A Reluctant Vegan: Tips for Getting Started with a Plant-Based Diet
Including more plant-based meals in our diets can positively impact our health, as well as the environment. In this blog, we share some tips for getting started.
Many of us make resolutions at the start of the new year with the goal to improve our lives. Have you ever considered making a plant-based resolution? As Vermonters, we know that sustainable, healthy practices are invaluable to leading a fulfilling life. We can all positively affect our health, as well as the world around us, by including more plant-based meals in our diets.
Plant-based diets which exclude animal products including meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy have been shown to have numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. It can also help with weight management and improve overall energy levels.
We spoke with Digital Engagement Strategist Cass Lang who was excited to share her journey to a plant-based life, as well as some helpful tips.
Cass’s Journey to Veganism
Growing up, Cass’s family had a healthy relationship with both meat and dairy. It came as a surprise when Cass started to lose interest in eating meat in high school. “Add in my shellfish allergy and lactose-intolerance on top and you get… a reluctant Vegan,” she says.
In college, Cass learned about the health and environmental impacts of a plant-based diet. “As I was learning more and more, my diet became something I was passionate about. It’s about more than a preference, or a way to avoid feeling sick. I feel that it’s a choice I’m making for my body and the environment,” she says.
No matter how good it sounds, making the transition to a plant-based diet can feel daunting. “I think it can be extremely overwhelming if you are used to living and cooking a certain way,” says Cass. “I almost feel lucky that I made this decision as I was first learning how to do everything on my own.”
That’s why we’ve gathered some tips to help you get started.
Instead of trying to go completely plant-based overnight, try incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet gradually. This will make the transition easier and more sustainable in the long run.
Try quick and easy options like avocado toast, overnight oats, smoothies, chickpea salads, and veggie stir-fries. “When I’m feeling super lazy, I go for a classic PB&J,” says Cass. As for snacks (other than fresh fruit and vegetables), Cass suggests sea salt popcorn, nuts, and kettle potato chips.
If you don’t think you can commit to changing your diet long-term, that’s okay! Commit to small changes and try new things instead.
Educate yourself about food and supplements.
Learning what food can do for your body will ultimately help you decide what to eat every day. You can do this by talking to a nutritionist, reading a book, and visiting trusted websites.
If you want to eat fewer animal products, it is important to learn how to incorporate enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins B and D in your meals. “I spend a lot of time looking at labels and learning about food. Since I am more aware of what I am putting into my body, it makes me feel empowered,” says Cass.
Blue Cross members have access to registered dietitian consultations as a wellness benefit. We also recommend talking to your doctor before making any sudden or major changes to your diet.
Meal planning is key when it comes to sticking to a plant-based diet. Take some time each week to plan out your meals and snacks, and make sure you have all the ingredients on hand.
“I am not much of a planner, but I always make sure to have staples on hand like brown rice, pasta, oat milk, popcorn, nuts, and nutritional yeast and then switch up my proteins and vegetables,” says Cass.
Get creative in the kitchen.
There are so many delicious plant-based recipes, books, and blogs out there. Don't be afraid to experiment with new ingredients and flavors. The possibilities are endless. Try this plant-based Thai recipe shared by one of our employees.
“The most common question I get is about protein,” says Cass. “And my answer is always: There are so many options!”
In addition to the myriad of tasty plant-based alternatives like Beyond Meat, you can get protein from lentils, chickpeas, tofu, beans, greens, nuts and seeds, potatoes, and more. These foods also tend to be high in fiber, minerals, and other important nutrients.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Reach out to friends who have experience with plant-based diets or find support online for valuable advice and inspiration.
“I follow vegan influencers on Instagram like @pengveganmunch, @cheaplazyvegan, and @vegancuts,” says Cass. “I love watching recipe videos and learning about what plant-based products and recipes people are eating and having success with!”
When going out to a restaurant to eat, it can be challenging to find menus that favor plant-based diets, but many will have at least one “veggie” option. If you are not sure if something on the menu is vegan, ask! They might be able to prepare something special or adjust a dish for you.
If you’re looking for a place to try out a full vegan menu, Cass recommends Pingala Café in Burlington. “There are so many delicious options. They seem to specialize in vegan comfort food. I especially love their milkshakes,” she says.
Remember that the goal is not perfection.
The goal is to make conscious choices that are healthy for you and the planet.
“I have adopted an ‘I’m trying my best’ mentality and it has allowed me to feel free from any guilt I might have felt in the past,” says Cass. “Ultimately, I feel that it’s okay for me to indulge in a bit of Vermont’s famous cheese and chocolates. I’m trying my best and doing what feels right for me and my body.”
We hope our tips will inspire you to try something new this year!
Want to learn more?
Listen to our Clinical Consultant Pharmacist Keri LeCompte on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition podcast episode, "Vegan or vegan-ish? Vermonters on why (and how) they’re going plant-based."