Easing into Plant-Based Eating: Tips for Shifting Your Diet without Feeling Stressed or Deprived
Most diets fail, as research shows, due to the rigid rules people impose upon themselves. Vowing to never eat a favorite “forbidden” food again fuels feelings of deprivation. Too often when dieters surrender to temptation, the guilt drives them to go on a binge eating spree and, eventually, just give up.
The good news is there is a more sensible and satisfying recipe for adopting a healthy plant-based diet. Rather than concentrating initially on what NOT to eat, simply add in more whole plant food than you’ve been eating. By making healthier choices first—without denying yourself anything—the proportion of unhealthy food in your diet is reduced and replaced.
Here are some more tips for “crowding out” unhealthy animal-based and processed foods and enjoying simple, delicious plant-based meals:
• Plan a week ahead to eat more whole plant foods. To incorporate more produce into your weekly meals, plan to include a green vegetable at three dinners, fix a main course salad for three lunches, and prepare a big fruit bowl for one weekend breakfast. To add a whole grain to breakfast for the week, mix your preferred cold cereal with an equal amount of rolled oats, 50/50, and top with plant milk.
• Achieve the texture and taste to satisfy cravings. Think about the qualities of the specific food you crave. Is it savory or sweet? Is it crunchy, chewy, or fluffy? Is it served warm or cold? For instance, a craving for macaroni and cheese might be comfortably satisfied by eating creamy mashed potatoes made with almond milk and seasoned with nutritional yeast. This deactivated yeast, found in most health food stores and many supermarkets, can provide the savory, cheesy flavor to help you pass through the craving without derailing your dietary commitment.
• Make plant-based dishes savory and flavorful. Your taste buds register five main flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (a rich, savory flavor), and most people like the flavors and intensity they are used to eating. It could take at least three weeks for taste preferences to adjust to less salt and sugar. But plant-based meals need not be bland! Add a small piece of kombu seaweed to make grain dishes and soups more delicious. Use herbs such as tarragon, sage, or thyme with white wine, lemon, salt, and garlic in tofu and bean dishes. For sweet salad dressings, try using blended frozen fruit as a base. Add catsup and soy sauce together to lend a smoky/meaty flavor to bean dishes and homemade seitan. Make peanut sauces more robust with a dash of vegan Worcestershire sauce. Be creative! Experiment and taste test.
If you’re thinking of shifting to a plant-based diet or simply eating more veggies, these simple tips makes the commitment much easier and even more fulfilling.
MICAELA COOK KARLSEN is a founding employee and former Executive Director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. A contributor to the New York Times bestseller Forks Over Knives and the creator of www.PlantBasedResearch.org, a free online database of research on plant-based nutrition, she holds an MSPH in Human Nutrition from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is a PhD candidate in Nutritional Epidemiology at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.