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How to Get Started With a Plant-Based Diet
There’s a lot to be said about taking the vegan approach to healthy eating. If you’re curious, these tips will get you started.
If you are trying to decide how to start a vegan diet, look no further. As someone who has eaten a plant-based diet for over a decade, I have a few pointers. When I first began my vegan journey, there wasn’t as much information available as there is today. The internet pages and social media accounts I found were usually by people eating nothing but fruit—and mounds of it. (There is nothing wrong with fruit, but it’s only one part of a vegan diet.) It took several rounds of trial and error to arrive at a balanced way to eat plant-based. I’m sharing what I learned in hopes that it helps other people trying to transition into eating plant-based do so a little more easily.
Preparation Is Key
This may sound obvious, but preparation is the foundation to any lifestyle transition. You must take the time to prepare if you want to start—and maintain—a vegan diet. If the thought of meal prepping is daunting to you, then at least consider kitchen prepping. Kitchen prepping means taking inventory of what you have and what you need. There are several categories of foods that most vegan cookbooks will emphasize as essential to creating planted-based meals, including the following ingredients.
· Legumes: Legumes are satiating and grounding. They provide protein and fiber to your diet. Some common vegan favorites include chickpeas, black beans, lentils, adzuki beans, split peas, fava beans, pinto beans, great northern beans, kidney beans and soybeans.
· Mylks: These are traditional milk alternatives and include options like oat, rice, hemp, almond, cashew, soy, macadamia, hazelnut and coconut.
· Oils: Unless you are opting for the raw vegan route, you will likely need a couple of nourishing oil options in your kitchen cabinet. Some of the typical oils include coconut, avocado, olive, sesame, sunflower and vegan “butter.”
· Produce: One of the joys of following a vegan diet is learning to eat in season. When possible, purchase local produce from your farmer’s market. If you don’t have access to one, you can still buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store.
· Protein: In addition to getting protein from legumes and mylks, you can add tempeh, seitan and tofu into your rotation. Also, many plants (to greater and lesser extents) have protein.
· Seeds and Nuts: Whether you are layering seeds on your salads for some crunchy protein or planning to eat nuts on the go as a snack, this category is essential. I keep a regular rotation of chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, cashews and Brazilian nuts. Also, tahini (a buttery spread made from sesame seeds) is a must-have.
· Starches: Starches can help you power through your day when you make them a balanced part of your diet. It’s helpful to stock up on rice (brown, jasmine, basmati or wild), quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and seitan (wheat gluten).
· Sweeteners: Not all vegans eat honey, however some choose to eat it along with other options like agave syrup, coconut sugar, maple syrup, molasses and stevia.
· Seasonings: Some of my personal favorites are nutritional yeast, black salt, truffle salt and vegetable bouillon. Of course, it helps to have traditional seasonings in your kitchen, too, like turmeric, cumin and fresh herbs.
Options to Consider
Though these are not technically necessary to eat vegan, many people supplement whole foods with the following.
· Adaptogens: You may be hearing this buzzword a lot lately, and for good reason. Adaptogens are ancient remedies brought back to life for the current generation as supplements that assist with stress relief and boosting immunity. Some adaptogens that may be worth adding to your cabinets include ashwagandha, maca, reishi, schisandra and tulsi.
· Vitamins: This is a category that is best to discuss with your doctor. Often, those who follow a plant-based diet benefit from taking B-12 , but check with your health care provider first.
Create Your Balancing Act
Finding balance—with your diet and your lifestyle—is an ongoing quest. It’s really about what you want: Your goals and your intentions. If you are looking to start a vegan diet, there are countless tools available to help you make the shift in a balanced way, starting with stocking your kitchen with the items above.
Eating plant-based has personally brought me inner peace. It has helped me slow down and appreciate the bounty of food that is in season, and helped me manage my lifelong sweet tooth, something I never thought I would be able to do. And it has helped me learn how to nourish myself and the people I love.
Of course, there is always more to learn. The preparation list is simply a tool to help you get started. Don’t feel like you have to do a complete overhaul in one weekend, unless that’s your style. (In that case, throw on some comfy sweats and go for it.) But if you want to ease your way into a vegan diet—or any new food trend —you can simply buy a few items from the list each time you shop.
I have vegan friends who changed their entire lifestyle after viewing an eye-opening documentary, including replacing their leather shoes for vegan ones . I also have friends who are vegan-curious and participate in weekly meat-free Mondays. And I have friends who aren’t concerned with changing the way they eat but will buy the occasional vegan snacks to toss in their workout bags. Regardless of where you are at today, there is space for you to explore and tools for you to find balance.