Here is your complete guide on how to transition to plant-based diet. Not too long ago, I shared my decade-long vegan journey (read full story here); I was amazed with the enormous response, especially from friends and readers who want to transition to this healthy and compassionate lifestyle! So sit back, relax, learn a thing or two, bookmark, pin, and feel free to share, because even if you think you are not ready to transition now, someone you know might!
1. But first, answer the why’s. Is it for health reason or compassion for animals? Plant-based, vegetarian, vegan are not interchangeable terms if we want to be strict about it. To most people they are just labels but to the real vegans, it means total elimination of meat, dairy, poultry, animal derivatives and by-products both from their diet and daily commodities (that’s why it’s a lifestyle overhaul rather than merely eating vegetables or fruits). Vegetarian is plant-based but includes consumption of dairy (lacto-vegetarian) and eggs (ovo-vegetarian). Plant-based is largely plant-based with very minimal animal consumption, a neutral ground for those transitioning. For example, I have been thriving on a plant-based lifestyle for ten years, tossing back and forth between vegetarian and vegan diets but finally embraced a vegan lifestyle (I abandoned leather and makeups that use animal testing or animal-derived ingredients) four months ago.
2. You chose for health reasons; then listen, follow, read, and watch plant-based medical professionals and heed their advice. Mind you, these are not quack doctors but world-renowned and highly respected doctors who participated in clinical studies, invested huge amount of time and resources conducting research, and advised their own patients how a plant-based and vegan lifestyle can prevent and reverse chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, cancers, obesity, depression, anxiety, gout, and a lot more. As a backgrounder, it was the eve of my 33rd birthday ten years ago when I embarked on this plant-based journey. I was a sickly, depressed and chunky young lady back then. I had joint pains, my gums will just bleed, I had intractable migraine, I was always at the ER. I reversed all of these and at 43 now, I am in my best health ever (perfect labs, not taking any medications, BMI is normal, blood pressure is normal). My motivation is simple: I want to grow old and retire healthy, live my life to the fullest, possibly reverse or contain whatever faulty genes I have (because we all do the moment we were born), and the rest is whatever life brings me (at least I have done great things for my mind and body). Anyways, these are some of my favorite doctors that continue to inspire me (and my husband) to eat healthy.
Dr. Michael Greger: basically the “face” of whole food plant-based diet supported by clinical facts and findings. He is a licensed general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition and is a founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Dr. Greger created the website NutritionFacts.org, where he shares all pertinent clinical studies related to healthy eating. As a healthcare professional myself, I need to read evidence-based studies, Dr. Greger makes it easy for me because his online lectures are always supported by actual studies, not hearsay.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn: a general surgeon with over 150 clinical studies supporting plant-based diet. According to his biography “Twenty-three years ago, while chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Breast Cancer Task Force, general surgeon Caldwell B. Esseistyn, Jr., M.D., grew disappointed in the way he and his colleagues were treating cancer and heart disease. Relying on pills and procedures despite their side effects and risks, Dr. Esselstyn says he and his peers were doing “nothing to prevent disease in the next unsuspecting victim.” This was particularly frustrating given that research studies had already suggested an obvious culprit. The fatty American diet was, in all likelihood, responsible for heart disease and many Western cancers, which are infrequently seen in parts of the world where much less fat is consumed”.
Dr, Kim Williams: the first vegan president of the American College of Cardiology. His famous quote “there are two kinds of cardiologists: vegans and those who haven’t read the data”. Catch his very recent podcast interview with Rich Roll (vegan ultra-endurance athlete) where he mentioned “The solution begins with personal responsibility. It’s about what you put in your mouth. It encapsulates your lifestyle choices. And it extends to erecting systemic changes in our health care model to prioritize prevention over symptomatic treatment”. Now if a top cardiologist like Dr. Williams tell you to turn to plant-based diet to help reverse your cardiovascular disease, wouldn’t you take the important step to improving your heart health?
Dr. Milton Mills: critical care physician (urgent care medicine) in Washington who is very vocal about advocating plant-based nutrition to his patients. He is the Associate Director of Preventive Medicine with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and co-author of PCRM’s report on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
Dr. Garth Davis: weight loss surgeon, Ironman and author of Proteinaholic. You have to watch the heated debate between him and the hosts of The Doctors, his intelligence of the subject matter (plant-based diet) smashed all the doctor hosts, proof that even medical professionals lack nutritional knowledge (this is a fact among healthcare professionals).
3. You are a highly visual person, you understand more when you watch than read. Just like my husband who went cold turkey few months ago (ultimate carnivore all his life) after watching What The Health. Try adding the following documentaries to your weekend Netflix binge: Food Choices, Fork Over Knives, Food Inc, Fat Sick & Nearly Dead, Vegucated, among others. These documentaries feature several doctors advocating healthy eating with real patient testimonials. Now If you like to understand the crude realities and see the cruelty behind the animal industry, check out Earthlings on Youtube. It’s an old documentary that convinced vegan advocate and animal lover Ellen DeGeneres to embrace a very inspiring and compassionate lifestyle.
4. You want to see how this plant-based lifestyle impact ordinary citizens, then join support groups on social media such as Facebook, follow vegan athletes, watch vegan Youtubers. There is strength in numbers now. You see them in all shapes, sizes, religions and professions. I am currently in the following Facebook groups: Plant based Women, Plant based Lifer, Vegan Hawaii. I follow Plant-based news for the latest news on vegan/vegetarian food and whatnot. On YouTube I follow Happy Healthy Vegan, Brian Turner and a lot more.
Did you notice a pattern on numbers 2-4? Yes, they are external resources and support groups. You know why? Because most people I know who transitioned to plant-based, vegetarian and more so vegan, were initially met with resistance from their own families and friends. I speak from experience so it is important for you to meet new people who share your mindset and views. Unlearning what everyone learned about animal consumption and by you suddenly going plant-based will freak out some people in your circle. But stay strong, keep your heads up. It is your life, not theirs. Do not waste your energy engaging in a debate, continue to educate yourself with the power of plant nutrition.
5. Plant-based food is never boring and bland. To make your transition easy, cook the same way but take out all meat! If texture is something that you want to retain, there are fake meats you can buy from your whole foods like seitan (made from vital wheat gluten), tempeh (made from soy) or young jackfruit. There are plenty of vegan alternatives from burger to cheese to hotdogs, your choices are endless. Add the fact that more and more companies are now starting to recognize the rise of plant-based demographics. Meat giant Tyson has invested on Beyond Meat, Starbucks already introduced vegan foods to certain locations, and now Pepsi is also expanding to serve what used to be the threat to their business! There are thousands of recipes you can find online, YouTube and Instagram. I share and show my recipes on my YouTube vlogs!
6. Read the labels when you shop for groceries. But you will never go wrong when you go straight to the produce section! Vegetables and fruits don’t need labels, they are what they are, only the good stuff!
7. Protein and calcium sources are abundant in plants. One of the major fallacy we were all taught was that protein can only be found from meat, and calcium from cow’s milk. Eat variety of plants and you will never go hungry and feel tired and the best thing about it? you will lose weight if that is your concern (of course combined with exercise). Here are comparisons of plant-based sources versus meat, fish, poultry and dairy:
8. You will make mistakes, forgive yourself and move on. Before becoming vegan, I was on plant-based diet for ten years. Occasionally I made mistakes especially during the holiday season when eating out means pigging out. Back then, I was surrounded by carnivores so it was difficult to be immaculate with my food choices. My knowledge on plant-based nutrition then was also limited so it was easy to trip over. But what’s important is that you have the will to beat your own temptation. In my case, my whole vegan journey is no longer about diet but for deep love and compassion to all animals. I am no hypocrite, it’s only four months ago that I started to clean out my beauty and household stash, a territory I am beginning to master since my conviction for vegan eating is already fortified.
This is my favorite way to illustrate the advantage of being on a plant-based diet versus meat.
Atherosclerosis means buildup of fatty deposits called plaques that clog the arteries. They’re mainly composed of cholesterol and fatty substances, some cellular waste products, fibrin and calcium. As plaque builds up, the arterial walls get narrower affecting the blood and oxygen flow to the cells. High blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes and smoking can also contribute to atherosclerosis. Two things can happen if one has atherosclerosis: heart attack or stroke.
With the rising cost in healthcare, add deductibles, premiums and co-payments, going the healthy route is the only way. Classic example would be novelty drugs to help address uncontrolled hypercholesterolemia which cost $1000 + a month. Do you know that most insurance companies even have a criteria that a patient should have had history of stroke or heart attack to be covered by his/ her insurance. I know it sounds ridiculous because if these life-saving drugs are meant to save lives, why wait for a cardiac event? it’s basically saying you’re better off dead. Wait, it does not end there because these novelty drugs require prior authorization and even if you are approved, prepare to pay $400 + a month if you have Medicare. I can tell you that it’s frustrating on the part of the doctor and staff (back and forth submission, appeal from the insurance takes 6 weeks at the very least if it is denied, and yes I speak from experience again because this is a recurring problem we have at our clinic!). But that’s US healthcare for you! So the lesson here my friend is, take care of your health now while you’re still well and able. Prevention is better than cure.