How to go Plant Based
First and foremost, I want to remind everyone reading this, that as a physician I truly believe that our health exists on a continuum. Health is not black or white. And you know what, it’s not even grey. Our health is pink, it’s purple, its yellow, blue, green, white, magenta, orange, and every other color you can imagine. We have days that we feel great. We have days that we don’t. We have days that we eat exactly as we planned, and then we have days we eat everything we wish we hadn’t. I want to emphasize the importance of self-acceptance as the first step toward healthy living. Whether or not you are vegan, a meat eater, a sweet tooth, wherever you are with your diet and health journey, we all have room for improvement and optimization, but do not be hard on yourself. Remember that our bodies are these miraculous beings, composed of harmonious organ systems that work together. We inhale, we exhale, and our heart pumps without asking us for permission. Food is medicine to heal our bodies. Food is the fuel and medicine that allows us to use our minds at work every day, and it is the fuel that allows us to run, swim, bike, or walk. Food is the fuel that gives you the energy to love, to hope, and to dream about your future. So, if I have one hope for all of us this year (including myself), it is that we love ourselves where we are now, every minute of every day of our journey in life, but we continue to work toward a healthier us. We all have room to continue to work on our health, whether it be physical, mental, emotional health and wellness.
For those of you who are not ready to go completely plant based, my hope for you is that after you read this guide, you may just add more plants to your diet this new year. For those of you who are already vegan, my hope is that you may continue your journey and exploration of plant based diet and maybe use this guide to help you integrate more whole foods from the ground to optimize your health and wellness.
So, you’re thinking about switching to a plant based diet, but you don’t know how! It can be completely intimidating. Did you ever worry that going plant based means that you won’t get enough protein, and you’re stuck eating boring, plain salad for the rest of your life? That is probably one of the biggest misconceptions about plant based diet. People imagine their life with meat, dairy and animal products, and visualize their plant based life as just a “subtraction” of the meat and animal products, without thinking about the “addition” of the many, many, many beautiful plants, whole foods, and micronutrients added to your diet.
Here is a quick guide to going plant based for the new year.
This guide is for literally everyone!
– It’s for those of you who may not be ready to go plant based, but are willing to try meatless Monday’s (or just one day of plant based per week, or even one plant based meal everyday day, whatever works for you!)
– It’s for those of you who are ready to JUMP IN and go fully plant based, cold broccoli (why use the phrase cold turkey? Am I right?).
– It’s for those of you who are already vegan! But you want to rev up your whole food plant based nutrient intake to maximize your health and wellness.
Step 1. Clean HOUSE!
For those jumping ALL in plant based:
This may seem silly and obvious, but if you’re interested in going cold broccoli and fully plant based to start the new year, take some time to clean out your fridge and pantry! Toss out your meat and dairy products. Research has proven time and time again that “out of sight, out of mind” is a powerful psychological technique. If you don’t have it in your house, you’ll be less likely to think about it. And CHECK labels! You will be very surprised as to what products have animal products tucked inside them (especially dairy!).
I completely understand that this may not be possible for everyone. Your family members or roommates may eat meat/dairy, and you aren’t able to do a full evacuation of all the animal products from your home. So how can you make this work? Keep any meat/dairy product in a separate shelf/drawer space. Become a frequent label checker, always make sure that any non-vegan items in the pantry are kept in their own section. And sooner or later, you may inspire your family and friends to switch to a plant based diet as well!
Lastly: for those of you who are already vegan, challenge yourself to continue to optimize your health by clearing out our vegan junk food. If it’s not a nutrient dense food, chuck it. Think about your food as working FOR you. What is it going to offer you? Try and clear your fridge and pantry of items that have low nutrient value, i.e.: highly caloric with added processed sugar, processed fake meats, or anything highly processed in general. Your food should be working…for you.
Step 2. Get creative! Cookbooks, blogs, and resources for recipes:
If you follow my Instagram, you may have seen me post about some of my favorite whole food plant based cook books.
Here they are!
The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cook Book:
Forks Over Knives – the Cookbook
Engine 2 cookbook
The How Not to Die cookbook
Some of my favorite blogs:
Straight up food – http://www.straightupfood.com/blog/
Fat Free Vegan – http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/
Plant Powered Kitchen – http://plantpoweredkitchen.com/
Cooking with plants – https://cookingwithplants.com/
The vegan 8 – http://thevegan8.com/
Step 3. Get organized: grocery shop!
So, this is where going plant based can be tricky for some.
If you are already a culinary expert, who spends a lot of time cooking at home, this transition will actually be very easy for you, and will be very fun and exciting. If you are already accustomed to cooking, using recipes, and grocery shopping, then switching to a whole food plant based diet will be a bit easier!
If you are someone that eats out a lot, and does not cook much at home, then this can be quite an adjustment. The reason being is this isn’t just a dietary change, it’s a lifestyle change. I advocate for eating as much as you can at home for many reasons: not everyone lives in a city or area that has super accessible whole food plant based restaurants. When you cook at home, you know what is going into your food, and therefore what fuel you are giving your body. Additionally, eating at home is an amazing way to save money!
So here is the truth: it may be some extra work on the front end, but I PROMISE YOU: stick with it and it will be worth it! As soon as you get into the groove of meal prep, batch cooking, and weekly grocery shopping: you will find it EASY! I am able to stay fully plant based while working at times 80 hours a week while I was in residency, and now as a cardiology fellow. It’s possible!
I have found the best way to plan out my week is to pick a few recipes from my favorite cookbooks listed above, and to grocery shop accordingly.
Step 4. DO NOT WORRY about protein intake!
I will tell you, in my 8 years in working in healthcare (4 years as a medical student and 5 years as a physician) I have YET to see any vegan patients with a “protein deficiency.” Not. One.
Again, literally, never seen it.
But do you know as a cardiology fellow what I see plenty of? The OPPOSITE of deficiencies:
I see plenty of people with high cholesterol leading to coronary artery disease from an excess of meat/chicken/dairy intake.
I see plenty of people with a high blood sugar and a high hemoglobin A1c from an excess of meat/chicken/dairy intake. Yes, that’s right… I didn’t say the word sugar.
When you are following a whole food plant based diet, you will get TONS of protein from fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy grains. You will be so much more nutrient rich than you ever thought you could be!
Step 5. DO take Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D!
Vitamin B12 (250 mcg daily) *** this is specifically cyanocobalamin.
Vitamin D – the dosage you require depends on a variety of factors, such as where you live and how much sun exposure you have. A great article that explains this in more detail: https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/vitamin-d-supplements/
(This recommendation is for those of you going fully plant based and eliminating all animal products)
*As always, please check with your physician before starting any vitamins or supplements. If you have a vitamin deficiency, your level of repletion will be different than mentioned above. And when you go to your doctor, bring the vitamins you plan to take with you so they can verify they are the right kind and dose!
Step 6. Buddy up!
Research has shown that people who start new exercise programs, dietary modifications and lifestyle changes, are more successful with a buddy. See if you can get your husband/wife, children, friends, family or coworkers to jump into this new journey with you! Even if they want to just commit part time, you may turn into THEIR inspiration to go plant based.
Step 7. Make sure you are eating enough!
Sometimes when people switch from a standard American diet, to a whole food plant based diet, they don’t realize how large of a quantity of food they can now consume (and not gain weight!)
When you are eating nutritionally dense foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, they are lower in calories but filled with important vitamins and minerals, and water! You may realize that you are getting to enjoy more of these foods, more frequently. Make sure you pay attention to your body, eat when you are hungry. You will notice that with a whole food plant based diet, you will be incredibly satiated because of ALL of the fiber you are consuming.
Step 8. Have fun and feel great!
This is the most important step! Have fun with plant based eating. You will discover so many different types of foods, fruits and vegetables and grains that you never knew existed. You will have so many new favorite foods. You will have SO much more energy!
*As a physician, I have to make the obligatory safety statement: when trying a new diet (especially if you are on specific medications like Coumadin) you should always check with your doctor before changing your diet drastically or taking new vitamins or supplements.