Updated: 6 days ago
Do you know that there are over 79 million vegans in the world? It means that following a plant-based diet is easier than you think. It is more popular to do, and the barrier to entry is low. It is also a little bit in fashion to do so, don’t you think?
If you have been following a plant-based diet for some time now (or for twenty years like me), you probably have some fond memories of when you started. There were no vegan sausages, vegan bacon, or plant-based egg replacements.
And if you come from a meat-loving country, like me, eating only vegetables makes you an outsider. Because a plant-based diet was mostly reserved for Zen masters, Hindu practitioners, or other spiritual groups. But not anymore.
And that’s a good thing. Because the more information you have, the better decisions you will make. I never had any doubts about my decision to follow a vegan diet, but there are a few things that I would do differently if I were to start all over again. Read on so you can avoid making the same mistakes I made.
#1 Pay More Attention to Vitamins and Minerals
It goes without saying that your nutritional intake will change when you start a new diet. There will also be a transition period when your body learns new ways of absorbing nutrients from different sources.
However, when you are at the beginning of your journey you mostly focus on what you can and can’t eat. You may even look for alternatives, start label reading, and learn the different names products you are no longer eating can hide under.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed by the new decisions you make.
When I decided to stop eating meat and dairy products, my main focus was on what to eat so I wouldn’t feel hungry. But to tell the truth, the scrutiny needs to be on delivering all the vitamins and minerals for healthy growth.
It wasn’t until much later, when I suffered from an iron deficiency that I started paying attention to what products aka plants contain the minerals and vitamins my body needed. Therefore, you are better off shifting your thinking to where the nutrients are, rather than what would satisfy your hunger.
And you know what? When you deliver all the nutrients, you won’t feel hungry.
#2 Eat More Pulses
My mum’s favourite vegetable is yellow beans, also known as butter beans. She grows them in her garden, and despite the small size of her patch, she always manages to get robust crops. The vegetable of my childhood will have to be yellow beans.
As you rightly suspect, beans were never my go-to vegetable. Especially since whatever excess there was (and there was always too much of them!) was dried, and I had to peel the pods to get the dry beans out as a kid. It was one of the most boring jobs ever!
However, it wasn’t until much later that I realised that there is a whole world of pulses out there. Benas, peas, and lentils are great sources of plant-based protein, and they need to be part of your diet. Even better when you get them from your local grocer ready to cook!
They are extremely easy to incorporate into any meal, as well as you can use them as the main ingredient in any veggie patties. You can have them in soups, stews, casseroles, or salads.
Funny enough, I grow my own yellow beans now, but not nearly as much as my mum. I do have a greater repertoire of pulses to use, but I wish I started eating more of them earlier.
# 3 Make My Own Vegetable Broth
When I started following a plant-based diet I was a student, so cooking wasn’t on my daily agenda. I used whatever was easy and quick, but not necessarily nutritious.
Of course, as I got older, I started cooking, but for many years I relied on stock cubes as a base for meals. It was so much faster to dissolve a cube in water and have the broth ready.
Unfortunately, those stock cubes do not contain enough nutrients. Most of them are highly packed with salt and other ingredients that are not necessarily that beneficial.
Nowadays, I make my own vegetable broth. Yes, it takes time to cook, but the preparation time is minimal. You just wash the vegetables, but you don’t need to peel them. You can get other tasks done when the broth is simmering too.
I always make a lot of vegetable broth, so I can freeze the excess and have it handy when I need it. I’m terrified to admit that for so long I neglected this vital task, just so I could opt for convenience.
You may wonder why drinking vegetable broth should be one of the top things to do when starting a plant-based diet. Actually, consuming broth needs to be a priority regardless of what diet you follow. Why? Because research shows that most of us don't deliver enough nutrients.
Again, this is not limited to a vegan diet, but to any diet. Drinking broth is like hitting a vitamin jackpot.
#4 Incorporate More Healthy Fats
I was never a big fan of eating fats, in fact, this was one of the reasons why I decided not to eat meat. I always associated fats with gaining weight, high cholesterol, clogged-up arteries, and so on.
So, for the first few years of following a plant-based diet, I didn’t consume enough fats. I never thought about eating healthy fats as something that is needed. However, I was wrong.
Healthy fats are essential for optimal health. Along with carbohydrates, healthy fats are needed for your body to create energy. Healthy fats are converted into slow-burning, long-lasting energy. And you want to have as much of this form of energy as possible.
Healthy fats are also vital for many processes and nutrient absorption. Certain vitamins and minerals are fat soluble, meaning that your body can only absorb them with fats. Hence, if you don’t deliver enough healthy fats, you may quickly become vitamin deficient.
I’m not sure if it was my dislike of fats or lack of knowledge but I didn’t eat enough of them, and I often felt tired. I also had sugar cravings and the afternoon sugar blood drop.
Now I make sure that I eat enough healthy fats, so I don’t experience the sugar rollercoaster and feel full for longer.
#5 Have Vegetables for Breakfast
Whoever said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, was right on the money. To have the mental and physical energy to go through the daily stress and overwhelm nourishing yourself from the inside out is the way to go.
Unfortunately for almost all my life, breakfast meant coffee. Since I remember, I wasn’t a big breakfast eater. I would either have a piece of fruit or a muesli bar and coffee.
I also never had the time to prepare or to sit down and eat breakfast. So I was looking for an easy and convenient way to have something in the morning.
Now, I solved the problem of breakfast by having green smoothies as my first meal of the day. My smoothies are packed with vegetables, plant-based proteins, and healthy fats. However, the main focus of my green smoothie is vegetables, especially green vegetables.
As a nation, we don’t eat enough vegetables, so the easiest way to consume the recommended dose is by blending them together. It also means that if you skip lunch, or have takeaway pizza for dinner, you have consumed at least some amount of vegetables that day.
And of course, if time permits you can have a cooked breakfast, full of vegetables.
How to Get Started With a Plant-Based Diet
I never regretted my decision to go vegan. But it can be overwhelming and often confusing especially when you are just starting out. Thinking about what you can or can’t eat can be very absorbing and time-consuming.
If I was to start my plant-based diet journey all over again, I would pay more attention to what nutrients I need to consume rather than if I were hungry. I would increase the intake of pulses and healthy fats from the beginning. And I would utilise more vegetables and the ways to eat them.
I know that you are ready to get started with a healthier way of eating. And now you know how to thrive on it too. You’ve got this.
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