Kristen Zaier, ​​Plant-Based RD

Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet


Once you decide that you are interested in transitioning to a plant-based diet you should consider how fast you want to make the change. You can go as slow or as fast as you want. Some people may be very eager and motivated to make changes and want to jump right in and go 100% plant-based. For others this is too overwhelming and if that's the case for you then NO PROBLEM! You are in control of your diet and you can take all the time you need to with the transition. I hope the tips below will help you transition successfully to a plant-based diet.


1) Take a couple of weeks to plan. During this time don't worry about changing your diet, just start to plan and gather ideas. Start a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas of plant- based meals that you already enjoy. Most people already eat and enjoy plant-based foods like oatmeal, minestrone soup and bean burritos. Once you have a few options at each meal, start to look at some online plant-based recipe sites or pick up some plant-based cookbooks at the library to get some more ideas. Download and read the PCRM vegetarian starter guide.


2) Rally some support. Making any kind of lifestyle change can be challenging so try to set yourself up for success by enlisting family and friends to support you on your plant-based journey. Explain to them why this change is important to you and what they can do to help you succeed. Consider having a movie night and inviting your friends and family over to watch Forks Over Knives. This is a very motivating movie that has encouraged many people to go plant-based.  


3) Start a 3 Week Plant-Based Diet Trial.Put all of your planning into action for 3 weeks and see how you feel at the end. My guess is that you will be feeling so great that you will want to continue your plant-based journey for a lifetime. For online support with your 3 week trial, I highly recommend signing up for the free  21-day vegan kickstart program from PCRM. Please note that changing to a plant-based diet can have powerful effects on your health and if you have any chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease it is critical that your doctor is aware that you are making changes to your diet. It is likely that he or she will need to decrease or stop some medications so please stay in contact with your physician.


Losing Weight on a Plant-Based Diet


Many people think that losing weight will be easy when they start avoiding animal products but this is not necessarily the case. To reap the health benefits of a plant-based diet you need to make sure that you are eating a whole-foods plant-based diet and not just replacing current animal-based junk foods like burgers, pizza, chips, donuts and ice cream with only slightly less damaging vegan versions. Keep the tips below in mind if weight loss is a goal.


1) Make nutrient dense and low calorie non-starchy vegetables the star of your meals.Vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and mushrooms are loaded with nutrients but very low in calories so they allow you to eat big portions while still creating a calorie deficit that is needed for weight loss.


2) Avoid added oils due to their high calorie content and low nutrient density. Yes, olive oil does contain some good fats but you can do better! The same good fats that are in olive oil are also found in whole foods like olives, nuts, seeds and avocados.These whole foods also offer you vitamins, minerals and fiber so you are getting a bigger nutritional bang for your calorie buck and the whole foods are more satisfying than oils.


3) Watch the portion sizes of high fat plant foods like olives, nuts, seeds and avocados. These are healthy and satisfying foods to include in your meals but because they are high in fat and thus calories, eating too many of these foods can sabotage your weight loss efforts.


4) Don't drink your calories. Smoothies, fruit juices, sugary coffee drinks, and cocktails contain a lot of calories and do not fill you up the way that solid foods do. 


​5) Keep a food journal. People that keep a food journal tend to have more success with weight loss. Just the act of writing down what you eat helps to keep you accountable for your actions and promotes healthier choices.


6) Learn to love cooking. Take control of your intake by cooking more at home and eating out less. It can be challenging to find low calorie plant-based meals at restaurants. Even vegan and seemingly healthy restaurants often serve meals that are high in sugar, salt and fat. 


Tips for Going Plant-Based

Stocking a Plant-Based Kitchen


Having healthy foods on hand is critical for transitioning successfully to a plant-based diet. The following are just some of the items that I think are good options to have in your kitchen. 


Pantry Items


Dry and canned beans (black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, lentils), canned or boxed tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsas, canned or jarred artichokes, canned or jarred olives, jarred roasted red peppers, boxed veggie broth, canned or box soups, whole wheat pastas, brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, whole grain bread, whole grain crackers, popcorn, nutritional yeast (use like parmesan to sprinkle on foods or to make plant-based cheese sauces- nutritional yeast is lovingly referred to as "nooch" in the vegan community), fresh produce such as potatoes (russet, sweet, yukon, red), bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, avocados, tomatoes, onions, garlic, shallots


Baking Items


Whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa powder, non-dairy chocolate chips, raisins, currants, dates, blackstrap molasses


Refrigerator


Fresh fruits (apples, berries,grapes, cut melons), veggies (leafy greens, carrots, celery, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini), fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley), tofu, tempeh, seitan, whole wheat tortillas, corn tortillas, non-dairy milk, ground flax seed, non-dairy yogurts, hummus, black bean dip, peanut butter, jelly, maple syrup, almond butter, tahini, miso


Freezer


Frozen fruits (berries, pineapple, mango, banana), veggies (leafy greens, peas, corn, stir-fry blend), plant-based burgers, frozen plant-based meals, nuts (cashews, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, brazil nuts), seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, hemp)


Dried Herbs, Spices and Seasonings


Oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, sage, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, curry powder, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt-free seasoning blends, powdered veggie broth


Condiments


Mustards, ketchup, plant-based mayo, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, vinegars (seasoned rice, balsamic, red wine, apple cider, brown rice), hot sauce