Over the past few years, there has been a huge uptick in vegan and plant-based foods, both in terms of options and accessibility. In March 2020, a study revealed a nearly 300% increase of plant-based diets over the last 15 years. This increase has led to a domino effect in restaurants and grocery stores. Restaurants where a dairy-free option didn’t exist now have separate menus for “allergen-free” foods. Wegmans now has entire rows dedicated to vegan foods, meat alternatives and refrigerators full of dairy-free milk options. The options are almost limitless.
The options can also be confusing – vegan, plant-based, vegetarian, etc. Sometimes the abundance of options can be too much to understand and seemingly impossible to implement into your life.
Whether you’re looking to change your diet completely for health or ethical reasons, or slowly begin to alter your meals (i.e. Meatless Monday), it doesn’t have to be complicated! Any diet can be transformed to meet your needs and lifestyle.
*A note: When using the word “diet” we’re referring to the kind of food consumed with these food-based lifestyles, not the regimen of eating to lose weight.
“I do like to clarify the difference between plant-based and vegan, because usually there is a different reason behind the choice,” says Stephanie Genco, an Holistic Nutrition Coach with a certification through American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA). “When someone follows a vegan diet, they are thinking about removing animal products usually for some sort of ethical reason. As a diet, it is more about what you don’t consume.
“On the other hand, plant-based is about what you do consume, while focusing on the bulk of your diet coming from plant sources.” This obviously includes fruits and vegetables, but also relies heavily on whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
Going fully vegan can be a huge challenge, especially if you don’t have the resources, knowledge or support to make this transition. Additionally, the idea of cutting out animal products entirely from your diet may sound impossible or simply not what you want to do. Like any diet, there are ways you can adapt it to fit your needs.
“It is possible to incorporate smaller amounts of animal foods, while the bulk remains plant foods,” notes Stephanie. This is perhaps the biggest and most unknown difference between the two diets. Going plant-based can either be a diet you’re willing to stick to, or a stepping-stone to full veganism.
“I usually encourage people to start out with adding more fruits and vegetables and swapping out whatever grains they usually eat for whole grain options,” she states when asked how easy it is to begin eating plant-based. “Eating more fruits and vegetables and higher fiber foods fills us up on the ‘good stuff’ and begins to crowd out our less healthy choices.
“You never need to transform the way you eat overnight,” she emphasizes.
I feel this is a very important point to remember: no diet must be all or nothing. Deciding to switch out ground beef for black beans, one night a week, is a simple yet effective way to start your journey to a plant-based lifestyle. The more substitutions you make, the easier it becomes.
Now, the biggest misconception you’ll find yourself up against, or maybe even wonder yourself, is where you’re getting your protein from if there are no animal sources in your diet. Keep an eye out for the next blog on this topic, clarifying this misconception and offering healthy, protein-packed alternatives!