The word “vegan” can be intimidating. For some it may trigger images of of bland tofu, meatless burgers, and cheese that doesn’t taste like cheese. If this is you, I encourage you to challenge these beliefs. Not because I’m about to tell you that you need to go vegan or the world is going to end. But because transitioning to a plant-based diet can have massive benefits for the planet and your health.
And some vegan cheeses do actually taste like cheese.
But veganism isn’t the only way to achieve a more sustainable diet. If it’s a lifestyle that works for you by all means, do it, but reducing your meat intake and making a few plant-based swaps can have an impact as well. In fact, if everyone in the United States reduced their consumption of beef, pork, and poultry by just a quarter, and swapped in plant proteins, it’d save about 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
To reduce your emissions by learning how to transition to a plant-based diet, continue reading below!
How to transition to a more plant-based diet
Make one meal per day plant-based
Don’t try to cut animal products out of your diet all at once—it will likely result in a feeling of overwhelm. In fact, you’ll probably be more likely to turn back to what you know if you try to quit cold turkey.
Instead pick one meal per day that you would like to make plant-based. Breakfast can be a great option, since that’s typically a meal you make just for yourself (as opposed to dinner which you may make for your whole family). Plus with oats, cereal, toast, smoothies, and more, there are tons of great meatless breakfast options that are still satisfying and delicious.
Try new foods one at a time
Adopting a more plant-based diet can mean introducing quite a few new foods to your digestive system. Spoiler alert: it won’t always go well. Many vegan proteins are very high in fiber, or may contain nutrients that your body is not accustomed to. For instance, beans—in addition to having a high fiber content, they also contain sugars that your body is not good at breaking down. Therefore, suddenly consuming large amounts of beans can cause gastrointestinal upset (read: bloating, gas, cramps).
Trying new foods one at a time allows you to pinpoint how each new food affects you. If your body reacts poorly to something, that doesn’t mean you have to give it up, but maybe try a smaller portion next time. If after trying it a few times, it still seems to not agree with you then try searching for another alternative.
Rank your animal-based foods from “can’t imagine giving it up” to “I could live without it”
Ranking the current animal-based foods you eat can give you a great idea of where to start your plant-based journey. For instance, if you love cheese the way that dogs love bacon, then don’t give that up first. Start with something you won’t miss, or don’t eat often. Then work your way up to finding substitutes for the items you can’t imagine life without.
Make trying a new plant-based recipe an activity
Plant-based eating shouldn’t feel like a chore. Try making it something to look forward to by setting aside one night per week for cooking a really great plant-based meal. You can do this with your partner or your family—just turn on some music or a movie, maybe light a candle, and enjoy the process of cooking something new.
Plan out your meals in advance
Meal prepping is incredibly helpful when it comes to making the transition to a plant-based diet. At the beginning of the week pick out your meals and create a grocery list. If there are ingredients you’re not familiar with try Googling them before you go to the store so you have an idea of what you’re looking for.
Note that depending on where you typically grocery shop, you may not be able to find all the ingredients you need in one store. If that’s the case for you, make sure to allot time for an additional a trip to a nearby health food store.
Once you have all of your groceries make sure to store them for optimal freshness (because avoiding food waste is another great way to help the planet) and then get to cooking! Having your meals made in advance makes it less likely that you’ll turn to takeout, or a quick non-plant-based meal when hunger strikes during the week.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t give up everything
If you find yourself indulging in a burger or enjoying a piece of grilled chicken don’t feel guilty. Going from eating zero plant-based meals per week, to eating three, or two, or even one is an improvement. Keep testing out new recipes and know that the planet appreciates any plant-based swap you’re able to make.
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