It's hard to ignore the movement towards a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. All-vegan cafes and restaurant are continually popping up and thriving, meat and dairy alternatives are rapidly growing in supermarkets, and countless blogs and social media accounts are sharing delicious recipes.
While some turn to veganism because of the animal cruelty inherent to the meat and dairy industry, others have health or the environment as their focus. With the frightening impact of climate change on our future becoming more clear every day, and with livestock farming playing a large part, it's no surprise people are making the switch.
If you've been thinking about adopting a plant-based diet but don't know where to begin, these tips by Dr Michael Klaper, renowned clinician and plant-based diet educator, have got you sorted.
Why should I go vegan?
"There are many, many benefits to personal health as well as to planetary health," Klaper told HuffPost Australia. "Our body has evolved to digest plant-based foods, as our gorilla cousins attest to us, and the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet becomes immediately evident -- your intestinal tract starts working better.
"So many of the diseases that people bring to doctors -- high blood pressure, clogged arteries, obesity, diabetes -- are all diseases of our current western diet based on meats, dairy products and refined sugars.
"When you eliminate those, people get leaner, healthier, their arteries open up, their blood pressure comes down, diabetes goes away and their joints stop hurting. It's a powerful medical maneuver, as well as one that helps the planet."
There's such a vast and satisfying cuisine waiting for people who make that jump that I would urge people to at least challenge themselves for the next 30 days to eat plant-based.
1. Jump right in (with an open mind)
It's up to you to decide whether you want to change your diet overnight or slowly phase out animal products, but Klaper explained the best way to make the change is to dive right in. If the whole idea frightens you, start with a 30-day challenge.
"Either way works, but I find it's best to make the jump, as otherwise you're going to keep being pulled back into old ways of eating," Klaper told HuffPost Australia.
"There's such a vast and satisfying cuisine waiting for people who make that jump that I would urge people to at least challenge themselves for the next 30 days to eat plant-based."
By jumping straight in, Klaper said people are more likely to experiment with plant-based ingredients and recipes, as well as feel the effects of eating a vegan diet.
"You can always go back to the old stuff if you want, but give it an honest try for a month. Most people don't go back because they feel so good after."
2. Start with simple meals
A whole world of delicious vegan desserts, cheese and mock meats await when you open yourself up to vegan cuisine. However, to avoid becoming overwhelmed -- or spending hours reading the ingredients list while food shopping -- Klaper recommends starting with easy whole food meals you can make at home. Once you've got a handle on the basics, you can work your way up.
"For breakfast have porridge with fruit and soy or almond milk, with toast and jam," Klaper said.
"For lunch and dinner you can have a big, fresh salad. Vegetables like broccoli, greens and sweet potato should be frequent colours on your plate. Cook hearty meals like stews, soups and casseroles based on whole grains like rice, quinoa and millet.
"And make sure you include pulses of all types: lentils, beans and chickpeas are rich in protein and fibre."
3. Meal plan and prep
To avoid getting caught out without vegan food, prep and cook your plant-based meals in advance. This doesn't have to be complicated to begin with. Choose a few recipes and add to your repertoire once your taste buds adjust and you feel comfortable.
"You can cook every other night or every three nights if you use your freezer properly. Start with one lunch, one dinner and one breakfast, and you can enlarge your recipe base from there," Klaper said.
"Pick a soup, stew or casserole and make up a big pot and eat off it for three days. You don't have to be chopping and cooking all the time. It lends itself very well to advanced preparation and freezing portion sizes."
4. Increase portions if you're hungry
When transitioning to a plant-based diet, some people notice they are hungrier. This is due to plant-based foods being nutrient-dense but lower in energy (calories). If you find yourself hungry, simply increase your portions of plant-based meals.
"You can have that fourth bowl of vegetable soup. It's guilt-free eating," Klaper said.
5. Join a community and explore the vegan food world
Whether it's joining your local vegan Facebook group or following vegan bloggers, immersing yourself in the plant-based community is an easy way to stay motivated and find delicious recipes. And don't forget to try all the foods on offer at your local vegan cafes, stores and restaurants.
"Nowadays with all these plant-based meat alternatives you don't even miss the chewy texture of meat. There's no sacrifice in taste satisfaction when you adopt a plant-based diet if you do it properly," Klaper said.
"There's a world of international cuisine -- you can have plant-based foods Italian-style, Chinese-style, east Indian, Mexican. All you need to do is do a search on plant-based recipes."
There are also numerous helpful and free vegan starter kits and online programs to help new vegans.
Dr Michael Klaper is currently in Australia for the Australia and New Zealand Nutrition in Healthcare symposium Tour from 12-21 November 2017.Suggest a correction