8 Simple Strategies to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
Shifting from the standard American diet to a plant-based diet can be confusing, not to mention overwhelming. You’ve eaten one way your entire life, after all, and any habit you’ve followed for a long time is tough to change, not to mention, of course, that you’re confused about where to start. Sure, it’s easy enough to say eat more plants, but how? Fortunately, you don’t have to expend much mental energy on this, as experts shed light on what first steps they recommend.
1. Start with one plant-based meal a day
If you’re like most individuals, you’re eating three main meals so why not make one of them plant-based? “Even just one meal a day can help your health,” says Katrina Pilkington, NASM-certified nutrition coach and certified personal trainer in Las Vegas, adding that fruits and vegetables should make up the bulk of these meals. By doing this, you’ll join a movement called the One Meal a Day for the Planet started by Suzy Amis Cameron, spouse of movie director James Cameron, which Oprah promoted on her show and then followed it in January.
2. Ditch the dairy
One of the most common causes of gastrointestinal upset is dairy, which is why Angie Sadeghi, M.D., gastroenterologist in Newport Beach, Calif., and medical director of Integrative Practitioners Corp at Southern California University of Health Science, recommends cutting dairy out of the diet first. “Dairy is nothing but cheap junk, and when you eliminate it, you get rid of symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain,” she says, adding that eczema and other skin conditions often clear up after cutting dairy. Not to mention, of course, that roughly 60 percent of the world’s population is lactose-intolerant.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, dairy comes with numerous dangers, including increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers like breast, ovarian and prostate. Fortunately, with the plethora of non-dairy options on the market these days, including plant-based milks, cheeses, and yogurts, it’s easier than ever to make the switch.
3. Follow the Daily Dozen
You don’t have to look far to figure out which foods are the healthiest. Just turn to the free Daily Dozen app created by Michael Greger, M.D., founder of NutritionFacts.org and author of several bestselling books, including his latest How Not to Diet. “It’s an easy way to check off the daily boxes of nutritional needs that you should incorporate on a balanced, plant-based diet,” he says. “The list of foods can be combined with additional foods and is perfect for transitioning to a plant-based diet.”
The foods include beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous veggies, greens, other veggies, flaxseeds, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices and whole grains, and by checking off the recommended servings every day, you’ll not only ensure that you’re getting the highest quality nutritional bang for your bite from your food, you’ll also have less room for the unhealthy, animal-rich foods that you’re trying to avoid.
4. Adopt the Meatless Monday habit
Studies show that Monday is the perfect day for a reset, which is why you may want to join this global campaign and go meatless every Monday to start. “Meatless Monday is a great way to encourage people to make small changes in their diet that can add years to their life,” says Sid Lerner, founder of the Meatless Monday movement. “Going meatless one day a week also has a positive impact on the environment.”
Proof that it works: In a recent survey, 57 percent of folks who followed Meatless Monday for 12 weeks reported six months later that they were eating less meat than before they joined the campaign. Who knows? You may feel so good physically, mentally and emotionally going meatless one day a week that you soon add other days.
5. Visit a farmed animal sanctuary
Animal welfare is certainly one reason people adopt a plant-only diet, but even if you’re not in it for the animals, changing your lens on how you see animals can often strengthen your commitment to making the shift. “The more you can connect with farmed animals – connecting with a cow or goat the way you would a cat or dog – the less likely you’re going to be to want to eat them,” says Miyoko Schinner, founder, and CEO of Miyoko’s Creamery who’s since founded Rancho Compasión, a farmed animal rescue. While the world has been mourning the loss of almost a billion animals in the Australian fires – and rightly so – they often forget about the billions of farmed animals killed daily. “These animals value their life as much as the koalas in Australia did, and making that heart connection with them is key.”
6. Substitute meat alternatives for animal protein
Meat alternatives have flooded grocery stores in recent months and that’s a good thing for transition takers. “Substitutions allow you to enjoy the same meals and flavors without changing too much at once,” Pilkington says. For instance, if you normally cook tacos with beef, swap the beef for jackfruit, sweet potato or a plant-based meat substitute.
Products from Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Gardein have made the transition easier than ever, but because they still have a high amount of fat, Pilkington recommends using these products to transition and gradually choosing plant-based, whole food options like tofu, seitan, and beans.
7. Take your own time
Just as Rome wasn’t built overnight, nor do you have to switch to plant-based diet overnight. “Some people have different hurdles to overcome, and it may take time to prepare – mentally and emotionally – for that kind of change,” says Shivam Joshi, D., clinical assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City who took five years to transition to a fully plant-based diet. The one thing you’ve got on your side? The change is easier than ever, thanks to the plethora of plant-based foods flooding grocery store shelves.
8. Count your wins
Setting healthy intentions is one thing, but following them to a tee is another. You’re human, after all, which means that you will make mistakes along the way. Just shrug them off and carry on. “Every single bite of fresh fruits and veggies that you eat is a win for your health, the planet, and the animals,” says Chris Kendall, registered holistic nutritionist, raw vegan lifestyle coach, and raw chef. In other words, celebrate what you’re doing right and let those successes inspire you to continue.