The Beginner’s Guide to Eating More Plants
So, you wanna eat more plants, eh? Maybe you read any book on the subject of the food industry? Maybe you just learned about the health horrors of eating too much meat? Maybe you read my post on the topic?
Anyways, I’d like to welcome you aboard!
**Important: note that I didn’t call this post “The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetarianism”. That’s because I don’t want to limit the number of people who hear my message. I don’t want people to be scared off by the thought of becoming a strict vegetarian or vegan. In my own life, I have started to eschew labels entirely, and have created for myself a hybrid eating pattern that falls under no label. I would encourage everyone to do the same! If you don’t think you can give up eating meat entirely, don’t. Cut back instead, to whatever you feel comfortable eating! It’s not all-or-nothing folks. In my opinion, the most important thing when it comes to ‘vegetarianism’ isn’t people sitting around criticizing each other for their eating habits, and fighting over who is the better ‘vegetarian’. It’s about education, about more and more people learning the information and starting to ask for different practices in the industry. It’s about us realizing we could unite instead of divide against this problem. I’m so sick of people having to be strict vegans for their choices to ‘count’ or to ‘matter’. Screw that! Let’s all eat whatever we want, get educated, and ask for something better. Let’s not ostracize each other or scare people off from learning the information. **
So. Whoever you are, welcome aboard! You’ve decided to eat more plants! Good for you. Plants are good, plants are great. I love plants.
Here are some reasons I love plants:
- They harvest their energy directly from the sun! No middlemen for plants.That’s messed up!
- “Common estimates are that 2-5 times more grain is required to produce the same number of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption”(1). Aka the amount of plants that you feed to one cow could feed five times the number of people that the cow could feed. That’s messed up.
- They come in all shapes, sizes and colours. They’re so exciting and exotic. There’s so many to discover!
- Plants help you poop great! Thanks fibre. Thanks.
- Plants are full of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants and yummy goodies that keep us strong and healthy.
How To Eat More Plants
1. Develop your own eating mantra.
If labels are scary, take the pressure off. Who says you have to answer for your choices anyways?? Certainly not me. It’s up to you what you eat, when and why! If you can’t fathom giving up seafood, focus on eliminating everything else. If chicken’s your downfall, eat less of other meats. Or if you want to eliminate all animals, do that! Just make sure your eating mantra reflects your true beliefs about your health and happiness. Once you’ve established in your mind what you want to avoid, what you want to consume, and what you want to explore, solidify it. Stand by it. You really aren’t obligated to explain your lifestyle decisions to anyone else! For example, my eating mantra is: Avoid meat and seafood, unless farm fresh or organically/sustainably farmed (and only extremely occasionally); consume as many plants as possible; explore new sources of protein and new types of fruits and veggies! I still own a leather jacket from before I was a vegetarian, I still eat eggs and cheese on occasion, I’m forever trying new vegan cheeses and recipes. I am a contradiction by other people’s standards but I live by my own. Decide what to be, and go be it. Don’t apologize!
2. Take Vitamin B-12.
If you do decide to stop consuming meat and dairy (0r a lot of meat and a lot of dairy) I (and various nutritionists) recommend taking a vitamin B12 supplement. B12 is one of the only vitamins which is essential and is very hard to find in large amounts in plant sources, making it important to take as a supplement. In my readings about health and plant-eating, it’s the only supplement you really need to be taking, as long as you’re eating a variety of plants, getting protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium and Vitamin D. Sound hard? It’s not. See below!
3. Eat the right foods!
This article from Vegetarian Times is an excellent one. It explains 8 foods that are essential for herbivores (although most carnivores should really be eating these super healthy foods too!). I’ll re-list them here, along with some easy, yummy recipes to try for each!
Tofu – excellent source of protein, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin D.
- Tofu scramble tastes deliciously like scrambled eggs, minus a lot of the cholesterol and plus all the goodness of tofu! This recipe is great because it breaks down how to choose the right tofu and make a no-fail version yourself. Or check out this one from Oprah.com!
- Pad thai is an excellent thing to add tofu to, since tofu (by nature) soaks up the flavours of what it’s marinated in, and tastes just very yummy. Pad thai is one of my favourite dishes of all time! Check out this recipe.
Lentils – protein, fibre, iron, B vitamins, folate
Beans – iron galore!, fibre, protein, potassium, zinc, calcium
- One of my favourite ways to eat beans is in a vegetarian chili. This recipe from Moosewood is wonderful, it’s what my mummy always makes!
- This recipe for Southwestern Bean Burgers comes from the new Moosewood Cooking For Health cookbook. It’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten, period. The tortilla chips make it amazing.
Nuts – lots of protein, zinc, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium (almonds)
- As a snack! I usually don’t leave the house without a little tupperware of walnuts and almonds!
- Try any of these yummy looking nut recipes
- Throw cashews into your stir frys or quinoa salads
Whole grains – one way to get B12 without a supplement, but take the supplement too!, zinc, fibre
- Quinoa salad! Cook some quinoa (keen-wah) and add chopped carrots, radishes, cauliflower, green onions, avocado, anything. Add some salad dressing of your choice and eat up. Yum yum.
- Eat whole grain bread
- Consume couscous, bulgur (in chili), brown rice, rye
Leafy greens – antioxidants, iron, folic acid, vitamins A and C
- Put kale in your stir frys!
- Spinach salads: add lots of fruits and veggies and dressing!
- Try this spinach lasagne recipe
- Try these kale crisps
Dried Fruit – high sources of iron, fibre and protein
- Again, I always carry some dried apricots and raisins around in my tupperware :)
- Make chocolate chip and dried cranberry cookies
Keep in mind too that people are crazy these days about ‘getting enough protein’. The truth? We currently consume about twice as much protein as we need!(2) So relax a bit. It’s highly unlikely that you will suffer a protein deficiency. Concentrate on the above foods and you will get more than enough vitamins, protein, iron and fiber that you need daily. So don’t listen to the uneducated naysayers about this..
4. Avoid the wrong foods!
As you can see from #3, there are so many delicious foods that can be used creatively to make delicious meals. There is no shortage of yummy vegetarian recipes that do not include massive amounts of processed anythings, so explore the world of plant-y goodness! But make sure that along the way you’re not taking the lazy, unhealthy way: the path away from goodness and health. Here are some foods you definitely do not want to eat!
Processed foods – well, even if you’re not eating a plant-diet, you still shouldn’t be eating too many of these foods. I know they’re hard to avoid, but the amount of sugar and salt and the lack of nutritional value makes foods like chips, pop, junk or fast food bad for your body and mind. And just because they’re ‘vegetarian’ doesn’t automatically make them a healthy choice!
Starchy, white carbs – carbs are our friends, but not of the white, thoroughly processed and stripped of their nutritional content variety. Don’t head towards white pastas and pizzas, just because they don’t have meat in them! That is not the way to go, especially since incorporating whole grains and veggies into your diet is not very hard at all, once you make the decision to.
5. Continue to educate yourself.
Learn learn learn! Learn as much as you can about the power of plants, about the terrors of our food industry, about what you can do for your health. Look up recipes online for ways to incorporate super foods! Read up on the health implications of eating more plants! Once you’re educated on the topic, you can start to reach out and inform others. Education is the catalyst for change, and our generation can be the critical mass against the food industry! So learn and teach and educate. Here are some resources I truly love and recommend:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan
Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer
The Kind Diet – Alicia Silverstone
Fast Food Nation – Eric Schlosser
Quantum Wellness – Kathy Freston
Skinny Bitch – Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Okay my plant-based friends, I hope that my guide to plants and their delights helped you in one way or another. Maybe it inspired you to try making an animal-free meal, or maybe to give up animals altogether! Either way, I hope that you learned something of value.
Please let me know if you have any questions about any of this stuff. Most of my information comes from the books I’ve read (all of the ones listed above) and various articles online. I urge you to read the material yourself and come to your own conclusions, choose your own path. Try to eat consciously, monitor how you’re feeling and consult your doctor if you experience any health issues. Generally though, if you follow a colourful and careful plant-based diet, you’ll be doing more for your health than with any other eating pattern out there!
Happy eating my friends!