Do you want to switch to a plant based diet but don’t know where to start? Here are my tips to slowly transition to a plant based diet.
With its countless health and environmental benefits, many people are turning towards a more plant based diet. But despite the myriad of proven benefits, some worry that a plant based diet may be restrictive or too hard to follow. So if you’re considering how to change your diet to plant based, here are my tips as a nutritionist and health coach to help you get started.
What is a plant based diet?
A plant based diet simply means eating whole foods that come from plant sources and haven’t been refined or processed; fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
The words ‘vegan’ and ‘plant based’ are often used interchangeably, but they don’t represent the same idea. Whilst vegan refers to a diet that is strictly free from all animal products including meat, eggs, fish and dairy, it also refers to a lifestyle that attempts to exclude any form of cruelty and exploitation of animals (1). However, veganism doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for your health. Vegan products can be, and often are, highly processed or filled with refined sugar. Simply because something is vegan doesn’t automatically make it nourishing for your body!
In addition to veganism, vegetarianism is also a form of plant based diet that includes dairy and/or eggs. Pescatarian includes egg, dairy, fish and sea food but not meat and poultry. Finally, flexitarian diets or semi-vegetarian diets are also considered as plant-based with occasional meat, poultry or fish consumption.
There are so many ways to opt for a plant-based diet and you can pick the one that fits you best! And keep in mind that a well balanced plant based diet should contain approximately 50% of fruits and vegetables, 25% of whole grains and 25% of mainly plant based protein (2).
Tips for how to switch to veganism, vegetarianism or somewhere in the middle
- Go slowly and gradually
How to slowly switch to a plant based diet? The clue is in the name – go slowly! Trying to make the switch overnight or eliminating animal products from your diet cold-turkey will only make the transition harder. You could start with 3 or 4 days per week and then increase it gradually. Slowly changing your diet will help to make it more sustainable in the long-run.
- Get your friends and family on board!
Many people who may want to go plant-based feel that it isn’t possible due to their lifestyle or family situation. Try to involve your friends and family in the conversation about why you’re making the switch to a more plant based diet and with their support, you’re more likely to succeed. This way, you can plan meals together and choose restaurants with vegetarian or vegan options so you don’t have to pick between spending time with them, or your diet.
- Don’t focus on what you should remove from your diet, but what you could add
You may be worried that you’ll miss specific foods that aren’t included in your new plant based diet menu. Rather than focusing on this, think about all the new additions that you’ll get to try! As you slowly add more whole foods to your diet, you’ll find that the ‘bad’ stuff naturally phases itself out – without having to be restrictive.
- Add more fruits and vegetables
Adding more fruits, vegetables and nuts can be a good place to start. Loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, they’ll give you the energy boost you may be craving!
- Don’t search for foods to replace your favourite animal products
Trying to replace your favourite hamburger or steak with a plant based copy will likely leave you feeling disappointed or frustrated. In addition, if you search for meat-free meat (AKA plant based meat), you will likely end up eating a very transformed, processed and expensive piece of food, taking you further away from a whole foods diet.
- Add one plant-based protein every day
Another tip is to start by making one small change every day. A great way to do this is at one meal a day, swap your usual protein of meat, fish or dairy for a plant based alternative like lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, soy, quinoa. This way, you’ll slowly get used to a new way of eating without feeling like you’ve had to ‘give up’ all of your favourite foods at once.
- Eat a variety of whole grains
A plant based diet doesn’t have to mean a boring diet! Discover new whole grains such as whole rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth, oats, barley, and how you can cook with them. Eating a variety of different grains will keep your new diet interesting, and increase its health benefits. Many people who make the switch to a whole foods find that they’re surprised by how delicious and varied their new meal plan is, and how they don’t miss junk food at all.
- Eat the rainbow!
Although it doesn’t always have to be on the same plate, eating a variety of colours is a great way to ensure that you’re getting a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – and the health benefits that go with them. And there is a growing body of scientific evidence that colors in fruits and vegetables are actually associated with specific phytonutrients and their health benefits.(3) Eating a rainbow of colours is a fun way to make sure that you’re getting enough of everything.
- Get to know your vitamins – iron and B12
Although the benefits of a plant based diet are now widely acknowledged (4), there is one vitamin that you can’t get from plants – vitamin B12. It’s estimated that 52% of vegans and 7% of vegetarians have a B12 deficiency (5). So, if you’re thinking of making the switch to a plant based diet, make sure you take a dietary supplement of vitamin B12 (6), too.
As well as this, it’s common for people who follow a plant based diet to experience iron deficiency. This is not because plant based products don’t contain enough iron, but rather because the body isn’t super efficient at absorbing this mineral. You can increase the amount of iron that your body absorbs by adding lemon juice or a vitamin C supplement to your green vegetables and legumes (both are iron rich foods), and by limiting how much tea and coffee you drink as these both inhibit the absorption of iron (7).
Remember that what works for other people may not work for you and ultimately, there is no best way to transition to a plant based diet. So go slowly, and instead of restricting yourself and taking the joy out of a more whole foods centric way of eating, focus on what you’re adding – not only to your diet but to your overall health and wellbeing
Interested in transitioning to a plant based diet? Work with me and discover a Holistic Nutrition 4 weeks Challenge, including a nutrition assessment, personalised recommendations.