6 Tips for a Plant-Based Transition

6 Tips for a Plant-Based Transition

A world-renowned integrative medicine doctor, a climate scientist and an animal rights activist sit down at a restaurant.   The waiter asks, “What’ll it be? ”   They all answer, “Anything without animal products. ”   The waiter answers, “Well, we have a lovely side salad that we can dress with oil and vinegar for you. ”   This is not a joke, but rather a predicament that many plant-based eaters often find themselves in.

If you ask the leading doctors and nutritionists in the integrative medicine community, they will agree that plant-based eating is the way of the future.   Using high-quality, plant-based food as fuel is a surefire way to stay well, according to science.   Nutritional researchers agree that getting a hefty variety of plant-based foods into your body daily will help you to maintain a healthy body weight, improve your energy levels and reduce your disease risk.    At the same time, eating more plant-based foods can reduce your personal contribution to factory farming practices, which are harmful to both animals and the environment.     Whatever your motivation may be for incorporating more plant foods into your life, all signs point to yes in the debate on whether or not to go plant-based.

But here’s the tricky part, most restaurant menus and grocery stores aren’t enticing you with mostly high-quality, affordable plant-based items.   When you dine out, animal products are often the shining stars on the menu, meanwhile, conventional grocery stores are packed with and animal-based products.     Our food system makes it challenging to eat whole foods.    In addition to that, many of us spent the vast majority of our lives eating and loving both meat and dairy, myself included, so making the switch to plant-based living can feel like an uphill battle.

I grew up as a meat eater and a dairy consumer.   I would drink milk with breakfast, a turkey or ham sandwich in my school lunches, and a piece of meat with dinner.     I believed that I needed these servings of meat and dairy each day in order to fulfill my daily protein needs.   I guess I can thank the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner ” campaign or milk mustaches on supermodels in 90’s magazines for that.   In the first half of my life, I would say that I averaged 14 servings of meat per week.

As I began studying nutritional science, I learned that meat and dairy were not as helpful to my health as I had once believed, especially in the amounts that I was consuming.   So, I began scaling back my meat consumption over time.   When I became a yogi and discovered the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and the concept of Ahimsa, or non-violence, really hit home for me.   I began seeing how all beings are connected and when one of us suffers, the collective suffers.   Throw in a few eye-opening documentaries about animal cruelty, the health dangers of animal products and the impact of meat and dairy farming on our environment, and I knew it was time to shift to a primarily plant-based diet.     For me, the road has been slow and long, but now years later, I consume just 1-2 small servings of meat or dairy each week and that is what is working for me.

As a health coach, I work with clients who need support to transition to a diet rich in plant-foods.   Many are recovering meat and dairy lovers like myself.   Here are 6 tips that I recommend when transitioning to a plant-based life:

1.                      Smaller Portions of High-Quality Meat

It is much easier to make lasting changes to your habits and lifestyle when you do it slowly, rather than “cold-turkey ” (pun intended).   If you are eating meat most days of the week, start with making the portions smaller, then in time, progress to going meatless a few days in the week.

2.                      Non- Dairy Milk

Today you can find a wide assortment of non-dairy milk on the shelves of most grocery stores.   What started with just soy milk, as the primary non-dairy option a few years ago has now expanded to almond, coconut, cashew, hemp, rice,  oat, flax and more.   Each of these offers unique nutritional benefits.   Find the one in which you enjoy the taste, choose the brand with the least amount of preservatives and sub out dairy in your coffee, breakfast cereal, and smoothies.   These  milks  have gained popularity and are now more available because Americans are beginning to ditch dairy when they realize how much better they feel without it.

3.                      Meat & Cheese Substitutes

Begin exploring the meat and cheese substitute products in the cold case at the grocery store.   The variety and availability of these types of products  is  increasing consistently, as the market demand for them increases.     Some come with a higher price tag, but they are often still less expensive than meat.   Try a new one each week to find out which tastes and textures you enjoy.

4.                      Protein Powders

If you are fearful that you will suffer from a protein deficiency when going “sans-meat ” you are not alone.   The most common question that vegetarians and vegans get from meat eaters is “Where do you get your protein from? ”   Plants, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds all have protein, so you will likely hit your recommended 46 grams per day for women, or 56 grams per day for men by simply eating a whole food, plant-based diet.   But, if you still want more assurance, stock up on a high- quality protein powder, blend it with a non-dairy milk, a few cubes of ice or frozen banana and you’ve got a healthy milkshake to drink!

5.                      Beans

The texture of beans and the high protein content that they hold can make them an excellent substitute for meat.   Whether you make a bean burger, eat some hummus or sprinkle beans in your salad, they will help to fill you up.   Unlike meat, beans are packed with fiber, which helps to regulate your blood sugar, improves digestion and promotes a healthy body weight.   In order to minimize gas associated with eating beans, soak them before cooking them and eat them in smaller quantities to start to allow your gut microbiome to adjust to digesting them.

6.                      Grains, Nuts & Seeds

Eating tough whole grains, like brown rice, oats, amaranth, millet or barley can give you something dense to chew on and fill you up, while nuts and seeds can provide some crunch in your diet.     When you eat proper portions of these foods, you will feel nourished and energized.

When changing your diet go slow, give yourself and your body time to adjust.   As you fuel your body with more plant-based foods, it will crave more plant-based foods.     If possible, get support from a health coach or a plant-loving friend to make your journey into a plant powered life more enjoyable and sustainable.