Transitioning to a Plant-based Diet

By Matthew Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Making the change from the standard American diet to a plant-based one may seem daunting, but with just a few gradual changes you’ll be eating a healthier, more satisfying diet before you know it.

Start by eating more of the plant-based meals you already eat. Bean and rice burritos? Pasta Primavera? Cereal? These are vegetarian foods! By focusing on the ones you already eat you are making changes even before you introduce new foods.

Add more plant foods to the mixed meals you are eating. Shift the balance of plant and animal foods toward more plants – the ones you already eat and love.

Don’t give up your favorite animal foods immediately.  If you love cheese pizza more than life itself, keep eating it! Make the easier changes first.

Eliminate animal foods you don’t eat often.  You won’t miss these so let them go first.

Find other vegetarians and vegans!  Most likely they will be excited to share their favorite foods, meals and their restaurants.  There are many types of vegetarians with varying food preferences, so talk to as many as possible.

Find recipes and cookbooks that you like.  Skip the gourmet ones (for now!) and go for the ones that are most similar to your cooking/eating style.

Cook with others.  Invite friends over for a vegan dinner feast. When making changes in your life it’s always easier when you involve others.

Many health food stores and grocery stores carry plenty of healthy vegetarian foods like non-dairy milks, faux meat products and a variety of produce and whole grains.  Take the time to explore different sections of these stores. You may find stuff you didn’t know existed.

The abundance of plant foods that exist in the world is mind-boggling! And the variety of ways to prepare them is incomprehensible. Imagine the possibilities and don’t discount a food immediately, look for other ways to prepare it.

Be prepared.  Stock your kitchen with the healthy, plant foods you want to eat and it will be harder to lapse into old ways.

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Matthew Ruscigno, MPH, RD is a vegan of 15 years, Chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Group of the American Dietetic Association and is an athlete that has completed iron-distance triathlons, solo 24-hr mountain bike races and ultra-runs. He writes at True Love Health and recently launched his Day in the Life of Vegan Athletes video series.