how to start plant based diet

Once you get comfortable, change isn’t easy—especially when it comes to your diet. However, with the rise in plant-based eating—and all the research that backs up its health and environmental benefits!—it’s one thing worth switching things up for. And when you have a plan of attack, the transition is a cinch.

If you’ve been thinking about ditching meat, dairy, and other animal products for a plant-based or vegan diet, use these five simple tips to help you get there.

1. Focus on the basics.

Before you buy out the entire vegan section of the grocery store, take a step back. While it’s temping to try every new product that comes out, registered dietitian Jessie Valentine, MS, RD, says it’s best to keep things simple—at least in the beginning.

“Instead of buying a bunch of mock meats and vegan snacks, first focus on the foundations of a healthy plant-based diet,” Valentine says. “Once you understand the basics, feel free to add in some of the other stuff, which can be fun additions to a healthy, plant-based diet.”

And what are the foundations, exactly? “Whole grains (rice, quinoa, whole wheat breads/pasta, and oats), beans/legumes, fruit, vegetables, and healthy sources of fat (seeds, nuts, avocados, and some oils),” she notes.

2. Make smart swaps.

Instead of suddenly cutting everything out of your diet, keep your go-to meals the same. Just replace animal products with plant-based foods. “For example, if you love eating eggs or an omelet for breakfast, try making a tofu scramble. And if you love Mexican food, try dishes that use beans instead of meat, like black bean burritos or veggie tacos,” Valentine says.

3. Have a plan.

If you’re not a planner, now is a great time to start. Since overhauling your diet can be overwhelming, Valentine recommends planning out your meals as much as possible in the initial stages.

“Knowing what you’re going to buy at the grocery store before you go is helpful in preventing confusion and impulse buys. It’s also helpful to have a loose plan of meals that you’ll want to cook,” she says. “If you’re not into cooking and eat out often, check the menus or call before you go so you know exactly which options will be available.”

4. Eat enough—and don’t forget to supplement.

You might feel like you’re eating enough on a plant-based diet, but be sure you’re still getting everything your body needs as you’re figuring things out.

“Plant foods are typically lower in calories than animal-based foods—the exception being nuts, seeds, and oils, which are calorie-dense. If you’re active and/or trying to maintain your weight, make sure you’re eating enough calories and protein to feel energized,” Valentine explains. “Taking a supplement—that includes B12, vitamin D, and zinc—is also important, as these nutrients are typically lacking in fully plant-based diets.”

5. Find a solid support system.

Making a major change is always better when you have someone by your side.

“Try going plant-based with a friend or family member. Or if that’s not a possibility, seek out support from vegan/plant-based communities,” Valentine says. “There’s a ton of resources online that will allow you to connect with likeminded individuals. If you’re looking for more guidance and support with plant-based nutrition specifically, you can always contact a plant-based registered dietitian.”

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