Starting Your Plant Based Health Journey

Vegan

How to Start Your First Plant-Based Diet

Any time you switch to a new way of eating, it can be a big process.

However, when you make a big switch like going completely plant-based and vegan, it often feels even more intimidating.

Here is a  simplified the process  showing you some of the first things to do when transitioning to more of a plant-based way of eating.

Know WHY You Are Going Vegan

You should always start a plant-based or vegan diet by understanding your own motives.

There is no wrong way to choose this way of eating, but think about the main benefits and your own personal motivation.

Even though you know it is great for the environment, this might not be your personal reason, and that’s okay.

But to stay motivated, you have to find YOUR reason for going plant-based, whether it is for physical health, better skin, longevity, or moral reasons.

Vegetables Should Be the Star

Before you transition fully to a plant-based diet, start adding more plant-based foods in.

Do this slowly instead of going straight to a vegan diet.

Don’t take anything away just yet, but just add in more vegetables to each meal.

If you’re making mac and cheese for lunch, make it with loads of broccoli.

If you love spaghetti, put more veggies in your sauce. Love eggs?

Make a scramble with onions, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Make vegetables the star of every meal, gradually having more vegetables and less meat products every day.

Transition Slowly with Plant-Based Foods You Enjoy Now

When you begin transitioning to a plant-based diet, first make a list of vegan foods you eat now that you enjoy a lot.

These will be the first foods you come to rely on, though you will also add more nuts and seeds, grains, legumes, beans, and vegetables, to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition.

Maybe you love spaghetti squash soup or your favorite salad dressing is oil and vinegar.

This is great news because these are plant-based foods! Start here before venturing out and trying new things.

Learn About Nutrients You Need

Finally, make sure you are aware of the nutrients you need to focus on with your vegan meals.

When you eat an animal-based diet, you get a lot of your iron, calcium and protein from meat and dairy, but this is different when you are consuming all plant-based foods.

You can still get the nutrients you need, but you need to be even more careful with having a balanced diet.

This includes understanding what foods contain all the vitamins and minerals you need, like adding a combination of vegetables and fruits with whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans, and other ingredients.

Emotional Benefits of Going Vegan

Many people talk about the physical benefits of going vegan, as well as the environmental benefits.

These are very important to consider, but don’t forget about your own mental health!

Emotional and mental benefits are not often talked about, but just might be what helps you to stick with this way of eating and stay motivated to see it through long-term.

Vegan

Reduce Stress About Dieting

Do you know what happens when you switch to a new way of eating and no longer have to yo-yo diet?

You lose a lot of that diet stress.

By committing to a plant-based diet, you will soon discover that you can naturally maintain your weight just by sticking to a whole, plant-based diet.

No more counting calories or carbs, or going on extremely restricting diet.

As long as everything you eat is fresh, plant-based food, you don’t have to worry too much about what you are eating.

Of course there are always exceptions, but more often than not, all that crazy diet stress goes right out the window.

Studies Have Shown a Reduction in Anxiety

There have been studies that look at the mental health of people on prolonged vegan or plant-based diets, and found something amazing – it really helps with your anxiety, mood swings, and stress levels.

This can be from any number of things, from no longer eating hormones that was in the meat you were eating, to mood stabilization from reducing dairy and having many more vitamins and minerals thanks to all the veggies and whole grains.

You probably eat far less packaged, frozen, and processed food now as well, which can definitely help with your mood and reduced mental health issues.

You Feel Healthier All Around

Don’t rule out the benefit of just feeling better and healthier all around.

Being on a plant-based diet can help with a lot of your gut issues, especially if you had an allergy to certain meat or shellfish, or to dairy, which is very common.

You won’t be as bloated anymore not having all that milk in your body.

Many people also notice that their mental health and confidence improves because they know all the benefits of being on a vegan diet.

You understand the health benefits for yourself and the environment, and your morals are no longer in question every time you eat an animal-based product.

This can do wonders for your own mental health and wellness.

How to Eat Whole and Clean Plant-Based Foods

As you embark on your healthy journey and decide to follow a plant-based diet, don’t just try to stick to the same processed and packaged foods.

It is so much better for your health if you can eat clean, whole foods, and they are better for the environment as well!

Here are some tips for eating a whole, plant-based diet.

Beans, Lentils, and Grains

If you want to go more whole and clean plant-based with your vegan diet, start by purchasing these food items in the bag.

This means no more boxes of rice that you throw in the microwave.

Instead, you will buy big bags of rice in bulk, rinse and soak them, and cook them over the stove or in your rice cooker.

The same can be said for all sources of grains, beans, lentils, and oats.

This will save you money, and while it takes a little longer, they are easy to prep in bulk for meals.

Avoid All the Packaged and Processed Foods

Another way to ensure you are eating as clean and whole as possible is by avoiding anything that is processed.

What this means is avoiding most of the canned, boxed, and bagged foods.

There are some exceptions like buying rice or grains in bags, but for the most part, try to stay away from stuff that comes in a can.

Make as much as you can from scratch with fresh ingredients, and you will be on the right track.

Get Fresh or Frozen Produce

A good amount of your plant-based food is going to be produce, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

Try to get it as fresh as you can if you want to follow a clean, vegan lifestyle.

If you want to save some money, check out local farmer’s markets and CSAs, as this provides local produce that is often much cheaper than traditional supermarkets.

If you can’t get all fresh produce, the next best thing is to get it frozen.

Just avoid anything that is in a can or jar, as this often includes added sugar and preservatives, and might not be considered clean.

Cook Everything at Home

While you can find healthy, vegan options when you go out to certain restaurants, there is really no telling what they put into their food and how fresh their ingredients are.

If you can’t be certain it is completely clean, you are better off cooking as much as you can at home.

This will also save you money and ensure all ingredients are completely plant-based.

High-Protein Vegan Food Ideas

If you are on a vegan diet or just thinking about transitioning to a plant-based diet, one of the nutrients you need to focus on is your protein.

Many people on standard diets will get most of their protein from meat and dairy, but that doesn’t mean they are your only options!

A lot of healthy, vegan food has all the protein you need each day.

Lentils

First up, you have your lentils. Lentils, beans, and legumes are popular options on a plant-based diet, since they provide a lot of nutrients you might be missing from your new vegan diet.

Lentils are an amazing source of protein, with about 8.84 grams of protein for just ½ cup.

If you have a cup or more, or combine them in a bowl with other protein-rich foods, you have yourself a protein-dense meal.

As an added benefit, lentils will also provide you with iron, fiber, and potassium.

Chickpeas

A similar protein source is chickpeas.

In fact, it is not uncommon to have a bowl or dish with chickpeas and lentils, along with other beans and legumes, and lots of healthy vegetables, and maybe even some nuts and seeds as well.

With chickpeas, ½ cup provides you a little more than 7 grams of protein.

The great thing about chickpeas is that you can eat them cold or cooked in something, in salad, and of course by making your own hummus.

almonds

Almonds

If you are a fan of nuts and seeds, add in some almonds to your meals and snacks!

You can have a handful of almonds as a snack, top slivered almonds to your soup or salads, or made your own almond butter to dip other fruits and vegetables in.

While many nuts contain protein, almonds are one of your best options.

You will get over 16 grams of protein in just ½ cup of almonds, not to mention all the other nutrients these give you.

Tofu

When you are on a plant-based diet, sometimes you want a main course that resembles a look or flavor to meat, without actually having meat.

This is where tofu comes in.

It can be intimidating at first, but it is loaded with protein and other vitamins and minerals, and takes on the flavor or whatever you cook it with.

You are going to get about 10 grams of protein for each ½ cup of tofu you have.

How to Get Calcium in Your Diet Without Dairy

When you can’t have dairy, whether because of a dairy allergy or you have gone completely plant-based, you will need to find alternative sources for many nutrients.

This includes calcium, which you might have gotten primarily from milk and cheese before.

Luckily, there are plenty of great dairy-free sources of calcium.

Dairy-Free Milk

The first way to get more calcium without dairy is to still drink milk!

Instead of drinking milk from animals like cows or goats, you are going to look at dairy-free alternatives.

The simplest way is to choose a nut milk like almond milk, or go with a rice or soy milk.

These options provide about 30 to 50 percent of your daily requirement for calcium in just 8 ounces – which is really easy to fit into your day.

Beans and Legumes

Since you will be eating a good amount of beans and legumes to stay full throughout the day while eon a plant-based diet, they are great to use as a calcium source.

For example, navy beans provide about 65 mg of calcium in one serving, while pinto beans have about 50 mg of calcium.

You can also get a good amount of calcium with tofu, which has between 80 and 150 mg, depending on the type of tofu you get.

Fruits and Vegetables

Plenty of fruits and vegetables contain calcium, and are really easy to add to your different meals and snacks.

For example, oranges not only give you vitamin C, but 1 cup of oranges has 70 mg of calcium.

For vegetables, enjoy turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli, edamame, kale, and bok choy.

Looking for something sweet?

Dried figs have 120 mg of calcium in about ½ cup.

Figs are great because they are sweet like fruit, but they don’t spoil as quickly.

You can bring a container of them on road trips, to work or school, or keep at home for when you want a quick, sweet snack that will also give you a nice healthy boost of calcium.

As you can see, it is simple to add in more calcium to your diet, without ever having to worry about not including milk.

From using almond and soy milk in your cereal or coffee, to enjoying vegetables like bok choy and greens, you are going to get the nutrients you need with a well-balanced, vegan diet.

The Top 5 Plant-Based Foods with Iron

Whether you have been a vegan for a while or are just starting out, you might notice that your typical diet doesn’t have as much iron.

In addition to an iron supplement, there are also some great foods with high iron content that are completely plant-based.

Here are some of the best options.

Vegan Tray

Nuts and Seeds

Start with your nuts and seeds, which are so easy to add to meals and snacks.

You can just munch on a snack of your favorite nuts, like cashews or walnuts to get more iron, or have iron-rich seeds on salads and in Buddha bowls, like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.

Another good nut with iron? Pistachios!

These are always a fan favorite.

Vegetables

A good amount of your diet will consist of vegetables, but when you want iron, you should be sure you pick the right balance.

For more iron in your diet, vegetables like collard greens, swiss chard, and tomato are going to be great for you.

Grains

The next category of foods with iron are your grains.

You will eat a good amount of grains while on a plant-based diet as these are going to really bulk up your meals and help you feel full, even by changing to a vegan lifestyle.

Some excellent grains that are delicious and iron-rich are oats, brown rice, quinoa, and fortified cereals.

Legumes

Next up are your legumes!

If you have been plant-based for a while, you probably already eat a good amount of legumes, whether as a side dish to the main course, in a rice bowl, or a Buddha bowl.

Legumes with iron are soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans, and lentils.

Make up a bowl of chili with legumes, have some tofu as your main course, or have a probiotic-rich meal with tempeh.

Tofu

We already talked about tofu, but this really does deserve its own category.

It is extremely easy to cook, picks up any seasoning or flavor it is cooked with, and goes with just about everything.

It is the perfect meatless option for main courses and side dishes, plus it has a good amount of iron and other nutrients.

Don’t Forget the Vitamin C

Iron is a tricky supplement, because you often need a booster in order to enhance how much your body is able to absorb.

For this reason, it is a great idea to incorporate vitamin C foods (or a supplement) into your regular routine to be sure you absorb as much iron as possible.

Some great sources of vitamin C include pineapple, citrus fruit, brussel sprouts, strawberries, and broccoli.