Becoming plant based is tough as shit. Not only are you approaching a lifestyle surrounded by so many myths and misconceptions, but you’re trying to embrace something completely foreign. Meat and dairy is in practically everything, it’s so ingrained in our lives, in our family traditions, in our adverts.
Wanting to transition isn’t enough, and so many people don’t bother because they don’t really know where to start. All too common do these people cut out meat with no other adjustments to their diets. They start receiving lectures from a concerned parent or tsks from a placating doctor. Not knowing what they did wrong or how they got sick, this is usually the end game of their veggie bid.
The most important parts of dropping meat is making sure you compensate in all the necessary ways. You could have the best support system and resources around, but if you’re eating wrong or not eating enough, it won’t work and it won’t last.
Below are some tips I got from personal experience, my vegan community, and Google. I am not any kind of educated professional and I am not you. We all have different bodies that need different things. Use these as recommendations, not plans to follow.
Believe it or not, most plants have protein. Even if it’s a little bit. The key to making sure you get your recommended allowance of protein, which you can find here, is finding a rich staple. Just like how many meat eaters rely on beef or protein isolate, veggie folk can turn to legumes or hemp seed powder.
Other foods like beans, nuts and nut butters, peas, soy products, and even broccoli or brussel sprouts contain protein. Check out this table compiled of info from the USDA to see the amount offered by simple foods. Beans can offer 12-15 grams per serving! Pasta and bread offer up to 11 grams themselves. Even a handful of nuts tossed in your oatmeal or snacked on throughout the day can offer you 4-6 grams.
The idea vegans are often protein deficient because they cut out flesh and dairy not only ignores these alternative, accessible sources of protein, but also disregards how many Americans actually consume too much protein, which can lead to health issues such as osteoporosis, kidney disease, and even some cancers (x). There is also the myth plants are incomplete protein, which is complete bullshit conjured up a few decades ago without repeatable results. If anything, your body is expected to digest nutrients from plants more efficiently because they typically come in cleaner forms. Like, me eating beans and rice is easier for my body to digest than a Dick’s burger or Chik Fil A biscuit box.
My go-to protein rich meals are:
- Stuffed Bell Peppers. Heat up some minced garlic and onion, add in kidney beans, mix some tomato paste, stuff inside warm colored peppers, and paired with brown garlic rice.
- Chickpea Salad Sandwich, with pita bread.
- Flautas or tostadas! I make my own pinto beans, smash, then refry them, but canned works just as well. Spread the bean on either soft tortillas and roll up or on a hard corn shell. Top with guacamole, pico, and serve with mexican rice.
- Quinoa salad. Boil some those seeds, toss in crisped chickpeas, dice some cucumbers and tomatoes, and drown in Italian dressing.
- Buffalo chickpea wraps, the “caesar” dressing recipe is fast and bomb, I use it by itself sometimes.
- Smoothies. Sunwarrior has the best tasting protein powder with 22 grams in each scoop! I use frozen berries and bananas blended with vanilla soy milk.
- Classic Oatmeal. Cook oats of your choice with vanilla almond/soy milk, add in a spoonful or two of nut butter, a handful of microwaved blueberries, sliced banana, and handfuls of almond + cashews.
Iron’s main function is to assist in the building of red blood cells. However, along with other minerals, it’s not so easily absorbed. It’s also very influenced by other foods you consume, whether you eat meat or not. There are two types of iron: heme, which comes from animals, and non-heme, which comes from plants. Unfortunately for us, the latter is much more difficult to absorb. But don’t fret! Even though herbivores are at a disadvantage there, the majority of a persons iron bioavailability–how much your body can actually use–can be increased with consuming other vitamins and minerals. You just need to avoid what prevents your body from processing it, and adopting what helps. Once you get the hang of it, it won’t take much thought.
Foods that have good iron levels are legumes (lentils, lima beans, tempeh, kidney and white beans), vegetables (dark, leafy greens), grains (oats, quinoa, and fortified food such as breakfast cereals and bread), nuts/seeds (pumpkin seeds, cashews), and dried fruits (raisins and prune juice). Go here to found out the recommended daily allowance of iron is for you as well as a more extensive list on iron rich foods.
To help your body absorb all this plant based iron, eat foods with Vitamin C and organic acids (such as citrus). To make sure that iron doesn’t go to waste, don’t pair your meal with foods containing soy protein, calcium, coffee. Despite how daunting that seems, keep in mind that dairy and eggs are the most significant inhibitors.
Also keep in mind another inhibitor is the amount of iron you consume (x). In other words, consuming a bunch of iron at one time actually leads to less absorption. Eating small amounts throughout the day is what’s best, even if you do eat meat! Remember that the key is how well you’re absorbing iron, not the quantity of it.
If you have any symptoms of iron deficiency, including lack of energy/fatigue, headache, irritability, or dizziness consult your doctor.
- Green smoothies (read up on and add citrus boost to up your absorption!)
- Beans with rice. Super versatile. Mexican beans with red rice, Thai fried rice with lentil curry, Chickpea Masala with Indian style rice (don’t try to cook that though it’s just my favorite dish eating out), etc.
- Breakfast cereals or oatmeal with a glass of orange juice
- Lentil Soups (I’m a very lazy person so I just buy some cans of Amy’s soups and call it a day)
- Potatoes (make them however you like, man. They already got vitamin C in there so go wild)
- 85%+ Dark Chocolate (I melt it and dip Frito chips in it when I’m on my period. It’s actually really good…)
- Veggie Stir Fry (you can just add in some peas, bell peppers,broccoli, and spinach to whatever recipe tickles your ass)
Dairy products are marketed as the best sources of calcium, but when it contains “saturated fat, cholesterol, allergenic proteins, lactose sugar, and frequent traces of contamination” (x), like what the fuck.
We get calcium from our diets and ourselves. Our bodies are constantly being renewed; our bones are broken down to be built up again. Calcium is lost through this process as well as through feces, urine, and sweat. To reduce calcium loss it is recommended to avoid/moderate animal protein as it’s actually more likely to cause calcium loss than plant protein. Smoking, caffeine, and high sodium diets should also be avoided. Fortunately for us, vitamins found in milk are significant inhibitors of calcium absorption. This is because cow milk is produced to sustain a calf, and a calf has different needs than humans do. As a result, our bodies still have trouble digesting it.
When obtaining calcium, as with iron, it’s important to focus on low-oxalate foods (like kale instead of spinach) so it doesn’t hinder your absorption. Scroll down here and here to the tables which gives you the amount of calcium found in a variety of plant foods.
Sources of calcium:
- Lentil Soup (again! Lentil tacos are also pretty bomb)
- Kale Caesar Salad (I get vegan caesar salad from whole foods for, like, four bucks)
- Scrambled Tofu w/ Beans
- Bagel with nut butter
- Orzo Soup
- Tofu and Black Bean Tacos
- Plant milk! Soy, almond, and hemp mylk all have more calcium than a cow’s
This essential vitamin keeps the brain and nervous system functioning and helps formation of red blood cells. Although it’s important, we don’t need much to live healthily. We don’t need much, so a supplement can be good enough. Plus, many people don’t get their recommended allowance even in an omnivore diet (x).
You get this vitamin in the food you eat while the proteins in your tummy, intrinsic factor, help your body absorb it. In non-animal sources it’s found in fortified food and nutritional yeast. Most breakfast cereals have B-12 added in it, too!
Meal plans are incredibly beneficial. Not only does it cut your grocery costs and waste down, but it’s nice to have exactly what you need so you aren’t left staring into your cupboard or even binging/caving in.
I didn’t go into depth much with fruit because it’s easy to eat enough with a daily morning smoothie or having raw fruit as snacks (or even monomeals). Anyways, these links are what helped me transition. Following plant based bloggers and vegan accounts also keeps up the morale. Godspeed. Have fun feeling the difference in your stool.