It’s time for Step 3 of my Easy Changes series. This one takes a little bit of thought, but is still super simple. It’s find easy swaps.
Changing to a whole-food plant-based diet can be a huge change, and challenge, for some people. If you are used to a diet based on meat, dairy and egg, a plant-based one might seem so alien that you may wonder what in the world you are going to eat. Realistically, it’s doesn’t have to be that different, it just means making changes to some key ingredients.
One way to do this is to think about every day recipes you cook at home. Things like curries, chilli, pasta, stir fries and stews are super easy to swap to include plant-based ingredients and don’t take a long time to prepare. Here’s a few ideas:
- If you like a chicken tikka masala, swap the chicken for chickpeas (and make sure the sauce you use is dairy-free). Or just create a veggie curry – there are so many to choose from.
- Make your chilli con carne a chilli non-carne by omitting the meat and adding in extra beans. I really like black beans and kidney beans in mine.
- Pasta is easy to make plant-based but you don’t have to get bored with a plain tomato sauce. Try adding aubergine or mushrooms to make it richer, or replace mince with lentils to make a delicious ragu.
- If you like stir fry, use a selection of vegetables and top with cashew nuts. Or add some smoked tofu for texture and flavour.
- Many stews can be made using beans instead of meat. Or create shepherds pie with lentils – try this one, it’s delicious.
Recreating your favourite meals as plant-based does require swapping animal-based protein sources with plant-based. Protein tends to be the biggest concern for people when they change diet. But really there are so many sources of protein in whole plants; even broccoli has some! As long as you eat a wide variety of foods you will not have a problem (as in general we all think we need much more than we actually do). Here are some great sources of plant-based proteins.
Swapping dairy milk for plant-based milk is not too difficult now with such a wide range of products available to buy. It can take a little time though to get used to different milks in tea and coffee, so if the first one you try tastes foul, then don’t give up just try another one. There are even barista options for oat and hemp milk if you like a frothy coffee.
Egg can be a little more tricky but there are some great substitutes. Tofu is a useful product; I really like scrambled tofu for breakfast, although it did take me a little while to get used to it. Chickpea flour is a great alternative to egg and can be used for binding as well a creating pancakes and even omelettes.
One of the biggest items to swap successfully is cheese, especially if you follow a whole-food plant-based diet for health reasons and have to avoid foods with a high saturated fat content as with the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis programme or reversing heart disease or diabetes. Most shop-bought dairy-free cheese contains coconut nut or palm oil which means it’s off the menu. I have to say that in the past I have struggled to find a dairy-free cheese I actually like. I hear that Applewood Smoked Vegan cheese is very good, but also very hard to find as it’s in high demand!
Nutritional yeast is a flavouring you can add to food to give it a ‘cheesy’ savoury flavour. I use it to make my version of parmesan cheese and always have a jar in the fridge. Another slightly odd alternative is to use roasted cauliflower for a cheesy sauce – here’s an old blog post about it.
One of the things I love about eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it enables me to explore a whole new way of cooking and creating new dishes. One way to make your change is to find easy recipes to try out either on-line or in recipe books. Get recommendations from others or find your own. But make sure they are easy as something too complicated that requires lots of expensive and difficult to find ingredients is a sure way to put you off! All the recipes on my blog and in my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie are pretty easy to make; not being a professional chef means I have a simple home cooks perspective.
Of course, as you gain confidence, you may well find you want to start experimenting with more unusual ingredients like aquafaba (chickpea brine) and raw desserts. And hopefully you’ll have so much fun, you’ll inspire your family and friends to get on board and enjoy this wonderfully tasty and healthy way of cooking and eating.
It’s useful to remember, though, that you may well have a few disasters. But that’s ok as these often taste the best!
My last point to make is please remember that Instagram is not always real life! Clever food photography can make things look much better than they really do, so please don’t compare them with yours. Tasting great is much more important than what it looks like!