More and more, experts are recommending a diet heavy in healthy, plant-based foods (vegetables, greens, fruits, nuts, grains, and legumes) and light on animal products (meat, eggs, cheese, milk, and other dairy products) and processed foods to improve health in midlife and beyond.
Every body is different, but there are a few reasons to consider eating more plants and less meat:
Whether your goal is to go fully vegan (consuming no animal products at all, including meat, eggs, and dairy), vegetarian, follow a Mediterranean diet, eat fewer animal products in general, or go meatless once a week (#MeatlessMonday), any new dietary change requires at least a little effort and commitment.
Here are a few tips for making plant-based modifications stick.
Please note: while we do recommend products and books, none of this content is sponsored. These are resources we’ve found helpful and think may help you. Talk to your doctor (or one of our menopause practitioners) before making any dietary changes.
Many people approach vegetarianism with the idea that you will be eating more produce (and hence, more kitchen prep time) than you did before, but they forget that fruits and vegetables should be a part of any healthy diet: 50% of your plate should be leafy greens and veggies.
If you think about it this way, you’re really just swapping out the protein. That’s not so hard, is it?
Plant-based doesn’t mean only eating fruits and vegetables; you still need protein (see below for more info on this), healthy fats, and carbs. You’ll become fatigued and hungry quickly if you remove animal products and don’t replace them with their nutritional equivalent: not a recipe for long-term success!
Vegan donuts, cookies, cakes, ice cream, pizza, and burgers may not have cholesterol but are highly processed treats to be eaten in moderation.
Still, a good vegan cupcake can be life-changing: plant-based eating doesn’t have to mean deprivation!
A healthy plant-based diet will give you almost all of the nutrients you need. The one exception is vitamin B-12, which is mainly found in animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy. When you’re limiting your consumption of animal products, consider shopping for a good quality supplement or research and eat some vitamin-fortified foods.
“Wait,” you may ask, “I’m not going to get everything I need from the food I eat?” You may be surprised that many of your favorite nutritional powerhouses, like milk and bread, are actually fortified with minerals like iron or vitamins.
Educate yourself a bit on nutrition and, again, talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.
You may have been told your whole life that you need meat to get enough protein, but a healthy plant-based diet provides more than an adequate supply.
Beans and other legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, tofu, and even many vegetables are excellent sources of plant-based protein.
You’ve probably heard that to get a complete plant-based protein, you need to eat beans or tofu with rice or some other grain. While most plant-based protein sources are missing one or more of the nine amino acids that form a complete protein, your liver stores amino acids for later use, so as long as you’re getting everything you need in a 24-hour period, you don’t need to be militant about pairing complementary amino acids.
Soy sometimes gets a bad rap, but experts at Harvard University say that soy has either a beneficial or neutral effect in the body, especially as estrogen levels decline.
The phytoestrogens in soy called isoflavones can mimic the protective effects of estrogen in the body, potentially helping with hot flashes, type 2 diabetes, depression, bone loss, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and dementia.
As with many nutrients, phytoestrogens are best when consumed through the diet; the American Cancer Society recommends against soy supplements.
A note on tofu: Plain, raw tofu can be unappealing, but so is unseasoned chicken. It’s all about the flavor and texture: play around with marinades, sauces, and preparation methods, like pressing, frying, and grilling it.
Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, and Thai are just a few of the global cuisines with a focus on vegetables and are easily made without meat. Keep in mind that many Indian dishes are often cooked with clarified butter (ghee) and Thai curries generally have fish sauce, but most restaurants will be more than happy to work with your needs.
Who does plant-based food better than plant-based chefs? Vegan restaurants are popping up all over the country, and not just in big West Coast cities: Omaha, Nebraska is home to one of the top-rated vegan restaurants in the U.S.
A quick search on Google or HappyCow can help you find options in your area.
Try one of these cookbooks:
Your local library will have these or other options for you to explore with no financial commitment. And, of course, you can always search for recipes online for whatever you’re craving.
You don’t need to venture too far out of your comfort zone! Think about all the things you eat that are naturally plant-based or could easily be modified: hearty green salads, fruit salad, spaghetti and marinara sauce, vegetable or lentil soup, curries, falafel, burritos, banana bread, and even a good ol’ PB&J.
When you’re on the run, Burger King and White Castle offer the Impossible burger, and Chipotle and Taco Bell have many great options for vegetarians and vegans. Bonus: if you hold the meat in your Chipotle burrito, guac is free. #score
Any transition is stressful enough, so stick with cooking easy meals: stir-fried veggies and tofu, smoothies, bean-based chili, pasta, tacos, kebabs with tofu and veggies, soups, and steel-cut oatmeal are approachable weekday options.
If you still don’t know where to start, fill your plate with salad and veggies.
Craving lasagna? Scalloped potatoes? With a few substitutions, almost anything you already love to cook can be made plant-based: mashed banana or egg replacer fill in for eggs in baked goods, tofu or a store-bought substitute like Beyond Meat can stand up against meat in many dishes, and a non-dairy milk like soy, almond, or oat subs for cow’s milk.
Look for a recipe online if you can’t convert one from a favorite cookbook.
Some people change their diet cold turkey and never look back, while others prefer to gradually make the switch.
Some people find that swapping out a beef patty for an Impossible burger is something they can stick to right away, while others prefer to start with whole foods that don’t imitate the meat or dairy they crave.
Over time, you’ll find it to be easier and easier to manage.
Veggie meat and non-dairy options are better than they have ever been. There’s more variety, better quality, and you don’t even have to go to the "granola" grocery store to find them.
Still, processed foods are expensive and not always healthy. Save money by buying nuts, dry beans, and other staples in bulk and sticking to whole foods.
And what’s cheaper than rice and beans? If this sounds punitive, you just haven’t had good rice and beans.
You and your partner used to love date night at the local steakhouse, but your only plant-based option there now is a sad garden salad.
If date night is really just about the meat, you’re out of luck (in many ways), but happy couples really just want to spend time together.
Switch it up! Swap a food-date for an activity- or adventure-date. Explore new restaurants, go for a hike, play pool at the local dive, or find other ways the two of you can share a special connection.
If you want to eat something that’s not plant-based, eat it. If date night needs steak, eat steak. If your mother will be upset if you don’t eat her famous lasagna — and you want her famous lasagna — then eat lasagna.
Restricting yourself too much will make you resentful. If you’re doing this for your health, you have the motivation to keep it up; a few missteps won’t hurt and could even improve your long-term approach.
If you go to a bad burger joint, you don’t think that all burgers are bad. You just had a bad meal.
The same goes for plant-based dining and products. You may need to try different foods or, say, different brands of vegan cheese until you find what you like.
If you’re the cook in the family, you know that it’s already hard enough to feed a picky teenager or spouse without adding another complication.
If you’re tempted to cook separate meals for yourself, opt instead for a la carte: serve meat, cheese, or dressing on the side with pasta or salad or put together a taco, burrito, or baked potato bar so that everyone can add what they want.
Everything is easier with a support network. You are going to have questions, question your commitment, and maybe even encounter a few other issues. If you don’t know anyone else who is trying to cut down on meat, eggs, and dairy, search for online communities on Facebook, Meet-up, or YouTube. And definitely join our Community too.
You’re changing your diet so that you can see all the places you want to see in retirement. You’re doing it to take up that hobby you’re always wanted to try. You’re doing it to keep up with your grandchildren. You’re doing it to feel better and live longer. Remember this when the going gets tough. Feeling better and living better is worth it.
Are you ready to adopt and activate any of these tips toward eating a more plant-based diet? Share your favorites, and your progress in our Community. We’d love to cheer you on, too!