Hello and welcome back!! It’s been so long since my last post I cannot believe it! I had an amazing time traveling through Spain and Portugal and I’m feeling super refreshed. I’m excited to share some of my tips to healthy, plant-based eating while traveling because as I learned, it can be very, very hard to do so!
But before I dive into that blog post, I thought I would share some of my tips on how to start eating a more plant-based diet from home. I have been eating mostly plant-based for about 2 years now and it can still be really tricky sometimes. I’m not going to lie, I had a pretty hard time when I first started and referred to a lot of online resources to figure out how to get into it. I still read a lot of blogs and find their information super helpful. However, sometimes what works for one person, doesn’t always work for someone else, so it’s important to be open and flexible with your diet and not too hard on yourself!
I’ve decided to share what has worked for me and has been the most helpful so far. I chose to start eating mostly plant-based for a number of reasons (more about that here) and I will touch on some of them in my tips. Keep in mind that everyone’s health journey is different so diet and lifestyle are all going to look different. Here are some things that have really helped me reach a healthier version of myself and I hope they can also help you!
How to start eating a more plant-based diet
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1. Buy a plant-based cookbook
This is a great place to start if you are totally new to plant-based cooking and eating. Trying to find a reliable and quick vegan recipe on Pinterest can be super stressful and time consuming. Start with just one cookbook and go from there. This way you don’t have to spend countless hours looking through recipes and then just end up ordering take-out. Give yourself the challenge to try one new recipe each week. Before you know it, you will have a regular rotation of your favourite plant-based dishes up your sleeve 🙂
My very first 100% plant-based cookbook was The Oh She Glows Cookbook. It was easy to follow and the recipes always turned out amazing! I was so surprised how delicious plant-based eating could be and it opened up my eyes to a whole bunch of new ingredients that are now staples in my pantry.
2. Start with small changes
You’ve all heard about the “meatless Mondays” movement (don’t pretend like you haven’t). Why not give it a shot? That’s a great place to start. Other small, easy changes can be substituting plant-based ingredients like coconut oil or apple sauce for butter, flax “eggs” for regular eggs, almond or coconut milk for cow’s milk, try tofu instead of chicken in your stir fry, or chickpeas in your “chicken” noodle soup instead of chicken.
I would recommend starting with small changes rather than trying to implement everything at once. It’s really hard to cut all animal products out cold-turkey (no pun intended), but every little change you make is a step in the right direction. It took me over a year to make the changes and I’m still not 100% perfect with my diet all the time and that’s ok. Remember that everything you do is making a big difference.
3. Swap beans for meat in your favourite dishes
Using beans instead of meat in your favourite dishes is easier than you think and with a few seasoning adjustments it can taste just as good or even better than the original. Plus, it’s waaaaay cheaper!
You can use either canned beans that are already cooked or dry beans and cook them yourself before you add them. If you want to get really fancy, you can soak and even sprout them yourself 😉 I honestly haven’t tried this yet but when I do, I will be sure to write a post about how to do it and why you might want to try it.
Here are a couple of easy swaps you can try:
-Cooked lentils instead of ground beef in spaghetti sauce (make sure to add them to the sauce about 10 mins before serving so they don’t get mushy)
-Black beans instead of ground beef in tacos, burgers, or on nachos
-Chickpeas instead chicken in curries, stews or soups
4. Stock up on herbs and spices
Once you start switching from meat to plant-based protein, you will notice one major difference in the way you cook: you will need to add a lot of FLAVOUR. Plant-based sources of protein will never be as flavourful as animal sources – that’s just a fact. But that doesn’t mean they can’t become just as tasty! Use this as an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen. I personally love the fact that plant-based proteins are like clean slates; this way I can use different herbs and spices to create whatever dish I am craving and it makes them super versatile across a number of dishes.
Some of my favourite herbs and spices to cook with are:
-Sea salt and freshly ground pepper (when you are eating unprocessed, whole plant-based foods most of the time, it is ok to use salt generously in recipes).
-Chilli powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, garlic and onion powders (best for tacos, nachos, black bean burgers)
-Curry powder, turmeric, red chilli paste, cilantro and ginger (best for curries, stews and soups)
-Basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley (best for pizzas, pastas, and soups)
5. Try nutritional yeast
I know it sounds weird and I was pretty skeptical when I first heard of it too. I decided to give it a try and I am so happy I did! I can’t believe I lived my life so long without it!!
I’m still not totally sure what it is… (apparently it’s a form of deactivated yeast and it’s part of the fungus family, like mushrooms) but it is super tasty and it’s high in B vitamins, especially B12 and it’s also high in fiber and protein. It’s a yellow flaky substance that has a sort of a cheesy/nutty flavour and it’s commonly used as a cheese substitute in vegan and vegetarian meals. You can learn more about it and it’s nutritional benefits here and in this blogger’s post here.
You can try adding nutritional yeast to the following:
-Top your popcorn with it
-Add it on top of pizza, spaghetti or nachos instead of cheese
-Add it to your veggie burger recipe for additional flavour and nutrition boost
-Make salad dressings out of it – my favourite is this lemon-tahini dressing from the Oh She Glows cookbook
-Put it on just about anything!
6. Make friends with the produce aisle
Ya, I know. Boring. But you need to do it. You don’t have to start buying organic or trying weird vegetables you have no idea how to cook or serve, you just have to get out of the other aisles. Making sure you are eating mostly fresh fruits and vegetables everyday and avoiding packaged, processed foods is the healthiest way to eat. You will look and feel better, and I can absolutely promise you that.
Produce shopping doesn’t have to be scary or time-consuming. Go in with a plan and then get out!
-Look up 1-2 recipes you want to try and only buy produce for those recipes (you don’t want to end up throwing away rotten fruit and veggies and your money!).
-Buy fruits and veggies you know you and your family will actually eat (again -refer to point above).
-Try a small local market that specializes in produce so you know you are getting quality foods and you’re less likely to get overwhelmed by selection and other packaged products.
-If you are wondering what fruits and veggies to buy organic, refer to this list here ->Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen. If this seems like too much then don’t worry about it. Start by just buying more produce (organic or not). Remember – start with SMALL changes; that’s the key to consistency and successful habits.
7. Try plant-based “dairy” products
Have you ever thought about switching your regular dairy products to more plant-based alternatives? You might have if you’ve read about some of the negative effects that too much dairy can have on the body and not to mention the terrible things that the animals have to go through to provide those products. Now I’m not trying to scare you into not enjoying your occasional wine and cheese nights, but maybe just thinking twice about having cows’ milk in your morning cereal, or that cream in your coffee everyday… those are usually the more significant culprits. Remember how I said it’s the small things that you do everyday that make the biggest difference?! I will let you make up your own mind about dairy, but I’m assuming if you are reading this blog post to this point, that you might already be thinking twice about dairy products.
Here are some easy ways to switch dairy for plant-based products so you can still enjoy the foods you love:
-Unsweetened almond, coconut, cashew, hempseed or even soy milk instead of cow or dairy milk (go with unsweetened to avoid consumption of added sugars).
-Coconut yogurt instead of dairy yogurt
-Try making cashew cheese, or using nutritional yeast instead of cheese in your favourite dishes.
8. Use avocados or hummus instead of mayo in dips and on sandwiches
This one is an easy swap! Avocados are super healthy fats and provide waaay more nutritional benefits than mayo ever could. You can either slice them up and put them on your sandwich or mash them up and make some guacamole to serve as an awesome pant-based dip.
Hummus is another easy, nutritious swap for spreads or dips. You can find hummus at any grocery store or you can try making your own -> check out my super simple hummus recipe for an idea.
9. Give tofu or tempeh a try
Now I know soy has been getting a bad rap lately and that is mostly because it is added to a lot of common foods and you’re not even aware that you’re consuming it (just like gluten!) and because conventional tofu contains high levels of pesticides. For those reasons I recommend you choose organic tofu and try to eat as little packaged, processed food as possible. If you know you have hormonal imbalances or an allergy/intolerance to soy then please consult a health care practitioner before you begin increasing your consumption of soy.
However, for most people you are safe to consume soy in moderation (as with any food). If you are still on the fence, check out the article “How Soy can Kill You and Save Your Life” by Dr. Mark Hymen (p.s he also has a great podcast!)
-Try tofu instead of chicken in your stir fries
-Crumble it and use it instead of eggs for scrambled “eggs”
-Try grilling it on the barbecue with your favourite BBQ sauce
10. Don’t forget about mushrooms
Mushrooms are such a versatile vegetable that contain both protein and a good dose of vitamin D. I often find mushrooms get overlooked because they aren’t a major source of protein but they do have a “meat-like” texture which makes them great for substituting in “meat-based” recipes as long as you are including other plant-based proteins with your meal.
-Try grilling a marinated portobello mushrooms on the barbecue for burgers
-Cremini mushrooms make a great star to olive oil pasta dishes
-Oyster mushrooms are awesome in stir fries
11. Don’t be afraid to add plant-based protein powders to your smoothies
But do be overly cautious on which ones you add. Now I was never really a fan of protein powders and I will always advocate for real food over “fake” food, but once I decided to make the shift to eat plant-based, I found I just didn’t have enough time some days to make sure I got enough protein everyday. Switching 1 meal/day to a protein smoothie where I add tons of superfoods has helped ensure I get all the protein and nutrients I need in a day. Plus it’s easy to make in the morning and easy to transport (and I can have it in the car – super helpful!). If you are looking for a couple easy recipes – check out my green smoothie or pumpkin pie smoothie recipes 😉
For those of you who think you might be too busy to put the effort into eating this way – this is where I’ll have to disagree. I literally eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch everyday when I’m busy during the week. I just don’t have the mental capacity to make food decisions during the week. My dinners are where I get creative and try new recipes. Honestly, you just need to have a bit of preparation to know you have healthy options for all meals and then it’s like your body goes on auto pilot. I’ll admit that I get bored of this from time to time and I’m not afraid to switch it up. For me, it is just so much easier to have my meals prepared and available vs scrounging and stressing about what I’m going to eat that day for lunch; I don’t have enough time or effort for that.
When you are looking for plant-based protein powders, here are some tips:
-Look for those with the fewest ingredients
-Try to buy organic if possible
-Try to avoid any added sugars
-Look for a protein blend from multiple sources (brown rice, pea, hemp, etc.)
-Some contain probiotics which is always a plus
-Stevia is a natural sweetener what won’t spike your blood sugar (just be sure to avoid it if you have an allergy)
12. Don’t worry, you’ll get enough protein
You will. You don’t need excessive amounts of protein unless you are an elite athlete or body builder. Even then, there are tons of examples of pro athletes and weight lifters that are vegan.
You will have to put a bit more thought into planning your meals but that will ultimately lead you to making better, healthier choices in the long run anyway (we should be thinking about what we put in our bodies at every meal!). If you need more help or advice about how to make sure you are getting enough protein and other nutrients I recommend using a food log like my fitness pal or working with a naturopath or nutritionist to make sure you aren’t missing anything. If you know of a better online food log please share!!
Please also feel free to reach out to me in the comments section or on the contact forum if you have any specific questions or would like further advice.
13. Watch Netflix documentaries
If you weren’t convinced yet on why you should start eating a more plant-based diet, then I recommend you watch some of the documentaries on Netflix. They were super eye opening to me and really changed the way I saw and consumed food.
It’s easy to turn a blind eye or ignore these issues (ignorance is bliss) because changing the way we eat is really hard. However, having to deal with chronic illness, environmental disasters and having innocent animals suffer and die because of it is harder.
Here are a couple that I would recommend:
Also, not on netflix but a super interesting and important film:
– Before the Flood by National Geographic featuring Leonardo DiCaprio
I hope you found this post helpful on your journey to becoming a healthier, happier you. I know all the information out there can be overwhelming and it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is these days. Just know that we are all struggling together to figure this out and that’s why it’s so important to help one another. When we all work together, we can help the save the planet and help us all to live long, healthy lives.
And never forget – it’s the little things you do consistently that make the biggest difference.