Going plant happy

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina
Catherine Jones and Stéphane Lahaye

Are you interested in pursuing a plant-based lifestyle but don’t know where to start? Read on for easy ways to swap out animal products for plant-based alternatives that still provide all the nutrients you need.

“How can I get enough protein?” is one of the first questions people ask when cutting out meat. Science has confirmed we can easily satisfy our protein needs with a plant-based diet. And there’s no need to eat “complementary proteins” in the same meal; simply eat a variety of plant foods throughout the day.

There are endless options for meat alternatives, including convincing vegan renditions of hot dogs, burgers and even bacon. You can also make your own plant-based meals by trying one of these easy swaps: 1) Marinate firm tofu in your favourite sauce and use it to replace meat in stir-fries. 2) Try hummus or tempeh in your sandwiches instead of deli meat. 3) Add beans or lentils to chili instead of ground meat.

Saying farewell to dairy is the next challenge. You’ve probably grown up hearing you need milk to build strong bones. The good news is there are enough calcium-rich plant foods to keep your bones happy. Try calcium-set tofu, almonds, tahini, fortified soy beverage and dark leafy greens such as napa cabbage, bok choy and kale.

Thanks to the growing demand for dairy alternatives, there are myriad plant-based milks, cheeses, ice creams and yogurts in your grocery store. Or try one of these homemade swaps: 1) Sprinkle nutritional yeast on your salads or pasta. The nutty, savoury taste makes a great replacement for parmesan cheese. 2) Use whipped coconut milk in place of whipped cream. 3) Impress your friends by making your own nut milk. Just soak your favourite nuts, blend with a high-speed blender and strain.

So you’ve cut out meat and dairy and you’re about to cut out eggs. At this point, you’re probably wondering, “How can I replace eggs in my favourite recipes?” Try one of these plant-based swaps: 1) Mix 1 tbsp. of ground flax seeds with 2.5 tbsp. of warm water to replace one egg in muffins and pancakes. 2) Replace 1 egg with 1 tsp. of baking soda and 1 tbsp. of vinegar for light and fluffy cakes. 3) Use crumbled, firm tofu sautéed with your favourite mix of vegetables and seasoning for a satisfying, quick alternative to scrambled eggs.

Now that you’re going fully plant-based, the next nutrient of interest is vitamin B12. On a plant-based diet, look for B12 fortified foods including some plant milks, soy products and Red Star Nutritional Yeast or take a B12 supplement (a daily multivitamin or 1000 mcg B12 twice a week).

If you’re not ready to be vegan, introduce alternatives slowly into your diet. Perhaps eat a plant-based meal 2-3 times a week and go from there. Explore vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, blogs and online recipes. Get creative and have fun.

For more information, ideas and recipes:

  • Download the Vegetarian Starter Kit from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org).
  • See Dietitians of Canada Eating Guidelines for Vegans (www.dietitians.ca).
  • Visit Vegetarian Nutrition branch of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.vegetariannutrition.net).

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com, www.becomingvegan.ca). Catherine Jones and Stéphane Lahaye are dietetics students at the University of British Columbia.

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