Switching to a plant-based diet is becoming increasingly popular but it won't mean you're automatically super healthy. You can eat non-dairy ice cream and frozen veggie pizza every day, but that doesn't mean you're any healthier. There are plenty of plant-based junk foods out there, so if you want to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet, you need to commit to focusing your diet on healthy foods.
Feeling healthy can keep you motivated, and figuring out how to make your plant-based diet good for you isn't too tough. Here's how to get started.
Decide What It Means for You
Plant-based can mean a variety of things when it comes to what you eat. While plants will make up the majority of your diet, you might decide that including dairy sometimes works for you. Or small amounts of meat is what you want. Or no animal products at all.
Deciding what your plant-based diet consists of will make transitioning easier because having guidelines you set yourself makes turning down foods that don't fit in your plant-based diet less difficult.
Know What You're Eating
If you've never tried a diet where you cut out certain ingredients, you're going to be surprised by how much you time you'll now spend reading labels in the store. Turns out, lots of pre-packaged foods have animal products in them, so if you want to stick only to plant products for your new diet, you'll need to keep a keen eye on ingredient labels.
Even if you're allowing some animal products into your plant-based diet, look out for pre-prepared foods that are loaded with sugar, fat, sodium, and other things that will impact your healthy diet.
Find New Versions of Your Favourite Dishes
Don't try to replicate your non plant-based favourite foods, instead, think about what you like about those foods (texture? flavour? versatility for cooking?) and find swaps that fulfil that criteria. Here are a couple to get you started:
- Lentils: Great for saucy dishes that you'd normally put ground meat in, like meatloaf, sloppy joes, and bolognese.
- Tempeh: Takes on whatever seasonings or marinade you add to it. Try it as a breakfast "sausage" patty for a hearty start to your day.
- Beans and nuts: Perfect for blending into thick, creamy sauces, as this mac and "cheese" recipe shows.
- Tofu: Crumbled or blended with oil and seasonings, this can make a good filling for both sweet and savoury dishes (including as a substitute for ricotta in lasagna).
Make it easy for you to stick to your healthy plant-based diet by having two to three go-to dishes you can pull together quickly for a satisfying meal. A couple of my favourites:
- Indonesian Gado Gado Salad: Almost all the ingredients are raw, which makes this quick to prepare, especially if you have good knife skills!
- Sicilian Eggplant and Pine Nut Caponata: A very flavorful dish that you can make in one pot or pan. It does take some chopping of ingredients, but lets you toss them in the pan and simmer without a lot of attention needed. Good for pairing with polenta, couscous, or pita.
- Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils: Minimal ingredients and very low effort (slow cookers are great!). You'll come home to a fragrant, filling dinner.
At least one of your dishes should be able to be made primarily with pantry ingredients so that you can throw it together even if you haven't had a chance to go to the grocery store.
Build a Support Network
As with any new habit, it's easier if you have people who help you stick to it. Find friends who are willing to try new plant-based dishes with you, or who are open to going to restaurants that have plant-based options.
You should also check out Facebook and Meetup to see if there are any local plant-based groups in your area (try terms like "vegan" and "vegetarian"). Groups like these will help you expand your support network and give you a wealth of knowledge to tap into as you continue on your plant-based diet.
This story has been updated since its original publication.