If you are reading this you have most likely contemplated adopting a plant-based lifestyle for some time now. Whether you have seen a documentary like Forks over Knives, Earthlings or Cowspiracy, or have been exploring different approaches to weight loss or to curing a disease, you are aware by now that eating plant-based foods is necessary for the survival of the planet, all its inhabitants, and for your wellbeing.
If you are not fully convinced of this yet, I recommend gathering knowledge from those who do not stand to gain. In other words, educate yourself from sources that do not profit from your consumption of animal products or from selling you drugs that you will need to cure diseases linked to high cholesterol intakes due to eating animal products. Check out Food Choices to hear first-hand from leading healthcare practitioners from around the world about all the misleading myths on animal consumption and why eating plant-based is essential for our survival.
When you have decided to begin the process of transforming your lifestyle in favor of a plant-based approach, starting the process of eliminating animal products can be quite long and challenging. It took me over a year to transition from vegetarian to vegan and if you have never eliminated meat on any level, you must be patient with yourself and be open to challenges throughout the process.
Here are some steps to ease into a fully plant-based lifestyle:
1. Get your facts straight & find the right motivation
You will be constantly challenged by people around you regarding the benefits of veganism. You will be told that you won’t get enough protein or even that veganism can be damaging for the planet (read the update). These claims are completely false and have been disproven but continue to be propagated by those who stand to gain from your animal product consumption. As an academic, I can tell you first-hand how easy it is to manipulate scientific research results – especially when there is money to be made. If you still aren’t convinced of the benefits of veganism, check out the film Food Choices I mentioned above.
This is not a new diet you are trying. You are changing your lifestyle. The bulk of my meat consumption was done eating out with family and friends and changing this has been challenging. I also travel a lot and it can be impossible to find clean vegan options in airports or hotels. Taking time to prepare meals sometimes means changing the pace of your schedule and prioritize making the right choices but you will notice that preparing plant-based meals is much less time-consuming and expensive than eating animals and their by-products.
To do this, you need to find your own pressure point. Your core reason for cutting out animal products must be deeply personal and begin with self-love. Ethical reasons on their own may not be enough to motivate you, just like weight loss and health factors may also not be enough. I first tried to eliminate meat products because I did not want to ingest the negative energy of a suffering being that had been tortured. Over time, when the images of animal suffering had dissipated, I unhesitantly began to eat meat again.
Ultimately, what convinced me to stick to plant-based eating was my desire to perform my best doing what I love (climbing) and feel my best without relying on coffee and supplements.Today, I am reminded every day why my choice is the right one for myself and for all earth inhabitants, including those to come. Keeping yourself informed about the benefits of plant-based eating and dispelling myths of the meat industry will inspire you to keep making the right choice.
2. Eat the same dishes you love but remove the meat portion and replace with…
Eggplant is an excellent substitute for minced meat. Once you heat it up (baked at 350°F for 20 minutes, for example), you can throw it into a food processor or chop it up tiny and use it to replace meat in meat balls or meat loaf without changing anything else in the recipe. When you get to step 5, however, you can replace the eggs with flax or chia eggs.
Mushrooms are a tasty replacement for steak and burgers! You can marinate and grill them the same way you would with steak – especially portobello. I have even used the stems of king oyster mushrooms to simulate scallops and the texture as on point (I will try to post the recipe soon).
Kale may not be the most popular choice, but it is an excellent addition to any stir-fry instead of meat if you are worried about missing out on protein. I like to add it chopped in sauces as well, especially spaghetti sauce, or to curries and soups.
Quinoa is an excellent way to fill up while getting a great deal of protein and fiber. I much prefer it over rice (since it is a seed, not a grain) and is great as a side, or to mix in with eggplant to substitute for breadcrumbs when making no-meatballs or no-meatloaf!
Lentils or chickpeas is not my first choice because I do try to limit my consumption of legumes to reduce any strain on my digestion. I do, however, throw them in here and there, especially for curries and dahls. If you can, do NOT use canned chickpeas since the plastic coated aluminum they soak in is potentially dangerous. If you buy them sprouted or dry, just soak them overnight, rinse, and boil in water for about 30 minutes before adding to your dish.
More veggies!!! There are two ways of feeling full: one is with dense, heavy food (like meats and oils), and the other is with large volume food (like greens and veggies). Adding a ton more of veggies will definitely make any dish complete!
Notice anything missing? Tofu! I personally do not eat soy-based processed products but it is still a much better option than meat, if you must. Especially when eating out, it can be hard to order something without meat that doesn’t come with tofu. You can always ask for more veggies instead, though! If you can’t go without it, tempeh is a much better option since it fermented and not processed.
VEGAN STARTER HACK: Your taste buds take about 10 days to adapt. In the meantime, or if you are cooking for meat eaters, adding vegan Worcestershire sauce will give everything a smoky meat taste!
3. Switch to plant milk
This is the easiest step and you can start today! There is nothing you can cook or eat with dairy milk that you cannot replace with plant or nut milk. If you are allergic to nuts, you can use rice, hemp, or coconut milk and if not make banana milk, it’s so easy – just blend a banana with water!
Organic unsweetened coconut milk is my favorite option since it is the cheapest. When we have 2 extra minutes in the morning, we make our own almond milk that is so delicious, you will never opt for dairy again. I highly suggest avoiding soy milk, even if it is organic, and if you do choose rice milk, make sure it is brown rice and organic.
This is not without challenge, however, if you are a coffee drinker. As a grad student, the thought of going without coffee was scary, but doing it helped me completely eliminate my dairy intake, since I couldn’t have it without cream and sugar. If you aren’t there yet, coconut milk or cream taste just fine in coffee, and you won’t be ingesting growth hormones every morning.
Remember: Unless you are a growing BABY, you do NOT need milk. Especially not from other species. Ever.
4. Cut the cheese (literally, not figuratively, please)
This was hard. I used to put cheese on everything! I eventually switched to only goat cheese because I thought the enzymes in goat dairy were easier for humans to digest than cow dairy, but the switch did not change the health issues I previously had with cow dairy. I still had poor digestion and skin issues, not to mention difficulty managing my weight. Plus goats are the sweetest and should be left to play!
Before I started making my own cashew cheese, my first approach to phasing out cheese was nutritional yeast. Boasting of fantastic nutritional benefits such as protein and vitamin B12, it tastes great when used like parmesan cheese, added directly to dishes or into sauces or pestos.
After some time using it, I decided to simplify my menu and eventually turned to cashew cheese made with only cashews soaked in water for a few hours and blended with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, seasoned to taste. If you have a nut allergy, however, nutritional yeast is still a great addition to dishes if your taste buds are missing cheese – unless you are sticking to a raw diet or cleansing, of course.
5. Replace eggs with…
I’ll be honest with you, when I see images of eggs benedict, I salivate like crazy. But then I remind myself that eggs cause inflammation in the body and are cholesterol bombs and I snap out of it in no time! Luckily, there are sooooo many easy and delicious alternatives to eggs.
The table I’ve made for you here is not complete but is hopefully a helpful start. Baking is an art. You’ll have to try out a few recipes before finding the perfect one, but patience pays off!
You will also find that you will have to change your breakfast routine altogether. Sadly, I can’t do brunch with my friends anymore, but I have them over instead and make yummy waffles and pancakes.
For all my easy and healthy vegan recipes, check out my recipe page!