Thursday, 9 February 2017

How To Go Plant-Based

Plants are awesome and healthy, right? And tasty too! I think that it's a complete myth that plant foods taste bland compared to animal foods like meat and fish. And think of all the colours in plant foods! Nothing compares to eating the rainbow every day.

So what is a plant-based diet?
It's simply a diet of plants. Vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), nuts and seeds.

Then it's a matter of definitions. Some might call a diet plant-based when the bulk of the calories comes from plant foods, but the person eats small amounts of meat, dairy and/or eggs sometimes.

Some others may call a diet plant-based only if it's totally vegan, which means that it excludes all meat, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy. Then others may say that a plant-based diet is vegan but that it also excludes all processed foods. It's mainly based upon fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds etc in their whole form. So no (or very little) processed foods like soy sausages, soy milk, vegan candies and cookies, pre-made dishes, vegan fast food etc.

The important message, though, is to simply eat more plants!

Why eat a plant-based diet?
There's so much evidence on all the health advantages of eating a plant-based diet instead of a diet rich in animal products. From everything to preventing cancer to treating and/or preventing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and constipation, a plant-based diet is the way to go for a long and healthy life.

I eat a plant-based vegan diet for three main reasons:
  • My health (see above).
  • The environment. Animal agriculture is literally destroying our beautiful planet. The meat and dairy industry is far more responsible for greenhouse gas emissions than all the transportation means in the world. Yes, that's all the cars, buses, trains and planes combined! Watch the documentary Cowspiracy for more info on this.
  • The animals. Their suffering is totally unnecessary and it breaks my heart. Watch the documentary Earthlings
  • ... And an extra fourth reason: Because it's so delicious! I'm so so happy that I don't "have to" eat meat, fish or chicken and I never ever crave them anymore.

How to go plant-based?
  • Begin with making small changes instead of trying out elaborate recipes with tons of ingredients you've never heard of. For example, try making pasta bolognese with lentils instead of ground meat. Or make a stew with chickpeas instead of meat. Replace hamburgers with veggie burgers.
  • Explore what works for you. Maybe trying out making lots of new stuff like lentil soup, hummus, quinoa, white bean stew etc. Or maybe buying packaged meat substitutes like veggie burgers or vegan sausages works better for you. There are no rules.
  • Stock your kitchen with lots of plant foods (see my tips here) and try cooking in bulk. Make big pots of veggie stew and soup, big salads or maybe cook lots of quinoa and lentils and eat them with lunch or dinner for a few days.
  • For a simple start, when you're planning lunch or dinner think something like this:
    • A carb like quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta, whole grain bread, brown rice etc.
    • A protein source like lentils, beans, chickpeas, veggie burgers or tofu.
    • Lots of veggies. Preferably at least a couple of different kinds. Mix it up with raw and cooked.
    • A small amount of healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, tahini etc.
  • I also think that breakfast is easier to begin with than lunch or dinner. Many breakfast foods are plant-based to begin with (think oatmeal, cereal, bread, fruit smoothies etc) or are easy to make plant-based. Switch dairy milk to a plant-based option like oat milk, soy milk, almond milk or hemp milk. Try oat or soy yoghurt with granola. Make a creamy smoothie or milkshake with oat milk. Try toasted (preferably whole grain) bread with hummus, mashed avocado or nut butter. Tofu scramble is a great substitute for scrambled eggs.
  • Snacks are also fairly easy to make vegan. Fruit, nuts, granola bars or raw bars, smoothies, rice cakes with hummus, avocado toast, popcorn, trail mix... 
  • Eat more. Yes, really! Since most plant foods are big in volume but quite low in calories you might find that you'll need to increase portion sizes and/or eat more often to feel satisfied and avoid weight loss (if that's not desired, of course).
  • Season your food well. Use lots of spices, herbs, tamari, tahini, herbal salt etc. Make delicious sauces and dressings.
  • If you're not used to fibre rich foods like lots of veggies, fruits, beans, lentils, whole grains etc, then you'll probably need to start slow or else your bowels may get, ehm, upset the first few weeks. 
  • Explore! Buy a fruit or veggie you've never tried before.
  • Bake some vegan cookies, there are tons of recipes online. Or try my healthy chocolate energy balls. And make ice-cream from frozen bananas! Try this chocolate cookie dough banana ice cream.
  • Eat foods you enjoy. This seems pretty obvious, but I feel that it's quite common that people force down some broccoli, kale or other food just because it's healthy. There are so many other things to eat.
  • Find out what works best for you. Going from a "standard" diet to a vegan diet from one day to the next might work for some, but I find that it's easier to go slowly. Start eating more plants whilst also phasing out meat, dairy and eggs for a few weeks, months or even years. I was a vegetarian (I ate dairy and eggs but no meat) for a couple of years before finally quitting animal products all together, which really worked for me.
  • Stay inspired. Here are some of my tips for books, documentaries and blogs.
  • Explore vegan restaurant if those are available in your area.
  • Supplement. If you're eating a strict vegan or almost vegan diet you have to take at least a vitamin B12 supplement and maybe some more.
  • And lastly, remember that you won't die of protein deficiency :) You WILL get the "But where do you get your protein?" question. From plants. Simple as that.

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