With the new year upon us, I’ve noticed lots of people eagerly joining vegan or whole food plant-based (WFPB) challenges, which I find exciting.
I've had a few friends and clients reach out me about feeling overwhelmed by things like where do I begin or where do I find recipes or what’s the difference between whole foods plants-based and vegan? It can be a bit intimidating to make this shift, and below are tips and learnings I’ve stumbled upon in my own journey into veganism to help you navigate the transition — whether it be a goal of becoming 100% vegan/WFPB or just a few meals a week that are vegan/WFPB.
Understand the different labels. Vegetarian, vegan, plant based. This will help you make an informed decision about what route you want to begin with.
Vegetarian diets eschew meat and fish, but commonly allow eggs and dairy products. Veganism goes a step further cutting out every item of animal origin. Vegans avoid any food made with animal flesh, dairy products, and eggs. Some vegans also exclude honey as well.
Plant-based consists of all minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices. Excludes all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. In addition, a whole foods plant-based diet excludes the use of oils and honey, among other items.
Slower is better. While many people want to jump in with both feet to a vegan or WFPB lifestyle (kudos to them!), I took a more moderate approach and made the transition intentionally slow, as I believe it gives an individual time to explore and assess which foods, spices, etc. work for their palate. I’ve found the transition to a vegan lifestyle to be relatively simple — some foods I had already excluded several years back, like cheese, as I believe it caused me inflammation. What does starting out slower look like? I began with a few vegan meals/week, as this felt manageable to me. Every few weeks, I would include a few more. Now, all of my breakfasts and lunches are vegan or WFPB. And most of my dinners are vegan/WFBD.
Aim for whole foods. It’s easy to rely on processed vegan/PB foods because: • there are lots of options for vegan processed foods
• it’s convenient
• it may feel less daunting than searching for, planning, and cooking without animal-based foods
What does processed vegan food look like? Items like the Impossible Burger or frozen meals like vegan mac and cheese. While these items are indeed vegan, they’re still heavily processed and include ingredients that aren’t nutritionally sound or particularly helpful. This is one of the reasons I chose to begin this transition slowly so I could thoughtfully keep meals healthy and nutritious without relying on processed foods. I make just about everything from scratch. For example, I’ve fallen in love with crunchy chick peas, which you can most definitely buy pre- made. I choose to make the crunchy chick peas from scratch because it’s pretty simple and I like knowing exactly what ingredients are going into my food. Do you need to make everything from scratch? NOPE. Do what works for your needs, goals, and lifestyle.
Basics of getting started. I found expanding my repertoire of foods to be critical: ✔︎ broader base of vegetables and fruits (more variety of colors and types)
✔︎ more legumes (chick peas, lentils, beans)
✔︎ tubers (all kinds of potatoes available)
✔︎ tofu & tempeh (soy based/sources of protein)
✔︎ hemp, flax, chia seeds (good protein sources)
✔︎ non-dairy milk: oat, almond, pea, soy milk (I’ve found oat milk to be my fav)
✔︎ grains (farro, brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats)
✔︎ nutritional yeast (protein-rich source of vitamin B12)
✔︎ fermented foods/drinks (kimchi, shrubs, miso, kombucha)
✔︎ nuts and nut butters (nutrient dense and to be used in moderation)
Now go out and buy all those items! Really? No. In fact, I would recommend starting out with a few items at a time after you find recipes that appeal to you.
Below are a few websites to help you get started.
If you have a subscription to the meal planning app Plan to Eat, you can also find my vegan (and non-vegan) recipes on there to grab as well.
One book in particular I’ve found helpful: How to not die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease by Dr. Michael Greger.
Got questions about vegan nutrition or other nutrition (or fitness) questions? Please do ask!