Ask the Pros Q&A

Q:Is it better to make the transition to a whole food plant-based diet gradually or all at once?

A: One of the most powerful steps anyone can take to improve health, boost energy levels, and prevent chronic disease is to transition to a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet.

The evidence consistently shows that increasing plant-based foods in your diet and eliminating meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods help improve longevity, positively impact the environment, and reduce risk of chronic lifestyle disease.

That said, for many, a sudden shift to plant-based eating can seem like a daunting task. While there are several ways to transition to a WFPB diet, I recommend thinking of the transition by analogy to swimming. Some people approach a swimming pool by dipping their toe in, slowly going down the steps shivering. Then there are those that jump right in at the deep end! As a health care practitioner, I do recommend going all in for at least 3 weeks. One of the things I recommend is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s (PCRM) 21 Day Vegan Kickstart Program. The program includes meal plans, shopping lists, and all of the recipes needed to get started.

For those that want to give up just one food group before fully switching over to a WFPB diet, note that there are other options. One thing to remember is that the degree to which you change will be directly proportional to the degree to which you will discover change in how you feel.

However, if someone does opt to go slowly and is currently regularly eating meat, dairy, and processed foods on more or less a daily basis, I recommend reducing this regimen to, say, 3 days per week for a few weeks, then 2 days per week for a few weeks, then 1 day. This   method allows you to “crowd out” your favorite animal-based and processed foods with healthy foods. Start with a category of food that you will not miss too much; maybe it’s cow milk, eggs, meat or fish. Make a conscious decision not to have them anymore and replace them with a tasty plant-based food. For example, how about a handful of nuts as a snack instead of processed food or string cheese?  Or, how about just more potatoes and veggies and less meat?

A word about vegan meat and cheese alternatives: You may have seen a plethora of these in the freezer section of your grocery store. These are great “transition” or “stepping stone” foods. Not everyone can go right to leafy greens and quinoa on day one. These foods provide the same textures and tastes of their animal-based counterparts and are better for the animals and the planet. However, these  foods  should not be eaten regularly. People that do will eventually stall and often notice they do not see the changes that they anticipated with the transition. Why? Because these foods are often highly processed and loaded with sodium and unhealthy fats and/or oils.   For that reason, it behooves you to limit your consumption of these foods or, better yet, avoid them altogether if you can.

Bottom line: if you are transitioning you can opt to go all in or transition slowly. Consider what works best for you and your family. Know that there are plenty of resources to help you in your journey right here at the Plant Based Nutrition Movement website and Facebook Group.

Contributing Writer: Erin Sinnaeve APN, FNP-C

Erin Sinnaeve is a Family Nurse Practitioner and owns her own private health coaching business Thrive Plant Life. She also works in Allergy/Immunology at Advocate Aurora Health.

Erin received her BSN from University of Nebraska, her MS from Creighton University, and her DNP from Chamberlain University. She is an instructor at Chamberlain University. She is also a Food Over Medicine instructor and a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.