It is now (more or less) universally acknowledged that a plant-based diet can not only do wonders for the health of Mother Earth – but also your health ?
I mean, just look at this 2016 study. It shows that humankind could avoid 8.1 million deaths annually across the globe if more people adopt a vegan diet. That's right: 8.1 million!
But, of course, if you've clicked into this article … then the chances are high that you're already well familiar with the health and environmental merits associated with transitioning to a plant-based diet.
That said, just because you're acquainted with a plant-based diet's advantages doesn't make the actual giving up of meat (think: "steak date nights") any more manageable.
So. To help you out, here are a few tips that’ll help smoothen your transition into a plant-based diet – and prevent you from falling victim to the standard "nutritional pitfalls" of a meatless diet.
1: Take it slow
Just like how you'd start on a new workout routine, be sure to take your transition into a plant-based diet nice and slow. Going from eating an assortment of hearty meats (e.g., lamb chop and seafood) every day to not at all overnight will be an incredibly jarring experience.
This “fast and furious” approach is also highly unsustainable.
Instead, consider making just one meal of your day (e.g., lunch) plant-based for a start. This will give your mind and body time to accommodate the new diet. Then, gradually work on swapping animal-based ingredients in other meals with plant-based alternatives.
For instance: love beef chili? Plant-based "beef chili" typically replaces beef with either ground mock meat or canned beans.
You don’t need to worry about the taste factor of plant-based meals, either.
The help of spices and aromatics like black pepper, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, will make you completely forget that you’re eating a good-for-you and good-for-the-planet meal.
2: Pay extra attention to your protein sources
It's no secret that trying to get all nine essential amino acids (i.e., "complete protein") through plant-based protein sources is challenging. Good news?
Difficult, yes. But not impossible.
That's because there's no need for you to get every essential amino acid in every bite of food at every meal.
In other words: you can "mix-and-match" various sources over a day’s meals – with each source’s essential amino acid(s)’ “deficiency” being compensated by others.
Studies and health experts agree.
Most dietitians maintain that plant-based diets contain such a wide variety of amino acid profiles that vegans who follow a varied, healthful diet are virtually guaranteed to get all their amino acids without ever needing to track their food intake.
Still, feel a little worried and would prefer if you were able to get all the essential amino acids you need in one meal?
Then you can structure your meals around the following complete – plant-based, of course – protein sources:
- Mycoprotein (Quorn)
- Rice and beans
- Hummus and pita
Disclaimer: you may find yourself … well, rather uncomfortable in the beginning stages of transitioning to a plant-based diet.
Because plant proteins are typically harder to digest compared to animal proteins, you may find yourself dealing with bloat and flatulence (embarrassing!) in the post-meal period.
You can expect it to get particularly bad if you’re in a bulking phase, where your protein intake level is at an all-time high.
Thinking of ditching the idea of following a plant-based diet?
Hold on just a minute. Rest assured that there's an easy fix for all your digestive troubles: incorporate a few new items one at a time – and see how you feel, plus give your body time to acclimatize before going "all-in" with the plant-based protein load (read: tip #1).
3: Be mindful of your micronutrient intake
Another downside to a plant-based diet is the fact that you'd likely end up short in several micronutrients (no thanks to the exclusion of all animal products) – including vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron.
Below, find a (short) explanation of why each micronutrient is so health-beneficial, along with the plant-based foods you can eat to help keep those nutrient levels in check:
- Vitamin B12: Essential for keeping your body, cells, and brain healthy; it helps your body create DNA. You can find vitamin B12 in fortified plant milk, fortified cereals, vegan butter, nutritional yeast, and meat substitutes.
- Vitamin D: Best known as the "sunshine vitamin". Vitamin D not only works together with calcium to keep your bones strong but also supports your immune system in its quest to fight off illness. Get the vitamin D you need through sun exposure and certain mushrooms (e.g., maitake, morel, chanterelle, oyster, and shiitake).
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are fundamental to the structure of every cell wall you have. They help keep all your vital organs – like heart and lungs – working as they should. To get your necessary share of fatty acids, make sure you eat plenty of chia seeds, brussels sprouts, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
- Iron: An essential element for blood production. Since you’re only able to get non-heme iron (which is much harder for your body to absorb compared to heme iron found in animal products) through a plant-based diet, you’ll have to make sure to stuff your face with tons of spinach, tofu, beans, and lentils.
4: Call the restaurant before eating in
For obvious reasons, your transition into a plant-based diet would be a whole lot easier if you could meal prep all your meals for the day. But most of us don't have the luxury of time to do that.
The next best option for you would be to call ahead to a restaurant before dining in.
This way, you’re able to ascertain if they have suitable plant-based meal options for you – and if there’s any chance of them being able to make special arrangements for you. Oh, and before I conclude this article … here’s a bonus tip: change is a lot less daunting when you have company.
If you’re transitioning into a plant-based diet, find friends and family who’re willing to navigate this uncertain (but undoubtedly) exciting period with you.
But wait. What if your loved ones are hardcore meat lovers – who, as much as they love you, can’t give up animal products?
Then please join the GymStreak community. We have plenty of individuals onboard who's crushing their fitness goals through our smart AI-powered training app while on a plant-based diet. There’s plenty to learn from them. But first, you’re going to need to download the GymStreak app here.Get GymStreak
Hever, J. (2016). Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide. The Permanente Journal, 20(3), 15–082. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/15-082
Sakkas, H., Bozidis, P., Touzios, C., Kolios, D., Athanasiou, G., Athanasopoulou, E., Gerou, I., & Gartzonika, C. (2020). Nutritional Status and the Influence of the Vegan Diet on the Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Medicina, 56(2), 88. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina56020088
Springmann, M., Godfray, H. C. J., Rayner, M., & Scarborough, P. (2016). Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(15), 4146–4151. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1523119113