When I was 17 I officially went plant-based when I moved to Los Angeles for college. This was surprising for a number of reasons, including the fact that I grew up with meat at most meals. One of my parents is from Uruguay, the country that consumes the most meat per capita, and another one is from Kansas City, famed for its BBQ.
I didn’t have any honorable reasons for going plant-based. It was just that I was responsible for feeding myself for the first time in my life and meat was expensive, I didn’t know how to prepare it, and I didn’t want to touch animal flesh. Technically, a plant-based diet consists mostly—not fully—of plants. You can be plant-based and eat small portions of animal products or be plant-based and fully vegan. I’ve been plant-based for 15 years as I was a pescatarian for 11 years before going full vegan four years ago.
After 15 years, I continue to eat a plant-based diet for the animals, environment, and my health. I don’t eat anything derived from an animal including eggs, honey, gelatin, and milk. I’m also currently trying to adapt to a whole food plant-based diet which also avoids oil and processed foods.
Looking to try a plant-based diet? Here are five things I wish I knew when I started.
1. You Might Need to Take Some Vitamins (Specifically B12)
When I first cut meat out of my diet I told my medical doctor that I was feeling quite tired. He told me to take B12 and explained that the vitamin would improve my energy levels. What he didn’t explain was that B12 is also crucial for brain health. To avoid becoming B12 sufficient, I take a supplement that’s GMO-free and certified organic. There are also a few other supplements that plant-based eaters might need to take, including Vitamin D, Calcium, and Iron.
2. Going Plant-Based Doesn’t Automatically Mean You’re Eating Healthy
I didn’t consult a nutritionist or registered dietitian when I stopped eating animal flesh, which was a major mistake. When I moved to New York City I was 19, broke, and survived on $1 pizza slices. Going plant-based and only eating vegan food such as french fries and burgers, burritos, pasta, and pizzas might not be the healthiest approach. Personally, I needed to find a balance between vegetables, carbs, fats, and proteins to feel my best.
3. There Are Some Surprising Health Benefits to Eating Plant-Based (and Vegan)
I suffered from asthma all of my life and frequently had bronchitis, strep, and a bad bout of mono and pneumonia. Research shows that eating a plant-based diet may help to manage the symptoms of conditions such as asthma. And at the recommendation of my MD, I haven't consumed dairy in over four years and my lung health has drastically improved. Research also shows that there's a link between a plant-based diet and lower incidences of diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.
4. You Have to Learn to Be Flexible
When I first went plant-based in 2007 I was hard-pressed to find satisfying meals, even in health-obsessed Los Angeles and New York City. And then in 2015, I started traveling full-time, which made things even more challenging. I had to learn to be flexible, especially when I went fully-vegan in 2017. While I want every meal to be memorable, sometimes my options may be limited to steamed veggies and rice or egg-free pasta with olive oil.
5. Ultimately, Eating Plant-Based Is a Personal Choice
From the carnivores to the vegans—sometimes it feels everyone has an opinion about what I eat. That judgement is people projecting their own beliefs. Being plant-based is a personal choice and I’ve learned to ignore other people’s unsolicited opinions. Remember: Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what diet and lifestyle is best for your body and your beliefs.