What is a Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based diets are low in animal-based foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Healthy plant-based diets include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes as the foundation for nutrition.
What are the Benefits to a Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based diets have been shown to decrease the markers associated with weight gain and obesity (1), lower the risk of cardiovascular disease (2), cancer (3), type 2 Diabetes (4) and may lead to a longer life (5).
How to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
Although Veganism has become vogue for celebrities that have their own personal chefs to take care of the details and the work, how does an average person who likely grew up eating meat, potatoes and a small side of vegetables adopt a plant-based diet?
The key is to start slow. I recommend starting with a plant-based cookbook or collecting recipes online from a good source (not all recipes are tested and work well when tried at home).
Spend a couple weeks reading the recipes to see what ingredients are involved. Start with recipes that have ingredients you are familiar with and already have on hand if possible. Choose recipes that do not require specialized equipment that you don’t already own. This will keep your investment in equipment minimal in the beginning, until you know what recipes will become your go-to meals.
Try one new plant-based recipe per week for a couple of months. This will give you the time to experiment with new recipes to see which ones you and your family enjoy. After you have a collection of plant-based recipes that your family enjoys then begin incorporating a second night of plant-based food then a third etc.
If you are a family that bases your meals around meat, then reduce your meat intake slowly as well. While you are introducing plant-based meals for dinner on some nights, reduce the amount of meat you are serving on the remaining nights. Increase the amount of vegetables served (ideally it should be half of the dinner plate) as you decrease the meat portion (ideally this amount should be restricted to ¼ of your dinner plate). This will shift the focus of meals away from meat and onto plants.
Get Your Family Involved
Another tip to getting your spouse or kids on board with a plant-based diet is to have them help out in the kitchen. Kids who help with the cooking are more likely to try new dishes since they contributed in making them. Also, have your spouse or child pick some of the meals from the cookbook that they would like to try. This increases the chance that these dishes will be well received.
I have also found that making your family’s favourite meals more plant-based also increases the likelihood that the meals will be accepted and enjoyed. For example, try using lentils as a beef replacement in spaghetti sauce, lasagna, tacos and as a base for “meatloaf”, Shepherd’s pie or whatever other beef dishes your family enjoys.
It can often take a few attempts when introducing a new food to a child before they will try it or accept it so don’t give up if your plant-based meal is not an instant favourite.
Avoid ‘All or Nothing’ Thinking
Remember that Veganism (avoiding all animal-based foods) is not necessarily the goal. If you enjoy animal-based foods you can still eat a mostly plant-based diet with meat, fish, eggs and dairy used more as a condiment than as a base for meals. A small amount of these products in a predominantly plant-based diet will still give you most of the health benefits and will help to limit the negative impact animal-based products can have on your health and on the planet.
Supplement if Required
Keep in mind that if you choose to completely eliminate animal products then you will likely need to supplement vitamin B12 since our primary sources are animal-based foods.
As well, there is some debate as to whether vegetarian or vegan diets are suitable for growing children. Children have an increased need for nutrients as they grow and there is a concern that they may be missing some of these nutrients if their diet is too restrictive.
I would suggest consulting your health care provider before removing all sources of animal-based foods if this is the way your family has always eaten. If you choose to go ahead with a vegetarian or vegan diet then I would recommend consulting a qualified nutritionist on how to ensure adequate nutrition and what supplements may be required for growing children.
Limit Processed Meat and Dairy Alternatives
Limit using packaged or processed meat and dairy alternatives to replace meat and dairy since these alternative products are often loaded with GMO (genetically modified) soy, food additives and fillers that are not healthy to consume on a regular basis. The goal is to increase your intake of plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) and reduce animal-based foods not replace meat and dairy with a ‘faux’ food alternative.
So, if you want to transition to a plant-based diet for its proven health benefits then; start slow, include your spouse and children in the planning and cooking, avoid ‘all or nothing’ thinking since there are benefits to adopting a plant-based diet even partially, supplement with vitamin B12 if you decide to eliminate all animal-based foods and limit regular use of processed meat and dairy alternatives.
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Eat Well, Feel Well, Live Well