Plant-Based Diet: How to Switch for a Month
It’s the start of a new year. Some people are tackling their resolutions head on, others are still recovering from all the mandatory festivities we’ve had.
January is known for many things: ‘New Year, New Me’ mindsets, the infamous ‘Dry January’, but it is also ’Veganuary’ – a month-long dedication to adopting a meat-free diet (well, technically a vegan diet, but you don’t have to go the whole vegan hog to make a world of difference to your environmental footprint).
With the climate crisis a prominent problem on our doorstep, Veganuary is the perfect time of year to champion compassionate food choices with the aim of reducing animal farming, protecting the planet and improving human health. In 2021, more than 582,000 people joined the Veganuary movement with 566 new vegan products being launched at major food outlets such M&S, Leon and Pret and 259 new vegan menus were added to chain restaurants in the UK.
This January, how about switching to a plant-based diet for the month?
Plant-based meals are much easier to bosh up with the breadth of ingredients and plant-based alternatives available in supermarkets or already in your kitchen. We’ll teach you how, but first let’s start with why:
Myths and Misconceptions
Words that inspire fear for 6+ billion omnivores worldwide: “Vegan” and “Vegetarian”. Most people jump to the conclusion that these are restrictive diets with little enjoyment for food. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Here are a number of myths that we should start by dispelling:
People on a plant-based diet need to take supplements
This isn’t necessarily true – The plant-based diet is often assumed to lack essential nutrients, but this is more about the food choices a person makes rather than the diet itself. Plant-based eating does take a little more planning and food knowledge but once you understand what to include in your diet, preparing balanced meals quickly becomes second nature.
Tip: Ensure you’re eating the full rainbow of vegetables available. If you’re not sure what to make, there is an abundance of plant-based options available to help you get acclimated to a fibre rich diet.
Vegetarian diets don’t get enough protein
Criticism that is often levelled at quality of plant-based protein. Proteins are made up of 21 amino acids, nine of which are referred to as being essential. There are a number of plant proteins available including soybeans, beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, tofu and edamame beans that all provide essential proteins. Yes, you have to work harder to get the same amount of protein as eating a 10oz steak, but not everything in life should be easy (anyone tried squeezy cheese?).
Did you know? There are a number of professional athletes who are vegan including powerlifter Hulda B Waage, race car driver Lewis Hamilton and rugby player Timana Tahu.
A plant-based diet is boring and bland
Contrary to popular belief, a vegetarian diet is overflowing with colour and flavour, you just need to learn what to use when cooking. Using fresh herbs, spices and making your own sauces are essential to plant-based dishes. You can create a very savoury ‘umami’ flavour by using ingredients such as dried mushrooms, seaweed or miso to create stocks and dressings. Other foods such as flavour oils, citrus fruits, dried fruits, nuts and seeds add both flavour and texture.
Tip: Plant-based eating is more than just legumes and salad bowls. You can find incredible ways to incorporate more leafy greens into your diet with recipe books and cooking courses.
Good for our planet and our health
Unsurprisingly, a diet of red meat and starchy foods isn’t great for your cholesterol and your blood pressure. Tons of scientific studies have shown the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet including keeping your heart healthy, preventing Type 2 Diabetes, and lowering cholesterol.
A plant-based diet can not only be beneficial for your health, but also can create a positive impact on the environment. Meat and dairy products are fueling the climate crisis as it requires more resources to produce therefore causing higher greenhouse emissions.
Studies done by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) show that if there was a global shift to a plant-based diet, this could reduce mortality and greenhouse gases caused by food production by 10% and 70%, respectively, by 2050.
With this in mind, to help you seamlessly transition to a plant-based diet, we’ve shared a number of different ways that you can incorporate more vegetables, grains and protein alternatives to your meals.
7 ways to get started with a plant-based diet
- Eat lots of vegetables (duh). Start filling half of your plate with vegetables when you make your normal meals just to begin to get used to the majority of your food intake being vegetables. If you are finding the switch tough, you can keep a small amount of any meat or fish that you would normally have until you get used to meals with a different makeup. Make sure to include plenty of colours when choosing your veg. You can also enjoy vegetables as a snack with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
- Include whole grains for breakfast. Rather than reaching for sugary or processed cereals, start with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Why not add some nuts or seeds along with fresh fruit as this can help increase your fibre intake and add a natural sweetness to your breakfast, and this will make you feel fuller for longer.
- Change the way you think about meat. Switch your mindset to think of meat as a treat. Have smaller amounts of really good-quality meat and really savour the bits you have. Use it as a garnish instead of a centerpiece. We don’t need nearly as much meat as we currently eat.
- Choose good fats. Fats in olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are particularly healthy choices. Include fats as part of a balanced diet – although fat used to have a bad rep, the right fats are an essential part of your diet and are a great slow-release energy source.
- Cook a vegetarian meal at least two nights a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Spending some time preparing a meal once every few days means that you can experiment with bringing different ingredients to life that you might normally think of as a dull side dish or necessity, and make an occasion out of it.
- Change up how you cook your food. Instead of having salads all the time, change up the way you eat your food by steaming, grilling, braising or stir-frying your greens with other vegetables and sauces. If you need to build up your skills, there are some great beginner plant-based cooking courses out there where you can learn with a group of like-minded starter chefs.
- Spice up your salad bowls. A tip for the summer: if you’re not a huge fan of salad, why not shake it up with some red leafy greens or other assortments of vegetables such as peppers, herbs, beans, or tofu. A good salad will have at least 5 ingredients to give it depth and variety of flavour and turn it into a proper meal on its own.
Cooking plant-based for a month
For our chefs out there who might want to try their hand at a plant-based recipe, we recommend Leiths Chickpea flatbreads with tahini dip or perhaps our Italian olive cake, which is part of the Plant-Based online course.
If you’re looking to do something bigger than just cooking a dish, there are a number of different ways you can actively participate in the month. We’ve listed a few fun ideas…
- Host a vegan or a plant based brunch with friends.
- Challenge yourself or friends to take the Vegan Pledge.
- Try a vegan or vegetarian restaurant – the Happy Cow can help you locate vegan and vegetarian establishments based on where you live.
- Encourage your workplace to take on the challenge and tackle it together.
- Take a plant-based cooking course to help expand your recipe book and culinary knowledge.
If you mistakenly eat something that isn’t vegan or plant based or even find yourself craving meat or cheese, don’t beat yourself up about it.
At the end of the day, adopting a plant-based diet aims to encourage positive change, such as reducing your meat intake and eating more fruit and veg, so eating something that isn’t plant-based once in a while shouldn’t be viewed as a slip up. It’s what you do most of the time that really counts.