Jul. 14—Do you shudder a bit when you hear the phrase “plant-based?” Does it impart thoughts of never eating meat again and feeling pressured to avoid dairy at all costs? You’re in luck, because a plant-based diet offers more flexibility than many might think and it’s not as intimidating as it sounds to start working towards a diet that incorporates higher amounts of ingredients and foods that come from plants instead of animals.
A plant-based diet is not veganism, not even vegetarianism. It is a diet that can range from being mostly to entirely comprised of foods derived from plants such as grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
One of the hardest aspects about eating a plant-based diet is feeling isolated as friends, family and colleagues eat without restrictions. The flexibility of a mostly plant-based diet over a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet helps you navigate those situations and still enjoy foods that may have a few animal-derived ingredients, while still reducing your overall consumption of animal products.
Not to mention, you’ll hardly be alone on a global scale while sticking to a plant-based diet.
A 2003 study titled, “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment,” estimates that 4 billion people live on a primarily plant-based diet, whereas 2 billion people live on a meat-based diet.
So if you aspire to eat a more plant-based diet, one of the easiest ways to get inspired is to look to cuisines from around the world. Asian, Southeast Asian, African, Latin American and Mediterranean are known for their delicious and flavorful dishes that take plants far beyond the boring, steamed variety you may be used to.
Another helpful tip for transitioning to a plant-based diet is to simply start slow. Don’t burn yourself out by changing your entire diet overnight. If most of your meals include meat or dairy, start by reducing the amount of animal products in your meals and make up for it by incorporating larger portions of plant-based foods.
Once you get used to eating a larger volume of plant products, try transitioning to one or two meals a week without meat, or without animal products altogether. Some people find it handy to make it a routine, such as sticking to Meatless Mondays or only eating plant-based breakfasts.
One great way to combat the social isolation that can come from avoiding animal products is to reach out to vegetable-loving friends for a plant-based dinner party. Making a social event around a plant-based meal can make it feel more fun and less of a chore. Plus, it is a great way to swap ideas for plant-based recipes and cooking techniques.
You can also try to think of animal products as a treat. Getting a better understanding of the resources used in creating animal products can help make them feel like more of a luxury item rather than a default part of your diet. You can reduce the amount of animal products you consume and in return, occasionally splurge on high-quality animal products such as fancy, aged cheeses and locally raised meats. This can also be a great way to support local farmers and more ethical forms of animal farming.
In that same realm, you can also splurge on higher quality plant-based ingredients as well. Once you’ve tasted an heirloom tomato or other locally grown produce, you’ll be able to notice and appreciate the incredible flavors and textures found in fresh, high-quality plant produce.
Overall, be gentle on yourself when trying to reduce your consumption of animal products and try to have fun with it by expanding your culinary influences and skills, and sharing your new recipes with friends and family.