How to Reduce (or Eliminate!) Animal Products in your Diet
More and more people each day are choosing to try out the benefits of a plant-based diet. (For more info on why, see this article: Why I Chose Vegan in a Non-Vegan World) While some people go plant-based overnight with no issues, following these steps when attempting a healthier diet will go a long way and prevent burnout.
1. Go slow.
Start by eliminating one thing at a time so you can pay attention to how these changes make you feel. For me, it was dairy. Get the hormones, rBGH, antibiotics, (even gross things like pus), meant-for-baby-cow formula out of your life for good. Dairy is easy to replace in your diet with clean, alternative milks (such as soy, almond, rice, hemp, chia, etc.). Cheese alternatives like Daiya are available, although once you’re off cheese it’s not really something you crave anymore (casein, found in cheese, is VERY addictive… it acts like morphine in the body… and is also linked to cancer per the China Study). On things like pizza, spicy hummus is a go-to favorite for me. It has a creamy/tangy/salty flavor just like the gooey stuff. As for butter, just go without, or use a vegan butter replacement, such as one made with healthier olive and coconut oils.
2. Take B12 daily and get plenty of variety in your diet.
While it’s not necessary to be overly vigilant about getting enough iron, etc. in your diet as a vegan/vegetarian, if you have complications such as malabsorption (i.e. from gluten intolerance or other issues), you might want to be conscious about other sources of protein and B12. Most people, vegan or not, have trouble absorbing B12 as they age. It’s important to get this vital nutrient for brain and nerve health. Sublingual (dissolved under the tongue) B12 is best when facing malabsorption issues and in general. Protein is found in most plants, so as long as you are getting a variety of them, you shouldn’t have any issues. Be sure to include lots of dark, leafy greens – and rotate them frequently. This is easy to do if you juice them or add them to smoothies. Nuts, seeds, beans and legumes also contain high amounts of protein. To digest the nutrients better, soak them overnight and rinse thoroughly before preparing. Also, pairing vitamin C (i.e. citrus fruits) with iron-rich foods will help tremendously with absorption.
3. Use protein replacements at first.
If you crave those childhood, mom-made meals, like chicken pot pie, BBQ, etc., don’t worry! You can still have these things. BBQ tempeh, pulled eggplant BBQ poboys, Beyond Meat chicken pot pie, Sophie’s “seafood” shrimp etouffee, etc. etc. are excellent ways to transition. Eventually, you will crave meat less and crave nutrient-dense foods like fruits and veggies more. Try not to overdo traditional soy products, like tofu, unless they are fermented, like tempeh, natto, miso and soy sauce.
4. Get plenty of exercise, rest, and focus on your goal.
Exercise and rest are important aspects of any diet, and they shouldn’t be ignored. Drink plenty of water, get outside, and appreciate the natural world around you. Once you have a greater connection with your body and begin to pay attention to the effects of what you are putting into it, knowing what to eat becomes second nature. Whether doing this for your health, for animals, the environment, or other reasons, remember that whatever satisfaction you think you may be missing in the moment is a temporary feeling. I feel that since going vegan I have paid more attention to taste and get more satisfaction from my meals than ever before. The variety of food is endless, and I discover new palate-enticing foods every day. The health benefits, lives saved, and environmental impact of what you choose to eat are the greatest motivators to stay strong.
5. Get support
Not that you’ll need it, but since the majority of our society is not living healthfully, it never hurts to find support with a local group living for the same cause. Find local restaurants and seek support with your community in living a healthy lifestyle. A little encouragement from others never hurt anyone! Meetup.com often has many local groups depending on where you live that might be worth checking out.
Have any tips to share from your plant-based journey? Please feel free to share.