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12 easy ways to eat a more plant-based diet

12 easy ways to eat a more plant-based diet
Tofu and mushrooms are both meaty plant-based options. Enrique Díaz / 7cero / Moment / Getty Images

If you're confused by the craze, you're not alone. While most people realize it's better for both our bodies and the environment, many are still unsure of exactly what it means. Is plant-based eating synonymous with vegetarian, and herbivore, or is it something else entirely? The truth is, it's it to be.

While it does place an emphasis on consuming more or even mostly plant-derived foods and limits animal items like meat or dairy, how restrictive you want to be is all up to you -- at least at Harvard. Looking for some ideas to ease your way in? Try these 12 tips for cutting back on meat and dairy and incorporating more into your diet.

1. Hop on the zoodle wagon

A spiralizer opens up a whole new world of veggie noodles to explore. Spiralizer

If you haven't joined the zoodle party (spiralizing zucchini or other vegetables to mimic noodles), the time is now. "Zucchini noodles are nutritious, low-calorie, low-carb and definitely plant-based," says Nick Graff, executive chef at . Using zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash or beets in place of regular wheat pasta is an easy way to instantly make a dish more plant-based, he says, and they pair nicely with your favorite sauce and mix-ins. His unique pro-tip: Use a potato peeler to cut sheets of squash, then lay them on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven until they're slightly dehydrated. "They make an amazing, ," he says.

2. Swap your butter for oil

Yes, butter is sourced from animals, so switching it out for plant-derived options such as coconut oil, or olive oil is an easy first step. "Coconut oil can be used in a 1:1 ratio when cooking or baking, making it an easy non-dairy recipe adaptation that adds a hint of flavor," says Manuel Trevino, corporate executive chef of , a vegan restaurant in New York City.

Try our .

You won't miss the eggs or butter in these vegan cupcakes with fluffy vegan frosting. Chowhound

3. Mimic your meat

Not all meat substitutes are created equal -- many contain superfluous ingredients you don't need or want to ingest, so choose wisely. One of the best natural options is , which is high in fiber, protein and vitamins, maintains a texture similar to meat and is particularly good for turning your favorite barbecue items plant-based. "Use it as an alternative to a classic ," says , chef and owner of in Minneapolis.

This veggie burger is based on black-eyed peas. Chowhound

As far as packaged substitutes go (because, let's face it, we don't always have time to whip up from scratch), look for brands like , which makes plant-based sausages, patties and more. You want products with a minimal ingredient list that includes whole foods like nuts, seeds or grains. and are perfect for making plant-based comfort items such as "pigs" in a blanket, "brats" and sauerkraut or "sausage" and peppers.

4. Call on cauliflower

, including standing in for meat (see our below) and dairy. It can even substitute for rice -- which is already a plant-based option, yes, but swapping in gets you even closer to the plant source. "Grated cauliflower is the perfect substitution in dishes like fried rice," says Graff. You can also try grating broccoli for a similar effect (though cauliflower is a more neutral flavor base).

Cauliflower tacos are a great plant-based meal, especially with crunchy slaw. Chowhound

5. Mushrooms are your friend

Believe it or not, that some ground meats bring to a dish. "Make a traditional Bolognese sauce with roasted mushrooms instead of ground beef or pork for a rich, meat-like flavor," suggests Graff. They also have a meaty texture, which is why are so eternally popular.

6. Cut back on cheese

If you're not ready to give up dairy cheese all together, start out slow. "Add fresh corn and jalapeño to a grilled cheese sandwich," says Helene Henderson, owner and executive chef of . The extra boost of flavor and texture allows you to cut back on the amount of cheese you'd normally pile on. Eventually, you may be ready to explore -- maybe even make your own.

Add jalapenos and other veggies to your grilled cheese. Chowhound

7. Opt for non-dairy milks

This might seem like an obvious swap -- cashew, almond, coconut, or soy milks in place of cow milk -- but is key. For the consistency you need for a creamy, comforting mac 'n' cheese, alfredo or even a dip, try cashew milk. "When blended with soaked cashews, it becomes a great replacement for creamy sauces," say the experts at . If a bowl of decadent, cream-based soup screams comfort food to you, try coconut milk instead. Then delve into for dessert.

8. Fry your veggies

"Fried food is comfort food, especially in the South. like cauliflower or broccoli is a great way to [sate] that fried desire," says Katie Borger, senior director of marketing for . Check out our for a start.

Buffalo cauliflower bites and cauliflower crust pizza are both perfectly at home at a party. Chowhound

9. Bulk up your breakfast

Load up your pancake and waffle batter so you're not hungry enough to miss the bacon and eggs. "Mix butternut squash puree into pancake or waffle batter for vitamins, fiber and sweetness," says Graff. In summer, or pancakes.

10. Embrace your beans

Beans are a magical ingredient when it comes to plant-based eating. Not only do they add the necessary dose of fiber and protein you need to stay full, they're also super versatile. Use a variety of beans and veggies to make a hearty , or choose bean-based pastas (you can find them from mainstream brands like Barilla and Explore Cuisine) for your favorite pasta dish.

Pack your chili full of beans and veggies instead of meat. Chowhound

11. Use applesauce instead of eggs

Here's one baking substitute that might surprise you. "Unsweetened acts as a binder to keep your baked goods just as moist as eggs," says Trevino. Check out for both sweet and savory recipes.

12. Rethink tofu

This staple of Asian cuisine can be used in much more than a stir-fry. The fries up well, so use it for faux chicken nuggets or popcorn shrimp. Its bland taste also means it holds up nicely in dishes with plenty of other flavors and spices, such as a pot pie or our . And while you're at it, get acquainted with its cousin, too.

Firm tofu replaces ricotta cheese in this hearty vegan lasagna. Chowhound

This story was written by Alyssa Jung and originally posted at Chowhound.

Topic: #diet
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