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Veggie Girl

May 19, 2011

By Jennifer Chaky

In my blog posts, I often suggest moving toward a plant-based, vegan diet as a way of living healthier and treating our planet and animal friends better. But I realized I haven’t offered a lot of suggestions as to how to do this.  The reason is, going vegan for me was a very natural and almost automatic choice because I had always been a big animal lover. I started out by not eating mammals anymore, then stopped eating birds, then fish, then mollusks, with eggs and dairy somewhere in between there. This whole process took about three years (starting when I was 15), but it took me many years more to find the healthy, appropriate diet of whole, quality foods that I now enjoy.

A lot of my diet evolution had to do with simply growing older, developing more refined tastes, and acquiring more skills in the kitchen. That’s my personal experience, but everyone is different—some people are great cooks and transitioning to cooking only plants is very easy for them. Some people go cold turkey (or cold-Tofurkey if you will) and cut out all animal products immediately. Some really struggle with the adjustment. So I decided to ask someone with more experience in the area how one should start transitioning to a vegan diet.  Dianne Wenz, a certified holistic health counselor who specializes in plant-based diet nutrition, helps many people optimize their health through simple dietary and lifestyle changes. Here are her tips for going vegan:

1. What do you say to people who are worried about not getting enough protein on an all plant-based diet?

Dianne: Unfortunately, we live in a protein-obsessed society. The idea that we need to get protein from meat is a myth. Most Americans eat a lot more protein from animal-based sources than they actually need, and this can lead to many health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Obtaining protein from plant-based sources is ideal because they don’t contain the cholesterol and fat that can be found meat and dairy sources, and eating too many plants doesn’t come with the same health risks that eating too many animal products does. Protein is abundant in plants. Foods like beans, soy, nuts, and grains are all high in protein, but it can also be found in vegetables. One hundred calories worth of broccoli has more protein than 100 calories worth of beef! To determine the amount of protein you need, multiply your weight by .36. The number you get is the amount of protein in grams that you need in a day. Chances are you are eating more protein than you realize.

2. Is a vegan diet safe for everyone?

Dianne: Yes, veganism is safe for everyone. In fact, a plant-based diet is really the key to ideal health. Plant-based foods are full of all of minerals and vitamins we need to stay healthy. Plants contain things our bodies need for optimal health, such as fiber and phytonutrients, that can’t be found in animal-based foods.
3. What are three tips you can offer someone getting started on a vegan diet?

Dianne: Don’t be afraid to try new foods. People eating the Standard American Diet often tend to get stuck in a food rut and they rarely eat anything new. Most vegans are more open-minded and eat a wider variety of foods than omnivores. Once you remove the meat and dairy products from your plate, you’re actually opening yourself up to a whole new world of eating.

Don’t rely on processed foods and mock meats. Processed foods are okay every once in a while, but eating whole foods—vegetables, fruits, and grains—is the best way to go for optimum health.

Surround yourself with supportive people. Not everyone will want to support your new diet and lifestyle. Be patient with them, but also look for like-minded people to spend time with. There are many vegan groups on Meetup.com and there are quite a lot of vegan communities online, such as ThePPK (Post Punk Kitchen).

4. You help many people transition to healthier diets. What do you find are people’s biggest obstacles? And what do you suggest they do to overcome them?

Dianne: I often work with people who want to change everything at once and know everything there is to know immediately. This is an easy way to overwhelm yourself and cause burnout. I always suggest taking things slowly. Add more plants into your diet and slowly remove meat, dairy, and cheese. Crowd the old foods out by adding new foods. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes. Life is a learning process and change takes time.

Dianne Wenz offers individual health and nutrition coaching to people of all ages, and also runs workshops, group programs and cooking classes. She has a passion for food and cooking, and can usually be found in the kitchen whipping up a delicious vegan meal. In addition to health counseling, Dianne runs a local vegan meetup group called Montclair Vegans. She can be found blogging about food, nutrition, and health at veggiegirl.com 

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