Even if you’re ready and eager to begin incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet, it’s important not to jump in blindly — implementing these strategies will make a smooth transition.
Hit the Market
For the freshest finds with the most flavor, consider loading up on plant foods from a local farmers’ market. After all, nobody is going to be excited about eating more plants if they are faced with limp kale from the supermarket.
Because most foods at markets are harvested close to their selling date, they can be more nutrient-dense than imports on store shelves. Plus, farmers’ markets are a great place to discover unusual foods that can add excitement to your diet. When you see ground cherries and purple kohlrabi, don’t walk past — soon your kitchen will have Instagram-ready earthenware bowls overflowing with a rainbow of farmers’ market roughage.
Jumping on the plant-based diet bandwagon leaves a lot of wiggle room, and it’s possible to make room for both flesh and flora in your diet. If you’re a devoted meat eater, all that’s required to power up your diet is to challenge yourself to work more plants into your daily menu. This can be as simple as eating a few meatless meals a week. Or set small goals like cooking with one new plant protein each week or aiming for at least half of your plate to be made up of plant foods like veggies, fruits, grains and beans.
A 2018 Journal of Food Science study found that partially replacing meats with plant‐based ingredients in mixed dishes like lasagne and meatloaf did not negatively impact perceived flavor and overall meal satisfaction. With these approaches, there is no need to be frustrated by the need for a total diet revamp.
It’s important to note, though, that just because a diet is labeled “plant-based” doesn’t make it good for you. It’s entirely possible to fill out your diet with hyper-processed animal-free junk food. Cookies are still cookies.
One recent study found that while higher intakes of healthier plant-based foods are associated with a significantly lower heart disease risk, a plant-based diet that emphasizes less-healthy foods like sugary drinks, refined grains and potato chips is associated with a higher heart disease risk. Focus on foods that are closer to how they come in nature such as whole vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains. Soybeans are always going to be a better option than sugar-laden soy yogurt.
As plant-based eating becomes commonplace, there is an increasing number of food blogs and cookbooks with a serious crush on lentils and nuts. Plant-based eating doesn’t have to be bland and boring. The key is to punch up the flavor with sauces, spices and a broader range of cooking methods — tofu is delicious (yes, seriously!) when grilled over fire.
Look for Upgrades
Just because you should focus your plant-based diet on whole foods doesn’t mean you can’t also drop some packaged foods into your shopping cart. The increased demand in this eating style has promoted excellent plant-based packaged foods. Innovative plant-based brands are delivering better tasting and much more nutritious options.
For instance, you can now find pastas made with legumes, giving them a fiber and protein edge over whole-grain-based options. Meat-free burgers are now available that have not only done away with the laundry list of mystery ingredients, but they also deliver a mouthfeel eerily similar to meat patties. Pea protein-based milks are supplying the protein that many plant milks lack, but still no word if dairy-free cheese will ever rise up to the moo variety.