Getting Started

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Starting something new can be exciting for some, daunting for others and stressful for many especially if they don’t know where to start.  My goal is to help you take that first step and stay beside you offering support, encouragement, and experience to make the transition to plant-based eating easier.

Decide to make a change.  The first step starts with deciding that dietary changes are needed.  Whether you want to make the changes due to a poor medical report from your physician, you want to lose weight or just want to feel better and improve your overall health by eating healthier foods, it begins with making a conscious choice to make a change.  The change may simply begin with becoming mindful of the types of foods you are currently eating.  Do your meals have a variety of colors?  Do you eat several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day?  Are you eating whole grains?  If so, great!  You are on your way.  If not,  no worries, choose what change you feel you can make, and experiment with it to see how it goes.

Read Nutrition Facts Labels.  A whole food plant based (WFPB) pattern of eating consists of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.   Those who follow this eating pattern typically avoid animal protein (meat, chicken, fish, and shellfish) and instead eat legumes and soy such as tofu.   Dairy products are also avoided (yes, that includes cheese and butter) and instead nut, rice, and soy milk are used.  Also, eggs are avoided.   To ensure you are eating foods that only contain the ingredients you want, it is necessary to read nutrition facts labels. Ideally, you will be choosing many foods that do not contain labels such as fresh fruits and vegetables but you will also want to know the ingredients in packaged foods.  I suggest you begin with the ingredients list on the food label first.  Ingredients are listed by weight so the most abundant ingredient is listed first.  For example, for whole grain bread, the first ingredient listed should be whole grain.  To be acceptable in the plant-based diet pattern, the ingredient list should not contain milk.  Since milk can be an allergen, it would also be listed in the allergen section of the food label.  I mention this because some brands of whole grain bread contain milk so I always read the nutrition facts ingredients label.

Time to Clean the Pantry!  Now that you are reading labels and learning what foods to avoid.  Clean out your panty.  Get rid of those foods that contain milk.  For example, many seasoned potato chips contain milk, whey, or casein.  These don’t fit into a plant-based diet.  There are many alternatives to “snacky” foods which I will also address later.  Read labels on canned soups, crackers, cereals.  Give the items that no longer fit into your new plant-based lifestyle to a soup kitchen or neighbor.  After the pantry is purged, move on to the refrigerator and read labels and discard.  The biggest offender I often find in refrigerators is dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt) mayonnaise, eggs, and deli meats.

New Recipes.  You are likely thinking, what will I have left to eat!  Now the fun begins!  Start looking for new recipes, converting old recipes to contain new ingredients and fill your refrigerator with vegetables and nut or soy milk.  The pantry can be stocked with canned or dried beans and lentils, diced tomatoes, vegetable broth.  All things you will need for your new recipes.  Venture onto the internet and search fat-free, or no-oil vegan or plant-based recipes and you will be pleasantly surprised by how many blogs have recipes for plant-based eaters.  I like looking at recipes but I know this may be tedious for some.  If this is you, then use some of your current recipes and veganize them.  Replace the meat with lentils, tofu or beans, cut out the cheese and oil (you can saute with veggie broth or water) and experiment to see how it turns out.  I’m not a crafty person so I use cooking as my creative outlet and love colorful foods.  I don’t write recipes because I cook by “adding a handful of spinach” or “red bell pepper for color”.  Unless you are baking where measurements are more crucial, cooking is more forgiving when ingredients are substituted or tinkered with.

So, you have decided to make a change, started to read nutrition labels and pay attention to what is actually in the food you buy and consume.  The pantry is cleaned and you have new recipes in hand.  Time to shop, restock pantry and start cooking.  You are moving forward and taking action to choose better health by eating foods that nourish the whole body.  I encourage you to embrace the challenges that may arise and remember that learning something new may be a little bumpy but not impossible.  Your health is worth the effort.  Well Done.


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Robin is a second-year Nutritional Science graduate student and soon will be a registered dietitian. She and her family adopted a plant-based lifestyle eight years ago and she wants to share the health benefits with others. She believes whole foods feed the body, soul and mind.

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