Plant-Based Diet Basics: Do I Need to Cut Out All Meats Immediately?

plant based diet transition tips Jul 18, 2022
Steak on chopping board

Feeling Worried?

This is a great question and a common one. One of the biggest concerns many people have moving to a plant-based diet is this: that they will need to stop all meat and other animal-based protein products in their meals immediately, and this for some, can seem like too drastic and sudden of a dietary change. 

Are you worried about this ‘meat factor’ too? If so, that’s natural, especially if you’ve been used to many years of having an animal-based protein source like beef, chicken or fish regularly in your meals, and have grown up eating this way. So let’s dive into this issue!

Meats, Meats, Meats

What counts as meat and animal-based protein foods? In general, animal-based protein foods can be divided up into these main categories:

  • Red meats: such as beef, lamb and pork
  • White meats: such as chicken and turkey
  • Seafood: such as fish and shellfish
  • Eggs and egg-containing products
  • Milk and other dairy-containing products

A person eating a regular diet could be including any combination of these animal-based protein products regularly in their meals, and these animal-based food sources would be a key component of his or her diet.

Is it All or Nothing?

So, if you want to move to a plant-based diet, do you need to cut out ALL of these meat categories and other animal-based products immediately from your diet? 

The answer, in short, is this: the decision is yours!

Here's why. The main tenet of a whole food plant-based diet is to consume unprocessed or minimally processed plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, while minimizing or excluding as much as possible animal-based proteins, excess oils, as well as heavily processed commercialized foods that tend to be high in salt, sugar and fat.

Hence, within the whole food, plant-based world, there is actually a spectrum of eaters ranging from those who completely exclude all meats and animal-based protein products, to those who still have small amounts of it within their diets.  So you can decide what your plant-based diet goals are, and if you want to immediately remove all animal-based protein foods from your diet or do it more gradually.

But keep this in mind: the more health-promoting nutrient-dense plant-based foods you include in your (and your family's) meals, and the less you eat of animal-based protein foods, the more you and your loved ones will benefit health-wise. Also the faster you transition to an entirely whole food plant-based diet, the more quickly you will be able to experience the full health benefits of this lifestyle change!

A Question of Degrees

So at the end of the day, it’s really a question of degrees. Ultimately, I see a complete whole food, plant-based diet (one that excludes all animal-based foods) as the ultimate goal for optimal health, but each of us could be anywhere along that spectrum at a certain time point. Plant-based eating is after all (and should be) a life-long journey towards ever increasing health and wellness. It is much more important, I feel, to approach this way of eating in a way that makes it sustainable for you over the long run!

So if you do not feel ready to make a complete overnight switch to a whole food, plant-based lifestyle, decide on how quickly you want to transition to a full plant-based diet. Is it over a period of a few weeks, a few months or a year? After you’ve decided on this, decide on what animal-based products or categories you will begin with first to cut down on from your meals, then move progressively to limit and remove the remaining categories from your diet over time.

The Bottomline

If you are worried and hesitant to try out plant-based eating, because you think eating plant-based means you need to give up ALL the foods you previously ate – immediately – I hope this article reassures you (and your loved ones). And even if your loved ones around you are still eating animal-based protein products at the moment, that is fine too, because this can be a transition process for them as well. Your loved ones can be as much on a transition journey as you are during this period, so let's turn this into a positive exploration journey into the plant-based world for all!