Transitioning to a vegan or plant-based diet doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating. In fact, you don’t have to go completely plant-based yet, if you aren’t comfortable giving up on your favourite foods.
When I embarked on my vegan journey seven months ago, the first thing I started looking at was the nutrition aspect of veganism. Probably because of the fear-mongering that goes on, in terms of ‘insufficient protein/calcium’, there’s been a sense of foreboding when it comes to adopting a plant-based diet. But the truth is, most of these rules that we will talk about in today’s post apply equally to vegans and non-vegans. Vegans are particularly singled out because we remove dairy, meat and eggs from our diet and that triggers a wave of concern amongst friends and family.
That’s understandable, but it isn’t really something to worry about if you take a bit of care when it comes to your food.
The first rule of learning is to arm yourself with the right information. Here’s where the internet can be either your ally or your nemesis, depending on which rabbit hole of information you choose to go down. If you approach veganism (or anything) from a space of anxiety and fear, chances are you’re going to discover everything that’s wrong with this approach and subsequently, end up worrying yourself sick about how your food is ‘lacking or deficient’ in necessary components.
But let’s say you do the opposite: Embrace learning and go into veganism with the need to be genuinely informed. Now you’re at an advantage because you’re now learning to help your body. Start with the website of The Physician’s Committee of Responsible Medicine. It’s a powerhouse of information and will arm you with what you need.
FIND YOUR BALANCE
For any meal plan that has to be balanced, it requires two important things: Macronutrients and micronutrients. Your macros are your proteins, fats and carbs. Your micros are your vitamins and minerals. In order not to get too overwhelmed, it’s key to just focus on a simple method to ensure that you are getting all your nutrient needs during a week. Yes, I said a week; not a day.
In my experience, trying to hit all your nutrition goals every single day or at each meal can become too taxing and put you off the idea of change forever. In fact, I won’t even go into details regarding macros and micros in this post. Will save that for the next article.
Let’s keep it super simple and start small.
MAKE SMALL & SUSTAINABLE CHANGES
The first change I made was not to go totally plant-based right away. Instead, making tiny tweaks to your diet are far more sustainable in the long run. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
SALADS AT LUNCH
I started by adding a simple salad to my afternoon lunch. I didn’t change anything else in my daily routine. Neither did I count calories (I still don’t) or restrict myself in any way.
Each day’s salad was a bit different in that I added a different pulse/legume. Since I live in India and my diet is predominantly South Indian, it made sense for me to choose local legumes that are easily available.
I started rotating among five different types of legumes –
- Chickpeas/ Garbanzo beans
- Rajma / Kidney Beans
- Lobia / Black eyed peas
- Green Moong
- Black channa/ Black chickpeas
Of these five, only the first two need to be soaked overnight. The other three can be cooked after soaking for just 3 hours. In fact, if you’re in a hurry you can even soak them for just an hour in boiling water and cook them. Soaking is important in order to release the anti-nutrients and phytic acid in them. This will ensure that you absorb the nutrients better and get the most benefit out of them.
Once cooked, add any choice of salad vegetables such as tomato, onion, cucumber, lettuce, capsicum, green peas, sweet corn, raw mango and even pomegranate arils to the cooked legumes. Toss them with a dash of lemon juice, chopped coriander or mint leaves, salt and pepper and you’re good to go.
On one or two days of the week, you can substitute the legume in the salad with tofu. And there you have it. Seven salads for seven days.
USING PLANT MYLK IN YOUR TEA/COFFEE
If you want to try and give up dairy, you don’t have to give up your afternoon tea/coffee. Neither do you need to switch to green tea or black coffee just yet. Just substitute the milk with a plant milk.
I am not a coffee drinker, but I do love my evening chai. So, I switched over to making the chai with cashew mylk, almond mylk, soya mylk or oat mylk. The only difference I notice is that you can’t boil these mylks the way you would dairy milk. Just warm the milk briefly (about 20 seconds in the microwave should do the trick) and then add the black tea mixture to it. Soy mylk has the most neutral flavour of all and works great. But I love all varieties of plant-mylk chai now. Almond mylk and cashew mylk give a rich, creamy feel to the tea and can be rather addictive!
START WITH MEAL PLANNING
There’s a very simple rule when it comes to meal planning. Start with a week’s worth of meals and just one meal a day to plan. The easiest is breakfast. Now, a lot of Indian breakfasts are vegan by default. You just have to ensure you avoid dairy, eggs and honey in the preparation.
Here’s a sample of one week’s worth of breakfast ideas:
- Monday: Idli with peanut chutney
- Tuesday: Uthappam with tomato chutney
- Wednesday: Dosa with sambar or coconut chutney
- Thursday: Vegetable Rava Upma with mango pickle
- Friday: Poha with peas, potatoes and peanuts served with a side of tamarind chutney
- Saturday: Adai with jaggery and vegan butter
- Sunday: Pooris with Amritsari Chole
LEARN ABOUT SEASONAL FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Thanks to the abundance of refrigeration and freezing methods, we now get a whole variety of vegetables all year round. While that’s great, there’s nothing quite like making the most of seasonal produce, while it’s fresh and close to your door.
I found this infographic very useful when planning my grocery shopping. It lists the best fruits and vegetables to eat each month of the year, based on the season.
Fruits & Vegetables for Every Season
It IS skewed towards a Western audience though, so bear that in mind when you go shopping in an Indian grocery store. Personally, I love to pick up vegetables from my local vegetable push cart vendor or one of those larger vegetable markets. They tend to be fresher, on the whole.
THINGS TO TRY WHEN EATING OUT
Going vegan doesn’t mean you give up eating out at your favourite restaurants. All it takes is asking the wait staff to ensure that they avoid any milk-based products in your dish.
For instance, instead of ordering a Dal Makhani, ask for a Dal tadka at your North Indian place. Similarly, ask for the chef at your Italian restaurant to give you a pizza without cheese or substitute it with vegan cheese.
Find good vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants in your area using the Happy Cow app. I love that it’s crowd sourced, so you get authentic reviews of restaurants that are perfect for your palate.
HOW THESE CHANGES HELP
- Adding a salad to your afternoon meal is great because it fills you up with the right balance of vegetables and legumes. Your intake of heavy carbs such as rice or wheat (roti) will reduce automatically.
- Salads also help in ensuring you get at least one or two servings of fruit or vegetables per day.
- Plant milks have zero cholesterol and have no hormones; They are lower in fat and calories and also have no lactose. Overall, they are great for your gut, skin and health.
- Meal planning helps with reducing your daily stress when it comes to your food. Grocery shopping becomes way simpler when you adopt the simple method of weekly meal planning.
Tweaking a single meal each day to be vegan is easier than going fully vegan overnight. Over time, you can transition to the plant-based lifestyle comfortably.
In my next post, I will share:
- How I use the plate method
- How to follow Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen checklist
- How to eat a balanced and nutritious meal which is also very satisfying
- A weekly vegan meal plan that is suitable for the South Indian lifestyle
- Absolutely zero calorie counting to ensure that I get the nutrients that I regularly need on a vegan diet.
If you have any other questions in the meanwhile, drop them in the comments below and I will be sure to answer them in a future post.
Hi, I’m Shailaja, a blogger who’s been writing since 2007. My interests include books of all kinds, digital minimalism, veganism, health, nutrition, fitness and staying open to learning all the time. Welcome! Click here if you’d like an email when I publish new posts