“It is very useful to promote vegetarianism. We should pay more attention towards developing more vegetable [-based diets],” Dalai Lama

Eating a vegetarian diet, or at least cutting down on the amount of meat you eat, is good for your health. And doing so is now a lot more mainstream than it used to be. But the reasons that the Dalai Lama and others are promoting increased vegetarian eating go beyond the health benefits.

A plant based diet is also far more environmentally responsible, and so as one overarching theme of the Buddhist religion is compassion, and in this time of dealing with the harm caused by climate change, vegetarianism can offer both compassion for the planet as well as for the animals inhabiting it.

However, lots of people struggle with the idea, and with the practice. They get that there are lots of benefits attached to a plant based diet, but the idea of cutting meat out their diet is hard. No more bacon? No more big burgers? No more BBQ treats in the summer? Lots of people shudder at the thought.

Plant based eating does not actually mean you have to be a full-time vegetarian though. Rather, it means that you are choosing more of your foods from plant sources and fewer from animal sources. And getting into plant based eating is far from as hard as you might think. Here are some pointers to get you started.

What Science Says About Plant Based Eating

What proof do we have that plant-based eating habits are good for you? Plant-based eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet and a vegetarian diet, have been the subject of a lot of nutrition research. The Mediterranean diet is based on plant-based cuisine, with occasional additions of fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, and yogurt, as well as meats and desserts very occasionally.

In both large population studies and randomized clinical trials, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers (specifically colon, breast, and prostate cancer), depression, and frailty in older adults, as well as provide better mental and physical function.

As to the environment, According to research, meat and dairy products contribute to the climate problem, whereas plant-based diets, which include fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, help to safeguard the environment.

According to a report published in The Lancet in 2019, a dietary shift toward plant foods and away from animal products is critical for enhancing global health. According to the analysis, “vegan and vegetarian diets were associated with the biggest reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions in the future.”

By 2050, a global transition to a plant-based diet could cut mortality and greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production by 10% and 70%, respectively. “Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general demand more resources and create higher emissions than plant-based alternatives,” according to a UN Environment Programme research. “Reducing cattle herds would also lower emissions of methane, which is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide,” according to the World Health Organization.

Getting Started on a Plant Based Diet

As you can now see, a plant based diet is good for you, good for your fellow humans and animals and for the future of the planet we all live on. It really is also a great way to demonstrate the compassion the Dalai Lama instructs we all should. But yes, changing eating habits is hard. But it does not have to be too hard.

  • Consume a lot of vegetables. At lunch and dinner, half your plate should be filled with veggies. When selecting vegetables, make sure to incorporate a variety of hues. Serve vegetables with hummus, salsa, or guacamole as a snack.
  • Change your perspective on meat. Have lesser portions. Instead of using it as a centerpiece, use it as a garnish.
  • Choose healthy fats. Olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are all good sources of fat that actually offer health benefits. You can start small – switch vegetable oil for olive oil, spread some mashed avocado on your toast, switch to a delicious cashew butter – and work your way up.
  • At least once a week, prepare a vegetarian dish. Beans, whole grains, and veggies are the foundation of these dishes, and you can get really creative. There are an increasing number of incredible – and easy – recipes out there you can try
  • Your breakfast, which is a crucial meal, should include whole grains. Oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley are good places to start. Then toss in some nuts or seeds, as well as some fresh fruit.
  • If you are really pressed for time and usually have to resort to a take-out breakfast, toasting a wholewheat bagel at home, spreading it with a nut butter and then packing it in a sandwich baggie is faster, and cheaper, than standing in a fast food joint line and much better for you.
  • Greens are the way to go. Every day, consume a variety of green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and more. To keep their flavor and nutrition, steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry them.
  • Make a salad the centerpiece of your meal. Salad greens such as romaine, spinach, Bibb, or red leafy greens should be placed in a bowl and form the heart of the dish. Add a variety of different veggies, fresh herbs, beans, peas, or tofu to the mix, and you’ll have a meal that’s heartier than you might have imagined possible.
  • Can’t live without a sweet treat? In that case, go ahead, but that dessert should be fruit. After a meal, a ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple will satisfy your sweet tooth. Or you can take things a step further and replace ice cream with frozen berries topped with a very small amount of almond or coconut whipped cream when you really want to reward yourself!

A Plant Based Diet and Eating Out

Following a plant based diet at home isn’t hard, but it can get complicated if you are eating out, either at a restaurant or at a function where most people are still big meat eaters.

If you get into the habit of reading menus carefully however, you’ll find that you don’t have to eat specifically at a vegetarian restaurant to keep up your plant based diet. Indian, Japanese and Chinese restaurants all offer a plethora of great meat free dishes, and even Starbucks will serve your coffee with nut milks instead of dairy if you ask.

Dealing with family events can, we admit, be tricky. Allow the rest of your family to eat meat around you while you prepare wonderful vegetarian side dishes to serve as a main course for you. If you aren’t the main cook in the house, volunteer to prepare the vegetarian option. You’ll get a meal you enjoy without adding to their workload, and you’ll get to spend some quality time in the kitchen with them!