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How to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet

bowl of broccoli, corn, and other vegetables

Vegetarianism and veganism have become more popular in recent years. Stemming from a desire to live a healthier lifestyle, contribute to environmental sustainability, or both, plant-based diets have more than earned their merit. Studies show that diets filled with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds lower the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and other health-related issues due to a rich amount of vitamins and minerals, including fiber, magnesium, and vitamin C.

It can be tricky to make the move to a plant-based diet. When you're used to consuming lots of animal proteins, sugar, sodium, and processed foods, the transition can feel overwhelming. Here are a few steps to make it easier.

1. Start Small

chicken salad

You don't have to jump in head first when trying a plant-based diet. The key is to make small, reasonable changes to boost your chances of staying with this diet for the long term. Gradually add more changes as you see fit—this means you can introduce more leafy vegetables to your meals and see how you feel before you move on to experiment with gluten-free flours. But before that, you'll want to do a little prep work.

2. Prepare Ingredients and Recipes

Preparation is key. Visit your local bookstore, library, or even Pinterest to source some plant-based cookbooks. Choose a few simple recipes you can use any time. You can also draw inspiration from our list of vegetarian and vegan recipes.

Next, get your kitchen ready for the transition. It's important to stock up on vegetarian/vegan-friendly ingredients such as almond milk, chickpeas, and quinoa. Here's a great starter guide to creating a plant-based pantry.

Read up on plant-based proteins and different nutrients. It's important to see which vitamins and minerals—such as vitamin B12 and iron—might be missing in a plant-based diet, and learn how you'll supplement that difference with alternative sources.

3. Add Greens

leafy greens on a plate

Once you've equipped yourself with some recipes and ingredients, it's time to start introducing some plants to your meals. You don't have to give up animal-based products immediately, though; if you gradually add more vegetables to your meals while reducing the amount of meat, you improve your chances of sustaining a long-term plant-based diet.

Here are some tips you can try:

  • Start by adding some plant-based side dishes—like this quinoa tabbouleh salad, which includes tomatoes and cucumber—to your lunch or dinner.
  • After you've become accustomed to eating more greens, you can choose heartier meals, like this kale quinoa salad, as your main course.
  • Dedicate one or two days of your week to plant-based meals. For example, "Meatless Mondays" can help you establish a routine of eating only vegetarian/vegan dishes and snacks on a weekly basis.

4. Swap in Meat Alternatives

As you add more vegetables to your diet, you can get used to eating less meat by including alternative sources in meals you already enjoy. Tofu and quinoa, two protein-rich foods, make for great replacement options—and if you've prepared ahead of time, these ingredients will already be in your pantry. For example, this filling veggie quinoa casserole can easily replace a traditional meaty casserole for dinner. For more ideas, you can check out our other suggestions for vegan meals that even carnivores will love.

5. Go Half and Half

whole grains

Chances are, if you're switching to a plant-based diet, you'll also want to be opting for healthier whole grains over their refined counterparts. If you struggle with whole grain pasta or rice, use half whole grains and half refined grains in your meals, or even mix in gluten-free grains. Over time, you can gradually shift the balance between refined and whole grains. A good place to start experimenting with this balance is baking. Try this gluten-free banana bread, a simple and tasty treat.

6. Connect With Like-Minded People

Find other people who are going through the same process or have already transitioned to a plant-based diet. They may include your friends, family members, or coworkers. Or you can turn to online vegetarian/vegan communities. It's easier when you involve like-minded people, who can answer questions, share recipes, and provide advice and support. You can also cook and enjoy vegetarian/vegan meals together. For example, enjoy some gluten-free chocolate banana muffins and coffee with a friend.

By introducing gradual changes rather than cutting out meat right away, you'll have a simpler time making the switch to a plant-based diet — and a healthier lifestyle.

Photos: al1962 / Shutterstock.com, Timolina / Shutterstock.com, gnohz / Shutterstock.com, Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com