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More and more of our readers have been asking us what eating a plant-based diet entails. While we try our best not to be militant when talking about our food choices, we love it when people express an interest in moving away from meat, eggs and dairy. So, it gives us a ridiculous amount of pleasure to present: Eating a Plant-Based Diet for Beginners (and Curious Omnivores). Enjoy!
How to Make the Switch
Okay, I’ve rambled on ad nauseam about what a plant-based diet is, what it isn’t and why it’s important to think about making the switch. Now it’s time to look at some practical steps to make the jump from the SAD side of the fence to the happy healthy side.
In this case, the grass really is greener on the other side. I’m just sayin’.
I guess how you make the transition from omnivore to
barefoot hippie plant-based hero depends on your personality. Some people do better by going all in from the get-go. They make the decision, set a date by when they’ll do it, and then from that point on they’re vegan.
Others, like Sporty and I, need to get into the water one toe at a time. For whatever reason the ‘all or nothing’ method just seems like too big of a concept to comprehend in one sitting. If you’re like us, then you could try this approach instead.
Ditch the Meat
I really can’t remember how we went about it, but I’m pretty sure there was no real plan involved. So let’s approach this on a month to month basis. I was listening to a podcast with self-improvement guru, Jack Canfield, the other morning and he’s a huge proponent of the 30-day approach (apparently that’s how long it takes to break old habits and build new ones).
With that in mind, we’ll start by ditching red meat and move on from there. Using this approach, you’ll be meat-free (including fish and seafood) in four months. I’m going to assume you don’t eat venison, but if you do it should be lumped into month #1.
Here’s how it will look:
• Month #1 – no red meat
• Month #2 – no pork
• Month #3 – no chicken
• Month #4 – no fish or seafood
Simple, right? 😉
Ditch the Eggs
During month #5 you’ll stop eating eggs (i.e. fried, scrambled, omelettes, etc.) and then in month #6 you’ll extend that to include anything that’s made with eggs. Here’s where it starts getting tricky, because now you need to be vigilant about reading labels. A neat little trick we learnt is to skip straight to the allergens. That’s where they list things like eggs, cow’s milk, gluten, shellfish, etc.
A lot of things are obvious. For example, pretty much anything baked (e.g. muffins, cakes, croissants, cookies, etc.) will be made with eggs. Interestingly, bread is the one thing that’s usually not made with any animal products. That said, don’t just make a blanket assumption about bread, because some varieties are made with eggs and some also contain other animal products like buttermilk and/or honey.
Ditch the Dairy
In month #6 you’ll bid farewell to all things dairy. If you’re really struggling (apparently cheese is addictive) you could draw the dairy phase out over two months. Here’s a list of some of the more obvious dairy products, but there are plenty of others that you may not be aware of.
• Cream cheese
• Whey Protein
Ditching Everything Else
In the final stages of your
defection from the dark side transition to a healthier lifestyle, you can get rid of the itty-bitty not so obvious stuff, like gelatine, honey and so on. It’s a learning curve —and a pretty steep one at that— so don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake.
Sporty and I are five years in and we still make rookie mistakes, like not double-checking the ingredients of something when we’re at the market, for example. Only once we’ve stuffed the muffin (or, whatever) into our mouth will we remember that we didn’t ask if it contained honey. Doh!
So, like I said, don’t flagellate yourself when you mess up. Just get back up, dust yourself off and chalk it up to a lesson learnt.
What Do I Eat Now I’ve Ditched Everything?
Eating a plant-based diet can be as easy or as complex as your desires and kitchen capabilities. I enjoy hanging out in the kitchen (it’s my happy place), but for the most part Sporty and I eat relatively simply.
What your typical day will look like once you’ve made the switch will depend on your likes and dislikes, your budget, your time constraints and your willingness to experiment and try new things.
Pro Tip: You’re going to have a lot more fun if you’re open to new ideas, as opposed to just sticking with what you know.
It also about expanding your skill-set. You might have a few disasters in the process, but eventually you’ll be producing some really delicious and innovative meals. It’s also a lot harder to mess up when your ingredients are all plant-based.
There many schools of thought out there, but Sporty and I are old school. We believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your body has had nothing to eat since dinner and so it’s in the perfect position to take on nutrients.
Sporty generally has a smoothie bowl, which is made up of 1-2 frozen bananas, 2 cups of spinach, 1 tbs hemp powder, 1 tbs flax seed powder, some coconut oil or a sliver of avocado (and these don’t make it in every day – mostly after a longer work out) and finally, a pinch of vanilla or cinnamon for flavour.
She blends everything with half a cup of water and then dumps it in a bowl. Her favourite topping by far is goji berries, although coconut flakes or fresh berries will also suffice. *sigh*
I find drinking breakfast to be way more appealing. I also like to mix things up, so I’ll either have half a cup of oats, half a cup of berries (when they’re in season), a frozen banana and 1 tbs hemp powder or I’ll swap out the oats for spinach if I feel like I need more greens. Both options are blended with a cup of water.
Pro Tip: Adding 1-2 frozen bananas to a smoothie will make it super creamy and sweeter than unfrozen ones! You definitely don’t need milk.
We almost always make our own lunch, because finding plant-based meal options that are healthy and don’t cost a fortune can be tricky. Plus, we like to know what goes into our food. And that includes the energy with which it was made. Hippie much?
Our lunch meals are mostly identical, because we take turns doing food prep in the evenings. They usually consist of a carb (e.g. bulgur wheat, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato), beans of some kind and either cooked veg or salad, depending on what we feel like and what time of year it is.
We’ll make a batch of grains and a dressing or two on the weekend to make food prep easier during the week. In our opinion dressings are the key to a plant-based diet. They’re easy to make and can turn even the most blah bowl of steamed vegetables into something delicious.
Pro Tip: Always make sure you have nutritional yeast flakes and at least one tasty sauce/dressing in the house. If they’re in season, an avo (or six) won’t go amiss either.
Our evening meal is usually our simplest one. We prefer not to eat anything too heavy at night, so we’ll avoid eating carbs. However, when we do manage to get our hands on a couple of tempeh rounds (which have to be eaten on Helena’s essene bread) or a package of corn tortillas, we’re certainly not averse to bending the rules.
On a regular evening we’ll eat vegetables in whatever form appeals to us e.g. stir fry, salad, steamed, etc. We’re all about ease of preparation on work nights, so supper is often a pretty boring affair. It makes us happy though, and ultimately, that’s what matters.
Our snacking habits vary depending on how militant we’re being about our diet. When we’re in ‘watching the weight’ mode we’ll stick to fruit and raw nuts and when we’re in ‘don’t give crap’ mode we’ll opt for toast with peanut butter.
Sporty will sometimes have hummus and crudités as well. Some people enjoy hummus and crudités as a snack, but we don’t really see the point. Snacks are supposed to be fun, aren’t they?
Some Plant-Based Inspiration
Google vegan blogs and you’ll get in the region of 17 million search results. The blogs listed here are ones I enjoy visiting for inspiration, recipes and so on.
I’ll probably add to the list whenever I find new ones. Who am I kidding? I never remember to update old blog posts.
Dana aka the Minimalist Baker’s mission is to create simple, delicious recipes that require 10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. She’s 95% plant-based, but always makes sure to offer vegan substitutes whenever she does include something like butter or egg (which is hardly ever).
She has a lot of sweet recipes on her blog, but don’t be fooled by the name. Dana is definitely waaaaay more than a baker, she has bunches of healthy meal options to choose from as well.
I luuuuuurrrve the Happy Pear. I originally ‘met’ Stephen and David Flynn on Rich Roll’s podcast (where else?) and was instantly smitten. Aside from being seriously cute, these Irish twins are also down to earth and really inspiring. They’re all about making eating a plant-based diet easy and accessible. Their YouTube channel has loads of quick and easy recipes to try.
Billed as ‘the film that’s changing the way people eat‘, it’s little wonder Forks Over Knives has expanded into a full-blown movement. The website has hundreds of super tasty plant-based recipes to choose from. There’s also a cooking course, a meal planner and a what to eat section that’s chockfull of useful tips and information.
What About Supplements?
Aside from the protein question (yawn), the other thing we get asked all the time is perhaps a little more pertinent. People want know where vegans get their B12. We get ours from chlorella and nutritional yeast.
Aside from the chlorella tablets, the only other supplement we use on a daily basis is MSM, which used to taste disgusting but doesn’t anymore. Proof that taste buds do evolve over time.
We also consume a fair amount of superfoods, While not vital, they certainly add much in the way of flavour and nutritional value to our diet.
The ones we use most frequently are cacao powder, hemp powder and maca powder. There are plenty of others as well; if you’re keen to find out more you should check out Rawlicious Superfoods: With 100+ Recipes for a Healthy Lifestyle.
Okay, enough information for now. In next week’s post I’ll be addressing many of the myths and misconceptions around farm animals and how they’re raised. I promise not to get preachy, but this particular set of undies does need to be aired (to coin a phrase Sporty hates).
Finally, please leave your thoughts, questions and suggestions in the comment section below. We’re keen to make this series as user-friendly and helpful as possible, so if there’s anything you’d like us to add, we’re definitely up for that!
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