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How to switch to a plant-based diet

My mom’s main advice throughout exams and periods of hard workd was always: make sure you eat well and sleep enough. I’ve written about sleeping enough in the past, and I’ve mentioned you should eat well and not live on vending machine snacks if you want to stay healthy and productive.

Before I continue, I want to share a word of caution with you, or actually two words of caution – if you allow me. The first one is that I am not a nutrionist. If you are planning to make drastic choices with regard to your food, it can be wise to consult a doctor, and/or track your (micro)nutrient intake to make sure you get everything you need. You can do this tracking for example through my fitness pal. Second word of caution: I’m not writing this post to “convert” anybody. If you want to include more plant foods in your meals, this post is for you. If you want to go fully plant-based, I’m happy for the animals, the environment, and you. If the idea of eating vegetables creeps you out, then do please track your food intake to see if you’re not missing any vitamins.

For many of us, eating healthy will mean including more fruit and vegetables into our meals, which are chockful of micronutrients. If you switch from salty, fatty take-out food to bowls of grains, vegetables, and a source of protein, you might already start to feel a difference in your energy levels. In today’s post, I will focus on how to switch to plant-based meals. You might like to try and have a veggie meal once a week to see how it works for you. Or you can use some of these ideas to prepare more vegetables, and then have a piece of animal protein on the side.

With that said, let’s have a look at how you can switch to a diet that is richer in plant foods, if you want to up your intake of fruit, whole grains, legumes and vegetables. Here are some tips you can use to make this transition:

1. Replace animal protein with a bean dish or a plantmeat

If you grew up eating meals of potatoes, meat, and vegetables, it is actually not very hard to switch the meat for a bean dish or a plantmeat. If you’re not used to eat beans/legumes, make sure you buy them dried, soak them for 24 hours, wash them very well, and then cook them – nd give your body some time to get used to digesting beans. There are a large number of commercial “plantmeats” that make replacing animal protein even easier: every supermarket sells a veggieburger that you can use. Just keep in mind that these processed plantmeats are still a processed product, sometimes high in sodium, and that antyhing you whip up from scratch in your kitchen is usually healthier, and certainly fresher.

2. Dairy is easy to replace

Milk is for calves. If you need dairy in a recipe, you can easily replace it with a plantbased equivalent. You can make your own nutmilks if you have a blender and a fine meshed bag, or you can buy it from the grocery store (just make sure the first ingredient is not sugar). If you are used to cook with a lot of cream-based sauces, explore other possibilities, and switch to vegetable-based sauces. A simple example is to replace alfredo sauce by arrabiata sauce.

3. Baking without eggs is not hard either

There are plenty of conversion charts you can find on the internet, such as this one below:

Flaxseed with water works wonders for binding dough, a bit of extra baking powder goes a long way in cakes, and mashed banana or applesauce thicken and sweeten dough. I’m especially a fan of getting some flaxseed into my desserts, given the micronutrients flaxseed has. (All those B-vitamins!)

4. Discover all the available whole grains and root vegetables

There is more to carbs than pasta, bread, potatoes and rice. Switch up your palate by trying out other whole grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat/kasha, and all the other grains you can find. You can simply boil them, use them as flour in breads or desserts (pancakes with wheat and buckwheat flour are the best), or even buy products derived from them (there’s pasta based on everything out there).

Similarly, you can switch up your regular potatoes and discover sweet potatoes, yuca, yams or plantains – one of the fun parts of going plant-based is that it is an invitation to trying out all the plantfoods out there, and break out of your regular food patterns.

5. Salads don’t need to be boring

If you think a salad is just lettuce, tomato and cucumber, you might need to think again. There’s just so much that you can add to salads. For flavor, try olives, artichokes, sweet corn, toasted almonds, or jalapenos. For protein, try chickpeas, black beans, lupine seeds, pieces of tofu or seitan, or lentils. For texture, add grilled vegetables or croutons or toasted dried corn. Add a vinaigrette (oil, lemon juice, a bit of mustard, and any variation of herbs or juice) to season everything and enjoy.

6. Try out veggie restaurants and recipes

To remain inspired, try out veggie restaurants and recipes you find online. You might taste something you hadn’t thought of before in a restaurant, and then try to recreate the plate at home. If you’re stuck in a rut, you can always look for some recipes with high ratings online and try these out.

7. Find some standard meals that work well for you

Sometimes having a bit of a rut is not a bad thing. If you have a few standard meals that work well for you, then you can lean back on these options if you are pressed for time or without inspiration for trying out something new.

Some standard options for breakfast are: pancakes, bread with avocadomash, smoothie (possibly with a plantbased protein powder)
For lunch: big salad, a sandwhich with smoked tofu, a bowl of grains-vegetables-beans, a big cup of vegetable soup
For dinner: pasta with tomato sauce and grilled mushrooms, potatoes with sauerkraut and veggie sausages, vegan pad thai, veggie-based pot pie, rice with chili, …

8. Meal prep

If you want to make sure you have your healthy foods on hand, then prepare them. Cook in big batches, and freeze some parts for later. Cook one evening a week two or three dishes for your dinner for the rest of the week, if you don’t have time every day to cook a fresh meal.

9. Talk about it

Tell your friends and family that you are trying out a plantbased diet. Explain them why you are doing this (the environment? the animals? you want to try out and see if it makes you feel more energetic?), and I’m sure they will understand. Bring some of your food so they can try it out and learn that plantbased food is not bland.

10. Know where and when to shop

You can say that vegetables are quite expensive, and that plantbased foods are too expensive to rely on. If you cook in bulk, you can buy vegetables in large quantities at a farmer’s market. Grains and legumes in dried bulk are cheap as well. The expensive foods are actually the processed plantmeats, and those you can keep for a special occasion every now and then. Some supermarkets give discounts on fruit and vegetables a certain day of the week (the Megamaxi chain in Ecuador gives 20% off fruit and vegetables on Wednesday, for example). All little savings can help you be plantbased on a budget.

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