Plant Based 101 – How To Take The Next Steps Like A Boss
Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go. I’m not here to convert you to into becoming a braggy, my way or the high way vegan, plant based crusader. That’s not what this blog is about.
However, the world is changing! More and more meat eaters have been asking me how they can incorporate eating more plant-based meals.
So what brings you here?
Perhaps you’re a carnivore, but thinking your diet could use some more greens. Or maybe you’ve decided to make the switch but aren’t sure how to go about it. Or just maybe, after all these years of being steady with your diet, you’re vegan-curious and are wanting to explore your options.
Don’t worry, I won’t tell your Wings Wednesday crew.
No matter your reason, welcome. I’m glad you’re here.
Benefits of being plant-based
Want to lose weight? Increase energy? Achieve glowing skin, stronger hair, and nails and generally feel better? Eating clean, whole foods, plant-based diet is always the answer. A way of eating that will never go out of style. It is the most sustainable, most recommended diet to achieve and maintain your health and weight loss goals. The proof is in the vegan, sugar-free pudding, as I like to say!
But I don’t need to convince you. You’re here and that’s all that matters.
People from all dietary habits are coming around to incorporating more plant-based recipes into their lifestyle. Problem is, many people don’t do it in a way that benefits them. They dive into a herbivore diet without doing their diligence, which can often result in weight gain, low energy, and a foggy brain.
‘Wait, what?! You literally just said a plant-based diet helps solve all those problems!’
I did. And it can. When done properly.
There are certain micronutrients that animal products supply that can be difficult to attain from vegetables, which is why many vegan newbies experience symptoms after making the switch. However, if there’s a will, there’s always a way!
As you can see from the photo above, the one supplement that is always recommended is a B Complex containing B12. B vitamins support an increase in energy, brain function, cell metabolism and supports the metabolism of protein, fats, and carbs. A B Complex also helps reduce stress and boost mood, which is essential for us vegans, because when hunger hits and you’re not prepared, may the Lord have mercy on your soul.
A rule of thumb is to always try to get most of your nutrients from foods as opposed to supplements. However, when starting out, you can supplement for the first month or so then slowly wean off. If symptoms arise, I recommend getting blood work done by your GP to see which vitamin you may be running low on.
Problems that can arise:
Here are a few of the complaints I hear by those who have dove into veganism with no training wheels, and a common vitamin or mineral deficiency that are often linked to the symptom.
Fatigue- B Vitamins
As explained above, B complex is not a supplement I mess around with. I supplement once a day with a B complex to keep my mood and energy high!
Loss of hair- Zinc/Stress
Giving up meat and dairy products can be just as stressful as it is rewarding. Your options can become somewhat limited and when your hunger clock gets ticken’, it can become a stressful situation. Also, changing your eating habits after many years is no easy task.
Take a deep breath.
Although it may feel like it, you’re not going to die. Do the best that you can and that is all you can really ask of yourself.
Along with stress, a Zinc deficiency can also result in hair loss. Zinc helps keep a healthy immune system, regulation of hormones, promotes healing of wounds and promotes good eyesight. Luckily there are many vegan foods that contain zinc.
Tofu, tempeh, black and green soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, and peanuts are all good sources of zinc. To increase the bioavailability (how your body absorbs it) of the nutrients found in these foods, I always suggest soaking your beans and legumes in room temperature water with a splash of fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar overnight or while you’re at work.
Weight gain- Improper use of packaged products
Big lesson coming up here….Although I love to use this excuse when buying a dairy free cookie…. ‘vegan’ does not mean healthy. It doesn’t stop with baked goods either. The more popular veganism becomes, the bigger the plant-based packaged section gets.
A lot of these items are high in oil, sugar, gluten and other unfavorable ingredients like animal products!! It is crucial to always read the ingredients label. The ingredients are listed according to the amount used. If one of the first ingredients is a hydrogenated oil, drop it like it’s on fire. Other items to keep an eye out for included added sugars (which hide under many sneaky names. Click here to see a few of the common alternate names) artificial flavors, trans fats, and long unpronounceable foreign ingredients.
Keep it simple. The shorter the list of ingredients, the better.
I love this article on understanding vegan labels and what to look out for!
When it comes to spices, sauces, healthy alternatives in baking, there are a few things you will find in any vegans pantry. Let me walk you through a few my favorite products that offer amazing tastes to dressings, sauces, seasonings and more!
Unfiltered Apple cider vinegar
Unfiltered apple cider vinegar contains ‘the mother’ which provides good bacteria cultures that supply essential nutrients for food digestion, metabolism, oxygen transport, energy production and other health-promoting processes within the body. Filtered ACV and regular vinegar removes the ‘mother’ leaving it with little to no health benefits compared to its unfiltered counterpart. Bragg’s Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider vinegar is my go to.
Great for: Salad dressings, cold/flu fighter tea, and desserts (vegan frozen yogurt and cheesecake!).
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos OR Low Sodium Tamari
Made from non GMO soybeans, Bragg’s is a great alternative to soy sauce offering no additional table salt, preservatives or gluten found in your common soy sauce bottles.
Tamari is another great option of a gluten-free soy sauce substitute made from soybean. However be sure to check the label to make sure it does not contain MSG or GMO soybeans.
Note: Just because there’s no added salt, doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain any sodium it all. These products still contain sodium from their natural ingredients. This is why we use these products in small amounts!
Great for: Stir fry, sauces, salad dressing and great with sushi.
A slightly yellow, flaky like powder. Also, a plant-based eaters favorite ingredient! Nutritional yeast is one of the only vegan foods that offer Vitamin B12. It gives your cooking a cheesy taste. It can be found in most bulk areas of supermarkets.
Great for: Salad dressings, on top of popcorn, in ‘cheese’ sauces, tofu scrambles and more!
Both are natural sweeteners that contain little to no calories and do not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Stevia is derived from a plan where Xylitol is extracted from various fruits, vegetables, and primarily corn cobs. Because products involve a good amount of processing it is best to buy organic and check to see that there isn’t any added ingredients. The label should read 100% pure organic stevia.
Many people find that they don’t like the taste of either because of the chemical-like aftertaste. If you find this, try switching companies as there are some that taste much better then others. These natural sweeteners are very concentrated so start with 1-2 drops at a time.
Great for: Baking, in beverages like coffee or tea, or desserts.
It’s easy to reach for the non-organic spices as they are much cheaper and usually come in a larger size. However, inorganic spices have been known to contain genetically modified ingredients, fillers- such as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives (often not listed in the ingredients!) and can be contaminated with pesticides.
The farming practice of these spices is also known for being destructive to the surrounding environment and ecosystem. So yes, organic spices may be more expensive but it’s a small price to pay when you compare the health benefits and farming practices.
Himalayan, Rock, Celtic or Sea Salt
These 4 salts variations all contain small amounts of trace minerals essential to our health. In table salt, these minerals have been stripped and anti-caking agents and iodine are often added. Still, at the end of the day, salt is salt and we use it for taste, not nutrition, and in very small amounts.
Coconut & Olive Oil
Refined, Unrefined, Virgin, Cold-Pressed, Expeller Pressed. With so many options you may just be tempted to close your eyes and pick the oil that is closest to your reach. Let’s quickly break it down so your confident in choosing a coconut & olive oil that reaps all the benefits that have made these oils fan favorites. Refined means the oil typically goes through various levels of processing and even bleaching eliminating the precious health benefits. Unrefined or commonly known as virgin, normally goes through less processing. The less processing the better when it comes to all of our foods. The processing methods consist of Expeller Pressed, which is performed mechanically at a high heat, where Cold Pressed occurs in a heat controlled environment. As always, opt for organic if possible and be sure to purchase an oil that comes in a glass jar and is fair trade.
Tip: Coconut oil has a much higher smoke point meaning it can be used at higher heats without going rancid. If you are frying or cooking at a high temperature, opt for coconut oil. For dressings, light baking and cooking at a lower temperature, olive oil is a great option.
….and what is the number 1 question everyone asks a vegan?
Where do you get your protein from?
Is protein deficiency a thing? Sure it is. Has anyone who eats 2+ meals per day and maintains a fairly healthy diet been diagnosed with it? No.
The question has been subconsciously implanted in our brains by the protein supplement industry. They cleverly initiated the topic of conversation…scratch that, the fear- that you may not be getting enough protein through foods, which is why you MUST supplement with their products.
Although protein is essential to our well being, it is harder to digest and can create an acidic environment in our bodies especially when coming from animal sources. Eating (or drinking) large amounts of protein can weigh heavily on our system taxing our detoxing organs, the kidneys, and liver.
‘The momentum of this marketing (billions of dollars) has then been further propelled by nutritionists, doctors and personal trainers who don’t fully understand metabolism and the risks with excess protein intake.’
Very long story short, there is no need to fret. If you eat a whole foods based diet and regularly include the list of foods below, you’ll be meeting the DRI (daily recommended intake) of protein.
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas)
Whether using canned or dried, always be sure to soak overnight in a splash of lemon water or apple cider vinegar. This helps break down the phytic acid which covers legumes causing bloating and flatulence.
Tofu and Tempeh
Tofu has been given a bad reputation for many years due to its phytoestrogen content. Recent studies are now showing that one would have to consume excessively large amounts for the phytoestrogens to affect their health. This is good news for vegans, as tofu contains high amounts of protein, all eight essential amino acids, is a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, B1 and more! Still, we stay on the safe side using tofu in moderate amounts. Because Tofu is mostly tasteless, it absorbs any flavor you choose to accompany within. Soft tofu is great for dips, sauces, and dressings while firm and extra firm tofus are best for baking, grilling, and stir frys. Tofu should always be bought organic.
Tempeh is another high protein favorite. Made from fermented soybeans, this easy to use food is great on top of salads, in stir fries, sandwiches, homemade sushi, wraps and more. You will find tempeh in the vegan section of grocery stores and it often comes in many different flavors. I prefer to buy plain and flavor it however I choose. You can enjoy it
right out of the package, bake it, or lightly fry with a splash of water.
Known as protein powerhouses for their size, chia seeds are also high in healthy fats. These little black seeds are great additions to smoothies, or in a chia seed pudding made by allowing the chia seeds to sit in liquid, creating a gelatin-like outer layer.
Similar to chia seeds, hemp seeds are high in fat, protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. They make great additions to salads, smoothie bowls, on yogurt or in stir fry.
Quinoa & Brown Rice
Quinoa is a complete protein meaning it contains all 8 essential amino acids. While brown rice may not have all the essential aminos, it does offer a great source of fiber to your meals. Both are easy to prepare and add a nutritious, hearty component to just about any dish. Great in stir-frys, salads, even breakfast bowls, because of their bland natural flavor profile, they pick up whatever seasoning you decide to add whether it’s sweet or savory.
Although nuts are a great source of protein and healthy fats, it’s easy to overdo it.
New vegans tend to go nuts (pardon the pun) on nut butter. Another no-no.
Of course, we need healthy fats but tablespoon after tablespoon can add up. Especially if your adding chia seeds or nut butter to breakfast, avocados to your lunch, and coconut oil in your cooking with dinner. You can easily go overboard.
How much fat should I eat?
It will vary from person to person but on average if you’re active and eating a 2000 calorie per day diet, the recommended amount is 44 grams to 77 grams of fat per day. This equals out to be about 400 to 700 calories. If 2 tbsp of peanut butter is 188 calories and there are 260 calories in an avocado plus 1 tbsp of coconut oil 117, you can see how it can quickly add up. Use the moderation rule when incorporating nuts and nut butters.
This is a personal fav! Spirulina is an algae and one to take note of at that! Incredibly high in protein, minerals, vitamins, and nutrients, and it one of the best plant-based sources for iron and calcium!
A few of its long list of benefits include supporting weight loss, increasing energy, supports eye health, and brain function, balance blood sugar, improves nerve function and can help the body remove heavy metals.
It has a very strong taste so before you try it with water and swear it off for the rest of your life, try ½ tsp in freshly squeezed orange juice with a small cube of ice. Work your way up to 1 tbsp a day in water, almond milk or like me, with your protein powder post workout!
Oats & Amaranth
Fun fact: Oats are said to have more protein than any other grain.
High in complex carbohydrates and fiber, which is why they’ve been a staple breakfast item for decades, maybe even centuries. Although oats are one of the simplest breakfast dishes around, when it comes time to buy them, you may be confused at which type are best.
There are two kinds of oats, Rolled and Steele Cut. Old Fashioned, Quick and Instant all fall under the Rolled oats category. These oats are highly processed, cook and digest much faster than Steele Cut. Although Steele Cut oats make take a bit longer to prepare, they digest more slowly which helps you feel satiated longer, supporting balanced blood sugar and weight loss.
Tip: Soak your oats in water and/or almond milk overnight for a quick, easy breakfast in the morning!
Meat Free alternatives**
Although this product contains some unfavorable ingredients like guar gum, cane syrup, and canola oil, the company has made an effort to ensure the ingredients are non-GMO and are used in small amounts. I wouldn’t consider it a staple in my diet but I do enjoy it once in a while especially in dishes such as pasta sauce, tacos, vegan nachos, lasagna, and chili.
More and more options are making their way onto grocery store shelves which can make the choice a lot harder. If you can make your own veggie burgers, I highly recommend it, especially this high protein Mas Por Favor Veggie Burger. If your short on time and need to pick up a pre made one, refer to the Improper use of packaged products section above. Always read the label checking for animal products and high amounts of oils, condensed gluten (seitan) and sugar.
When making the transition, it’s nice to have a few plant-based alternatives.
Here are a few of my fav that can be easily whipped up!
Although, not as crumbly as your traditional feta, I found this to be a great alternative.
Tip-The longer you let it marinade, the better! Last in the fridge for up to 5 days.
This has been one of my top go-to recipes for the holidays. This creamy cheese sauce is amazing on vegetables and mashed potatoes (or mashed cauliflower but, baby steps) giving a healthier alternative to the heavy cheese sauce commonly seen around Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Tip: You can also add a pinch of adobo pepper or chipotle powder and use for nachos or in a Mexican dish.
With only 5 ingredients and 1 step, you can make this delicious cheese topper to accompany your next pasta night in a matter of minutes. I love adding this recipe to my tofu scrambles or on top of my avocado toast!
Did you know most store-bought yogurts (even dairy free) are chock-full of sugar? I LOVE yogurt. It was one of the hardest things to give up and refrained from having it for years until I created this ridiculously easy and delicious recipe. All you have to do it throw all the ingredients into the blender and forget about it!
High in protein, contains probiotics from the apple cider vinegar, no added sugar, dairy free and better than store bought, could you ask for more?
Enjoy with granola, make it into a parfait, or freeze it for frozen yogurt! However you choose to enjoy it, you can do so guilt free!
Tip: Add ¼ cup of your favorite fruit to make it flavored! Raspberries or banana is a personal fav.
Almost the exact same recipe as the yogurt, containing only 5 simple ingredients, this sour cream is a great addition to chilis, tacos, on top of soups and baked potatoes!
Carbonara? Cheese Cake? Mac and cheese?!
Almost any dish these days can be turned into a vegan dish. Will it taste the exact same? Not always, but I can promise you, many of them come pretty darn close! When making the transition, it’s nice to have a few vegan comfort food options to fall back on. Because of their richness, I don’t recommend making these dishes staples in your diet, but they’re fantastic options to indulge in once in a while.
Recipes to make the transition easier
Easy Vegan Snacks
The most important thing to take note of when making the switch:
If and when you make the switch to become plant-based, it’s important to remember, that this is your choice. You can’t rely on anyone else to cater to our specific dietary needs. I would be a total liar if I said being plant-based is easy. It’s not. But it is also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I feel more energetic, lighter, less moody, more positive than I ever have in my life and that came almost instantly after making this transition.
So will you have to put in a little extra effort when it comes to eating? Yes. But nothing this good comes easy right?
Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- Going out for dinner with friends? Check their menu online or call ahead to see if they have any vegan options. If not, be sure to eat before you go so you’re not hangry, stressed, and unable to enjoy the evening out.
- Invited to a potluck? Bring a hearty dish that will fill you up in case there are no other options. If a friend invites you over for dinner, express that you’ve taken the next step to become healthier and offer to bring a dish or email over a few sample plant-based recipes.
- No time to prepare, pick up or find something vegan before you hit up a work event/dinner/holiday/birthday/retirement party? Lifehack: I always keep a single sachet of protein and greens in my purse. Yeah, I’m that lady. If I feel a crash coming on and have no access to vegan food, I’ll shake the protein and greens with water. It’s not always the most filling or satiating thing in the world, but it balances my blood sugar and gets me through so I can make wise decisions and hold out until I can find something.
Lastly, OWN IT! This is your life, your body, your health. You’ve made the choice to make major strides in your wellness, don’t let anyone get in the way of that. Whether it’s your judgy friend, your high attitude server, traditional family member, or meat driven, retired cowboy cross fitting co-worker, at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can speak for yourself and the way you feel.
I’m so proud of you for giving this new way of eating and of life a chance! You are taking the fate of your health and wellness into your own hands and for that, you should know you kick ass!
If you have any questions or concerns about your health journey, reach out to me. I’d love to connect and hear about your experience and be your means of support.