7 Easy Ways To Start Eating A More Plant-Based Diet
When it comes to the science, the message is pretty clear: switching to a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for both your health and the environment.
In fact, reducing or avoiding meat and dairy has been regarded as the "single biggest way" to decrease your impact on the earth. That being said, trying to undo and cut back on old eating habits while attempting to form new, plant-based ones, can be overwhelming.
So, to make your transition towards a more plant-based lifestyle a little bit easier, we consulted nutritionist and holistic health expert, Madeline Calfas, for her top tips on starting a plant-based diet.
1. CHANGE YOUR MINDSET AND CONSIDER MEAL DELIVERY
When it comes to thinking about what constitutes a plant-based diet, or even plant-based foods, many of us tend to picture an endless parade of salads—with the odd snack of celery and carrot sticks throw in for good measure. This, however, is a visual we should all be leaving behind in 2020.
"As appealing as that might be to a rabbit, following a plant-based diet can be so much more exciting than that," Calfas told ELLE.
"We are incredibly fortunate to live in an age and a country where we have easy access to a large variety of foods."
If you really want to make things easy for yourself, and it's a financially viable option for you, signing up to a meal delivery service (either a plant-based one or one that offers a plant-based menu), can be a great way to take the pressure off having to come up with recipe ideas when you're just starting out.
It's also a great way to increase your exposure to the myriad of forms plant-based foods can take, Calfas emphasised.
"There are hundreds of plant-based items that can even be purchased online and delivered straight to your door. Let's think beyond the boring lunch-time salad."
2. SWAP OUT YOUR DAIRY
One of the easiest swaps you can make to increase your plant-based food intake is to switch out your usual dairy go-tos for non-dairy versions. That's not to say you need to eliminate dairy altogether, but that making even a few substitutes a week will help in following a more plant-based lifestyle and aiding the environment.
"One of the easiest ways to up your plant intake can start with your morning coffee. Gone are the days where your only milk substitute is soy milk," said Calfas.
While it's recommended that soy milk (and soy products) should be consumed in moderation due to the way it reportedly interacts with our hormones, there are a number of other 'mylk' substitutes that mix brilliantly with your daily dose of caffeine.
"Think: almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, macadamia milk—there is a wide variety of options available to us," Calfas explained.
"My personal favourite is oat milk. I buy a barista version, which froths up nicely when I put it in my Aeroccino, and has such a mild taste to it, that I don't even notice it. This means I still get to have my cappuccino in the morning without having to sacrifice the taste."
Other easy swaps include opting for coconut yoghurt in place of traditional yoghurt or sour cream, choosing a dairy-free dip as a spread in place of cheese, sprinkling nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan, and buying vegan pesto sauces in place of conventional ones.
3. USE YOUR SIDE DISHES TO INCREASE THE VARIETY OF PLANT-BASED FOODS IN YOUR DIET
It can be overwhelming to think about coming up with entirely plant-based meals when it's not something that you're used to, which is where side dishes come in.
"[It's] easy to increase the amount of plant-based foods in your diet either by increasing the quantity as a side dish, or swapping out a few meals to be all plant-based," said Calfas.
"Try marinating some portobello mushrooms in olive oil and garlic, and then throwing them on the barbecue instead of a steak. They have a great 'meaty' flavour to them, and are filled with nutrients such as the B vitamins, potassium and selenium, and are a source of protein.
"A lot of restaurants these days will often have a mushroom burger on the menu. Making an omelette? Add some baby spinach, sauteed kale, mushrooms and capsicum, garnish with a little bit of fresh coriander, and you have instantly made your meal higher in plant-based foods without having to sacrifice anything."
4. MAXIMISE BREAKFAST TIME
Unless we're out enjoying a lavish cafe brunch on the weekend, most of us don't really take the time to up the vegetable content in our weekday breakfasts, which, according to Calfas, is a missed opportunity when it comes to boosting our daily dose of plant-based foods.
For example? If your go-to breakfast is a blitz'n'go smoothie, consider elevating both the nutrition and plant-based factor by sneaking in some veggies, such as zucchini, into your usual recipe.
"[Try] throwing in some banana, kiwifruit and zucchini—yes, zucchini—it adds a really creamy texture to your smoothie without affecting the taste and has plenty of fibre, as well as vitamins C and K, and folate and manganese," said Calfas.
"Add some hemp and chia seeds to boost the protein and essential fatty acid content, a few raspberries and some coconut milk, and you have yourself an easy, nutritious breakfast that can be had even whilst you're running out the door."
There are plenty of recipes out there for vegetable-packed breakfasts, many of which are easy to meal prep ahead of time so you don't have to stress during the week.
5. STEP UP YOUR SNACKS
Keeping the right snacks on hand is one of the easiest ways to move towards a plant-based diet. And while you might be once again picturing the ol' celery and carrot stick combination (nothing wrong with that!), 'plant-based' doesn't necessarily mean eating just fruits and vegetables.
"Having a quality snack like a trail mix on hand is an excellent way to increase plant-based foods," said Calfas.
"It's filling, loaded with nutrients like thiamine (vitamin B1), essential fatty acids, copper, protein, vitamin E and vitamin A."
Want to make your own? It's actually very easy, Calfas explained, and could be a good way to curb that 3pm chocolate craving.
"I love to get some almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts, add a few sunflower and pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, toss a bit of sea salt, turmeric and coconut oil through and roast in the oven for an anti-inflammatory snack that's high in protein and tastes amazing.
"And you can easily tweak the recipe and put whatever spices you like. Want something sweeter? Swap the turmeric for cinnamon. [It] tastes great, hits that sweet spot, and cinnamon has loads of antioxidants and is great for blood sugar regulation."
6. CALL UPON CAULIFLOWER
Gone are the days of boiled and bland cauliflower! The humble cruciferous vegetable has had something of a PR makeover in the last few years, and is arguably one of the best plant-based foods to add to your diet, thanks to its ability to take on many forms.
"You can use cauliflower in just about anything. Feel like fried rice? You can easily swap out white rice for cauliflower rice, which you can make or can be bought frozen from the market," said Calfas.
"Swap out your traditional pizza base for a cauliflower base, which you can make at home if you're feeling adventurous, or buy from the supermarket, and is loaded with phytonutrients, vitamins C and K. You don't have to miss out on pizza night—and it's much better for your waistline!"
You can even get cauliflower gnocchi. Sold.
7. FIND YOUR FAVOURITE 'SNEAKY SWAPS' AND RECIPE ADD-ONS
Working out your favourite sneaky swaps is an excellent tactic for occasionally replacing animal-derived products with plant-based foods.
"Don't be afraid to make changes to your favourite recipes," said Calfas.
"If you like to bake, you can swap out eggs for unsweetened applesauce. It tastes great, and adds extra fibre and antioxidants to your muffins."
Another simple method is to look at your favourite recipes and work out where you can add a vegetable or legume without increasing your effort.
For example, if you have a go-to recipe for risotto, consider adding a can of chickpeas for an instant plant-based protein boost, Calfas explained.
Love Mexican chilli? Cut the mince and go for lentils, mushroom and black beans. Can't go past a poke bowl? Swap out the salmon or tuna for tofu or tempeh.
While it might seem daunting, making these kinds of switches a few times a week is a huge step in the right direction, and one that's beneficial to both your health and the environment.