Guide to plant-based eating
Venturing into the world of veganism can be an overwhelming and frightening journey, especially if we're the only one in our social circle adopting such a lifestyle. With this lifestyle picking up momentum, there are luckily plenty of resources and recipes available to help for a smooth transition. In this article, we'll explore our top 12 tips for any newbies to veganism. Before we begin, there are some important things to mention:
- In no way should we ever feel forced or pressured to become vegan. The decision should be our own conscious decision. One that comes from a place of compassion and excitement. If there are people in our life who aren't ready to join us in the transition, let them be.
- We don't have to be completely vegan to appreciate these tips. Incorporating more plant-based foods into our lives is a win all around.
- For those of us with a medical condition, such as being immunocompromised or feeding very young children, it's especially important to speak with a physician or dietitian before beginning this journey.
- To learn more about our journey with veganism, the difficulties experienced, and the fear of "coming out" as a vegan, read our "why vegan" page.
Alright, now that's out of the way, let's get started.
1. Start with an open mind
Forget what we may have heard about this lifestyle being too expensive, not being able to provide enough nutrients, or it being too time-consuming to incorporate into our lives. After all, starting with a negative attitude generally makes everything feel much harder than it really is! Making plant-based choices can be truly nourishing, delicious, and wholesome. We like to think about it as food that loves us just as much as we love it back. Just like anything else, it also gets easier with time and practice. More affordable places to shop will be found, tasty new flavours will be discovered, and meals will get easier to put together.
2. Try not to be a superhero
Some of us may feel that when we become vegan, we also need to become zero waste, minimalist, gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, and an expert in veganism. These intentions are often pure and come from a very kind place, but it's generally too big of a jump for many of us. With time, we'll learn more and more about veganism. If these other lifestyle practices resonate with us, we can gradually adopt them whenever we're truly ready.
Plant-based eating isn't always black or white. Taking on however much we can handle is already more than enough.
3. Allow extra time
As mentioned above, in the beginning, almost everything we do is harder and requires more of our time. For the first few weeks, intentionally schedule some extra time when it comes to preparing meals or snacks. Be patient during these beginning days. Sooner or later, either we either get faster, or things get easier!
4. Keep stocked
This lifestyle change can be challenging if we don't have nourishing and delicious ingredients on hand to work with. We can start by stocking up on some pantry essentials. To learn more about our go-to's here at PUL, see our pantry essentials video.
In addition to pantry essentials, we'll want to be stocked up with some fresh items such as produce, bread, and plant-based meat alternatives. For some inspiration, sign up for our introductory package to get a comprehensive grocery shopping list that includes some of our vegan favourites.
On this exciting journey, there's no need to forbid ourselves from having any treats. We love to enjoy some dairy-free dark chocolate or a bag of chips that's laying around whenever we're in the mood. Nourishing the cells and the soul is our philosophy here at PUL. This encourages honouring our hunger with the aim of not labelling foods as "good" or "bad". Some classic baked goods we enjoy to nourish our soul include banana bread, cookies, and muffins. Consider stocking up on whatever go-to treat you enjoy most.
5. Consider adding, not taking away
Plant-based eating is an eat-in-abundance lifestyle. Often when people think about veganism, they think of all the things they can't have, such as chicken, fish, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, and milk.
Instead, we can focus on what we're adding more of, and let these foods naturally replace the others. Add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, tofu, and plant-based dairy alternatives like soy, almond, rice or coconut milk and yogurt.
Another idea is to take advantage of "mock meats", which are also known as "textured vegetable proteins". These can be found at most large-chain grocery shops and may be more familiar or easier to prepare. Having mock meatballs, ground beef, and chicken ready on hand can be especially helpful in the transition. For those of us who don't know how to cook tofu or aren't super comfortable with it just yet, pre-seasoned tofu is generally available in larger grocery stores as well. As things get easier, we can start to substitute these mock meats for more wholesome and home-prepared plant-based sources of protein. It's okay to use the resources we have available to us, though, especially when starting this journey!
6. Add legumes slowly
When enjoying more beans and lentils, we'll want to start slow for our tummy's sake. If we go from having nothing up to having a cup or more a day, we're bound to get gas and indigestion. We recommend starting with as little as 2 tablespoons a day, and gradually increasing to ¼ cup, ½ cup, full cup, or however much is desired. A gradual increase in intake helps to mitigate the uncomfortable gas and bloating.
7. Learn a few favourites
We totally get that beginning this journey can be overwhelming, especially if we don't know what meals or snacks to prepare. To begin with, we've found it's helpful to learn just a handful of recipes that we enjoy. We can learn these recipes well and have them as our defaults to fall back onto. Once we're ready to explore, there's no shortage of plant-based recipes on the web that we can learn. To find nourishing recipes, Pinterest and YouTube are two places that offer thousands of delicious ideas. By searching for "vegan recipes", we'll have more options than imaginable at our fingertips.
8. Listen to our hunger cues
Plant-based foods tend to offer fewer calories for more bulk. It's common to feel hungry more often. Here at PUL, we encourage honouring our hunger. This means even if we've just had a big bowl of food and remain hungry, that we'll eat some more until we're satisfied. It may take a while to get used to, but our bodies are incredible at adjusting and finding a balance with time.
9. Find the why
Try to figure out why you decided to join us and adopt this new lifestyle. Is it for health reasons? For environmental reasons? For the animals? Whatever the reason might be, try to write it down and put it up where it'll be seen every day. By seeing and reminding ourselves of our why on a regular basis, we'll be encouraged to stick with it.
Also, by focusing on our why, we're able to clearly see what we're gaining instead of what we're losing. Such as improved health, an improved environmental footprint, or the reassurance that we're caring for animals as best as we can.
10. Don't sweat the small things
It's okay to slip up sometimes. Transitioning to this new lifestyle means that we're re-configuring habits we've lived with our whole life. It's only normal that the boat might rock a couple of times. The journey itself will definitely be a zig-zagged journey rather than a straight path. Try to only do as much as is reasonable to you. When we trip, just turn it into a dance and keep smiling. When we fall, simply get back up and keep going!
Here at PUL, we most often recommend getting nutrients from foods first. However, on a plant-based lifestyle, supplementation for some nutrients is recommended because it's difficult to get them from foods alone. One of the supplements recommended is a vitamin B12 supplement. Learn more about this in our vitamin B12 article.
Another nutrient that's often recommended, for both vegan and non-vegan eaters, is vitamin D. This one is especially important for those of us who live in an area that doesn't get a lot of sun. For more information on vitamin D and supplementation, see our vitamin D article.
12. Share the message with compassion
As much as we wish otherwise, there's a lot of judgement and criticism in the world of plant-based nutrition. For example, we might hear or read, "If you eat fish then you should really call yourself a vegetarian." Or, "if you eat honey then you aren't a vegan." According to strict guidelines, this may be true, but if we do our best, especially when we're early in our journey, that's all that matters. Transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle is a rewarding process and a majority of the time is a clear win compared to doing nothing at all.
For those already following a plant-based lifestyle: we challenge you to offer compassion to all individuals, plant-based or not. Be open and honest in answering questions. Lead by example, and avoid pressuring others or making them feel inadequate.
Those that are inspired will eventually follow.
We can go to our doctor and get bloodwork done before beginning this transition, and again 6-12 months down the road. Although we don't have to do this, it may help increase our confidence and help reassure us and our loved ones that things are going well. In some cases, the lab work may improve whereas in other cases it may show some signs of nutrient deficiencies. It’s a lifestyle change, so learning along the way is inevitable. Maybe a certain type of food or nutrient was overlooked, but now it will be included. In this way, our blood work can be used as a tool to help us better understand what nutrients come from what foods.
Some PUL favourites for credible sources to learn more are:
The Becoming Vegan book authored by two Registered Dietitians, Vesanto Melina & Brenda Davis.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website.
Remember to offer yourself compassion and honour where you're at. All good things come in time. We wish you all the best on the exciting journey ahead!