrae organic because they are good, come salt free, and I know they are BPA free
almonds, walnuts, cashews (all raw)
flax, pumpkin, and chia seeds
unsweetened almond milk for when I don't have time to make my own
canned light coconut milk (you can buy in refrig section too. I don't use it much so I buy canned so I have it when I need it... mostly for curries)
jar of crushed tomatoes
tomato sauce (go low oil and low sugar)
jar of roasted red peppers (in water not oil)
coffee and tea
Higher protein Veggie Sources
tempeh - I like Trader Joe's organic
organic sprouted tofu - Trader Joe's has a good type as well. They have a couple of prepared ones in fiesta and savory flavors that are really good too!!!
***** The next few lie in the "kinda processed" category, but I need them in my life for when I need a quickie;)
Beyond Meat " fiesta beef" and "beefy crumbles". I don't use their "chicken" subs because they are made with isolated soy and I stay away from that.
Veggie dogs (put enough sauerkraut or relish on em and they are good. It helps to grill em too. I usually boil en then throw on a grill pan)
Condiments I like to have on hand:
nutritional yeast - Has a nutty cheesy creamy flavor and is used in recipes especially in cheese substitutes. High in some B vitamins. Decent amount of protein per tablespoon
bragg amino acids - They taste like soy sauce but are gluten free and have a decent protein content
red wine vinegar
rice wine vinegar
spray coconut oil
spray canola oil
soy coffee creamer
lots of dried and fresh herbs
olive oil - used sparingly and not too frequently
Vitamix! - my ultimate favorite and most used appliance. Have had it 14 years and it still works perfectly!!
rice cooker (for rice and quinoa and beans)
nut milk bag
scan pans all sizes (are GREAT for low oil cooking). The safest non stick I could find...