Getting Started On The Plant-Based Diet
"Meatless Mondays" may sound like a challenge, and going vegetarian may seem overwhelming, but adapting to a plant-based diet doesn't have to be difficult.
I believe trying to change your entire diet at once can be a recipe for disaster. It can be too much for many people to maintain. Adapting your diet to a higher focus on produce is a process that is patient-controlled and centered on what works best for your life and your desires.
Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet
Eating a plant-based diet - one that leans more heavily on fruits and vegetables - has been linked to many health benefits, including:
- Boosting the physical and mental health of people with type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have shown that a plant-based diet can help prevent or reverse Type 2 diabetes.
- Helping prevent heart disease
- Greater longevity
The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research both recommend eating mostly plant-based diets to help prevent cancers. The World Health Organization and the United Nations promote diets high in plant-based foods for health.
I like to either pick one meal a day to focus on or look at what you are currently eating and try to start switching out plant-based options.
The easiest meal to start with is breakfast. Some easy options can include
- Old-fashioned oatmeal with frozen or fresh berries, some walnuts or pecans, sugar free sweetener and some plant based milk (soy, almond or coconut).
- High-fiber cereal with berries and a plant-based milk.
- Scrambled tofu and huevos rancheros (see recipe below).
For those very adventurous people, I often advise lightly cooked kale or greens with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Simple Meatless Meal Swaps
What if you're not ready to go completely meat-free? Easy substitutions can make a difference. I am currently using this method with my meat-loving husband. He loves tacos, and by experimenting I was able to find that he loves nonfat refried-bean tacos almost as much as turkey tacos. Again, baby steps are fine.
Quick ideas for adapting family favorites:
- Add a can of kidney beans or black beans to your turkey or beef for tacos and cut the meat in half.
- When making chili, omit the meat and pump up the beans in the recipe. Most people love the seasoning not the meat.
- Substitute a can of drained and rinsed red kidney beans for half the meat in pasta sauce.
- If you like spinach, a quick dinner I often fix is lightly sautéed spinach with garlic, add a can of drained white beans and a jar of spaghetti sauce. It is a delicious healthy filling diner.
- If you love sub sandwiches, opt for a veggie sub. It is lower in calories, and you can add a lot of vegetables to fill you up.
I would not give up everything you love at once. For example, cutting back on cheese, which is not plant-based, is always advisable but not necessary.
Any increase in plants in your diet will increase your health, lower your cholesterol and may help you lose weight! Take a baby step or take the leap.
(all-vegan or half-way there)
- Tortilla corn or flour (smaller taco size)
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed, or refried beans
- 1 package extra-firm tofu drained and pressed (see note)
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon taco seasoning
- 1 tomato diced or can diced tomatoes drained well
- Avocado diced
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion (if desired)
- Cheddar cheese (regular or vegan)
- Sour cream (regular or vegan)
Tofu contains large amounts of water and needs to be pressed for best recipe outcome. After removing the tofu from the package, wrap in kitchen towels and place several books on top to press out water. This process takes about 15 minutes. Tofu presses are available online.
Tortillas can be toasted in a pan sprayed with canola oil to get some color on them.
Crumble pressed tofu with your hands until it looks like scrambled eggs. Lightly spray pan with canola oil and heat to medium. Add tofu. The heat will help to remove more water. Add onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric and taco seasoning until tofu is heated through and seasonings are mixed it.
Black or refried beans can be heated in bowl in microwave.
To assemble,place tortilla on plate. Top with choice of beans, then tofu scramble. Then add tomato avocado, and onion if using. Salsa can be added now. If desired, add cheese, sour cream and cilantro.
Best eaten with knife and fork.
There are vegan cheeses and sour cream, but they can take time to get used to. It's OK to use regular cheese and sour cream if you are new to plant-based cooking. It may make the transition easier. Any addition of beans and tofu to your diet is a great start!
By Victoria Othersen, DO
Franciscan Physician Network Beech Grove Family Medicine