5 easy tips to switch to a healthy, vegan diet
After introducing you to my renewed blog - now 100% centered on healthy plant-based nutrition - and telling you the story of how this pizza-loving Italian guy (aka myself) managed to go vegan, I believe it's time to get into the practicality and share some tips on how you can also make the switch to a plant-based diet.
The vegan diet is incredible, but you gotta do it right if you want to get the most out of it for your health. That's why many lifestyle -medicine doctors prefer to talk about a whole foods plant-based diet instead of a vegan diet. Make yourself accustomed with this long definition: it is the key to optimum health.
But what is it? Well, I'll make it simple: just eat fresh, not processed plant foods and you'll be all right. Everything that comes in a package (except from mangoes and avocados from Tesco - why, oh why?!) must be limited - now wait a second as I unwrap my last pack of Oreos... just kidding.
For some people, the switch (or better, the transition) is going to be easier than for others, but hey, a healthier you and a healthier planet need some commitment from your side, so stop moaning and let's get into it!
Here are my five easy tips to start your journey toward a vegan lifestyle.
Do it gradually
I know, you are very excited about changing your diet - and that's good! - but your digestive tract might not be as enthusiast as you are for such a sudden, radical change. So, hold your horses and take it easy. The reason for this is very simple: fiber. The majority of people don't get enough of it, but increase its amount suddenly and you'll get issues like bloating, excessive gas production and maybe even constipation (as counter-intuitive as it might seem). Long story short: fiber is, and will always be, your best friend, but you have to get to know each others slowly, especially if you come from a diet which is very low in it. That is why I say "do it gradually". Instead of going vegan overnight, take your time and start by slowly incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your current diet. All plant foods have fiber, so you have plenty of choice.
Focus on inclusion, not exclusion
Many people who decide to go vegan, they fail. They miss "their" meat, "their" cheese, that piece of cake... and they feel bad (possibly because of the increased amount of fiber). So, my suggestion is: focus on what new you'll include into your diet rather than on what you will exclude. And again, do this gradually. Start by slowly increasing the amount of fruit that you eat (add a banana or an apple to your breakfast, for example). Then, gradually increase the amount, include a green salad as a side dish to your lunch, put more veggies than meat into your plate for dinner... and so on. I think I made my point, right? In no time you'll see the body adapt and the more you'll eat plants, the more of them you'll want to eat (and trust me, they'll not complain). You will feel better and fiber will really become your best friend. This is when you'll be ready to go 100%. The easiest thing to swap, though? Milk. If you haven't done this yet, swap your cow's milk for a non-dairy one (oat milk is my favorite, but there are plenty of options) as soon as you get a chance to do so. We'll touch on this topic very soon on a dedicated post.
Find foods you like and stick to them
So you like oatmeal for breakfast? Fine, stick to that! Oh, you love potatoes? Great, eat them every day, even at every meal if you want. What about bananas? I love bananas, that's why I eat countless of them every day. Get the point? I'm not saying to make your diet boring and monotonous, but to use some of the ingredients that you like and make them the base of your diet, which you can then arrange and modify as you wish. If there is a food you already like, it will be easier and much more enjoyable to eat more of it. I'm sure it works already like this in your current diet, I know: you probably have those four or five dishes (maybe less) and you rotate them during the week. Try and do the same thing while following a vegan diet. Find something that you love, like oatmeal for breakfast (or dinner!), and make it your staple. Then simply change the toppings every day, use a different kind of plant milk to cook it in, and so on. Also, many people don't realize that most of the food they already eat is (by some kind of magic) vegan per se. Worst case scenario, it is something incredibly easy to "veganize" (sometimes it's just a matter of removing the dairy or the egg part). A plant-based diet is not a diet you want to follow for a short period of time, but something you want to stick to for the rest of your life. So you need to enjoy it, otherwise it is not sustainable. Sure, sweet potatoes are healthier than conventional white potatoes, but if you love the white ones, stick to them and be happy! Got the point now?
Don't just eat salads (aka eat enough calories)
Another reason why many people do not feel good on a plant-based vegan diet is because they lack energy, and that's very true most of the times. But who's to blame: the plants or who's eating them? Coming from a diet centered on animal foods, which are incredibly caloric relatively to their (small) volume, this is a common issue. The "problem" with plants is that they are so filling, yet so low in calories compared to the fatty animal counterpart, so you end up feeling full quicker while consuming less calories overall. This is also what makes a whole foods plant based diet so great (especially if you want to loose weight), but you have to eat enough calories to get enough energy and maintain your weight. So, don't become the vegan stereotype who eats only salads (that's, of course, insane and not sustainable), but try to include some sort of high-calorie plant food into each meal. Oats are a great source of calories, as well as all kind of grains like rice, barley and buckwheat, for example. Potatoes, pasta and bread (better if whole grain) are also very high in calories and serve very well as a base for many dishes (trust me, I'm Italian). Fruits like bananas, mangoes, peaches and pineapples are also great examples of calorie-dense plant foods. And then you have a whole other category: nuts and seeds (which includes peanut butter!). But go easy on those ones, as they are very high in fat (we'll cover this topic properly another time).
Keep it carbed!
So you are telling me that I should eat mostly fruit, pasta, rice, oats and potatoes? But that's all carbs, I'm gonna be fat as f#ck! Well, guess what? Carbs are good for you and won't make you fat. Actually, they are the perfect fuel for your body and for your brain, they are what we are designed to run on. And if you are scared about the sugars in fruit (because you've been also taught that sugar is bad, right?), well... don't be. Sugars in fruit will not be bad for you as it is bounded to the fiber which helps the body absorb it gradually and slowly, so you get a constant energy without the spike you might be scared of. In other words: it's not like eating spoonfuls of table sugar (that, of course, is bad). So go ahead, and keep it carbed! If your diet is centered around whole plant foods, the majority of your calories is coming from carbs and you eat enough calories (on average you'll need between 1800 and 2000 calories a day), your experience with going vegan will be smooth and incredibly enjoyable. And you can eat pasta (oops, carbs!) everyday without being fat. I guarantee.
The site does not provide medical or legal advice. This website is for information purposes only. Viewing this website, receipt of information contained on this website, or the transmission of information from or to this website does not constitute a physician-patient relationship. The medical and/or nutritional information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Use of this website constitutes acknowledgement and acceptance of these limitations and disclaimers.