Four Tips on how to Adopt a Plant-Based Vegan Lifestyle + Kick Your Vegan Junk Food Habit
It’s never been easier to be a vegan… or should I say: it’s never been easier to be a junk food vegan? But what about being healthy? With all the conflicting information about the rights and wrongs of a vegan diet, where do you start? I’ve been there! So to save you all that trial and error, here are the tips I wish someone had given me when I started on my vegan journey: my best tips on how to adopt a plant-based lifestyle and kick your vegan junk food habit.
1. Don’t aim for perfection - Just start
It can feel overwhelming to think about all the changes you need to make to go plant-based. Ultimately this paralyses you and leads to no change at all. The trick is just to start. Don’t aim for immediate plant-based perfection, make it easy on yourself. Begin by finding replacements for the foods you eat most often. Nowadays there are so many vegan-friendly options that make it easy to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. What are your staples? Milk, yogurt, cheese, breakfast cereal? In my experience, the more you look for plant-based products, the more you find. If you don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect, the whole process becomes enjoyable, and eventually effortless.
2. Eat what you love
Begin with what you enjoy eating. What are your favorite meals? Ok, now how can you veganize them? Often, it’s a simple case of replacing the meat component with something plant-based. For example, mushrooms have a meaty texture that works beautifully in a stew. You can fry tempeh strips instead of chicken or beef to serve with stir-fried veg. You can use beans or Quorn instead of mince in a pasta sauce. You can scramble tofu instead of eggs. Thanks to our phones, we’ve always got a million recipes at our fingertips - take time to research simple plant-based recipes that mimic your favorite meals. This will make the transition to a plant-based lifestyle much smoother.
3. Pick your protein
Don’t go hungry eating just vegetables. Make sure you add vegan protein to your meals because this will keep you satisfied, and stop you craving those mid-afternoon vegan donuts. But not all protein is created equal. You’ve got to choose your protein wisely. Forget the processed fake meats - these often contain either gluten, sugar or additives that can irritate your gut and do nothing for your health. Instead, go for beans, seeds and pseudo-grains, which all pack a healthy protein punch.
It’s a myth that the only way to get complete proteins (that means proteins that contain all the essential amino acids the body needs to function properly) is to eat meat. In fact, several plant foods are considered complete proteins: quinoa, soy (edamame beans, tempeh, tofu) and buckwheat. What’s more, you can combine plant foods in a way that allows your body to better absorb essential amino acids. All you need to do is remember to combine:
Grains & legumes: for example rice and black beans, pasta and peas, peanut butter on oat crackers (peanuts are actually legumes and not nuts).
Nuts or seeds & legumes: for example hummus (beans & sesame seed paste), falafels made with chickpeas and sunflower seeds, a sprinkle of toasted nuts on a bean stew.
4. Kick the vegan junk food habit: Preparation is everything
Veganism has its dark side, health-wise. Alongside all the usual junk food options, we’ve not got vegan versions to tempt us into cruelty-free binging. The problem is that vegan doesn’t automatically mean healthier. If you want to make a plant-based lifestyle work for you, you can’t rely on vegan ready-meals. So, how can you avoid being a junk food vegan? The same as a non-vegan: be prepared and don’t go hungry. Make sure you eat well at meal times - give yourself all the nutrients you need so you’re not tempted to snack in between meals. Your meals should include protein, healthy fats and complex carbs.
What this ultimately means is cooking most of your meals from scratch. It’s not as scary as it sounds, honest! With just a little bit of planning, you can make sure you have home-cooked food every day.
Take a couple of hours to review your weekly schedule. Pin-point when you’ve got time and when you haven’t - this is where you identify when you can dedicate some time to cooking and food shopping (I highly recommend you do your grocery shopping online - it saves a heap of time, and you don’t need to spend hours going up and down unfamiliar supermarket aisles, hunting for vegan products). Then, make a meal plan. Decide what you want to eat during the week - breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Choose dishes that are simple and quick to make, and keep for a few days in the fridge. For example:
Breakfasts - overnight oats and chia puddings make a good grab and go breakfast. They can be made the night before and keep well for 3-4 days in the fridge. Smoothies are a good option since they’re super-fast to make - but to get the most nutrients out of them, it’s best to make smoothies fresh rather than in batches.
Lunches - prepare salad jars in advance. Simply layer a grain (rice, quinoa, millet, etc), with raw vegetables (grated carrot or beetroot, finely diced celery, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers…), add plant-protein (hummus, tofu, tempeh, black beans) and a dressing (tahini sauce, toasted seeds, olive oil & lemon juice…), and voila - you’ve got the perfect filling lunch you can easily take to work with you (warning: your colleagues will be jealous).
Dinners - many dishes can be made in advance and either refrigerated or frozen, ready for when you need them. Vegetable stews, curries, pasta sauces, soups are all good options for batch cooking.
Snacks - homemade energy balls, oat crackers and peanut butter, roasted nuts & seeds…
So there you have it. Four tips to get you started on your journey towards a plant-based lifestyle, without being a junk food vegan. What helps you make healthier vegan choices?
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