Starting a plant-based diet but feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of going all in? Know this: Rome wasn't built in a day and you don't have to go 100 percent whole food plant-based to feel better, lose weight, or reach your healthy living goals. The best plant-based diet is the one you can stick to so if quitting Standard American fare cold turkey is too much, aim for 80 percent WFPB! We're here to get you there...
Before We Begin: The Easiest Way to Eat WFPB
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Did you know more and more doctors are prescribing plants to help their patients heal? Nutrition science shows us again and again that a plant-based diet can help you…
- Stabilize your blood pressure
- Prevent and reverse heard disease
- Improve digestion
- Promote more restful sleep
- Increase your energy
- Prevent type 2 diabetes
- Decrease your risk of developing certain cancers
- Decrease recovery times for athletes
- Decrease inflammation which causes disease
- Extend your life expectancy
- Slow the development of wrinkles
- Lose weight
- Decrease symptoms of and prevent autoimmune diseases
- Decrease anxiety and depression through a balanced gut
... The list goes on and on.
But here's the cool part: when you're starting a plant-based diet if you can't stick to a 100% plant-based right off the bat (or ever), you can still reap some of these amazing benefits. You'll still feel and notice the difference that just a few extra servings of fruit and veggies can make. More more plant foods you eat, the better you will feel! And remember: progress, not perfection!
Here’s some good news to kick things off: you probably eat about 50 percent plant-based already. Yep! You’re more than halfway there without even trying. From that side of green beans to your baked potato, you eat more plants than you realize. And hey, even that slice of tomato or dill pickle on your burger counts for something!
1. Use Dairy as a Garnish, Not as a Main Ingredient
Instead of making pasta Alfredo, whip up pasta marinara and top it with a small sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Instead of making cream of mushroom soup with heavy cream, use non-dairy cream sauce and then drizzle a little heavy cream on top as a garnish. Instead of making a grilled cheese sandwich, make a veggie melt with just a sliver of cheese. You get the point….
2. Change up Your Sides to Main Dish Ratio
Instead of making that 8-ounce filet with a cup of green beans and a cup of mashed potatoes, try making two cups of green beans, two cups of mashed potatoes, and only 4-ounces of steak. Instead of having eight BBQ ribs, an ear of corn, and a cup of potato salad, try three ribs, two ears of corn, and two cups of potato salad. Instead of a roast beef sandwich, enjoy a veggie melt with just a single layer of meat. And so on, and so forth.
One day, you may find yourself not even needing to add that layer of meat or cheese!
3. Look at Your Plate like a Pie Chart
Just look at your plate! Do your veggies, whole grains, fruits and starches crowd out the meat and dairy? Make sure animal products don’t take up more than 20% of your plate and you've got it!
4. Make Simple Vegan Swaps
Vegan swaps are a game changer for anyone starting a plant-based diet. Swap this for that...
Dairy and Egg Swaps
- Swap dairy milk for non-dairy milk (unsweetened)
- Swap scrambled eggs for scrambled tofu or scrambled chickpeas
- Swap cheese, butter, mayo or cream for cashew cream
- Swap an egg for baking with a flax egg
Refined Foods Swaps
- Swap oil for sautéing with veggie broth
- Swap white bread for whole grain bread
- Swap pasta for whole grain, lentil, or brown rice pasta
- Swap white rice for brown rice
- Swap white and brown sugar for date sugar
- Swap chicken masala for a baked potato with masala sauce
- Swap a steak with A1 sauce for a grilled portobello mushroom with A1 sauce
- Swap grilled chicken for grilled tofu (marinate the same as you would chicken! I like to marinate mine Italian dressing, and then brush on BBQ sauce mid way through grilling)
- Swap beef in your marinara for chopped onion, green pepper, zucchini, eggplant and other veggies
- Swap honey mustard chicken in your wrap for tofu marinated in honey mustard and then baked
- Swap chicken wings for cauliflower wings, and then use your typical dipping sauces
- Swap your lunch meat for thinly sliced tofu, marinated in garlic powder and Tamari, and then baked
- Swap ground beef for black beans and veggies in your taco
Notice how the veggies crowd out the meat and dairy? The meat and dairy act as an accent to the dish, rather than the main ingredient. A few simple changes can improve your overall health drastically... and look how delicious it can be! And overtime, you may find you want less and less of the meat and dairy.
- The best plant-based diet is the one you can stick to! Moving to a healthy WFPB lifestyle is all about progress, not perfection.
- When starting a plant-based diet you can get to 80 percent WFPB by using meat and diary as garnishes and accents, not the main ingredients.
- Start simple and swap all of the easy ingredients out, like plant-based milk in place of dairy milk.
- Try not to fill up more than 20 percent of your plate with animal products.
- The more plants you eat, the better you will feel
By Caroline DiNicola Fawley
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies