Healthy Living

Easing into a plant-based diet

Photo by Jav Ducker

Maybe you’ve heard all about the many benefits of a plant-based diet and have dabbled a bit here and there. It is also likely you may know someone who has made the switch and experienced huge improvements in their physical health. The claims are bold, saying that a plant-based diet can decrease your risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. A plant-based diet can reduce inflammation throughout the entire body, which not only prevents but in some cases may actually reverse diseases including osteoporosis, diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis and depression.

Plant-based diets are eating patterns that are high in vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, whole fruits, nuts and seeds. The aim of such a diet is to maximize the consumption of nutrient-dense plant food and to minimize consumption of processed foods, sugars, oils and animal-based foods. We could fill the rest of this magazine going over the physical, emotional, economic and global benefits of going plant-based, but instead I’d like to walk you through three simple ways you can get started.

Start small

If you are thinking about long-term success, it’s best to start small. Begin by reducing meat consumption by 10 percent. Evaluate how you feel after the first several weeks, and if all’s good, then perhaps you reduce another 10 percent. Meanwhile, start adding an extra handful of leafy greens into your soups, salads and sandwiches. When in doubt, always add the greens!

Make a commitment

This shift can be a major lifestyle adjustment. It takes time for new habits to form. Make a commitment and stick with it. Living in Iowa means there will be times when this new diet feels inconvenient. Nearly one-third of the nation’s hogs are raised here in Iowa and meat is available nearly everywhere. While the vegan and plant-based community in the state is growing, there’s still a long way to go.

Commit to this new lifestyle and come prepared. If you are going out to eat, find spots that offer plant-based options. Places like Trumpet Blossom in Iowa City, Rawlicious in Cedar Rapids and Brightside Kitchen in Des Moines are serving up all plant-based menus. Many other places like Tacopocalypse, Krunkwich Ramen House and Fong’s Pizza in Des Moines offer vegan or vegetarian options. Get to know all your plant-friendly restaurants. For a full list in the the Des Moines area, check out the Veg Life website at

Plan meals

Think ahead and hunt down recipes and meal plans that are designed to be meatless. Browse through vegan or vegetarian websites or check out a few cookbooks from your local library. You’ll want to stock up on lots of legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fresh vegetables and fruits.

Prepare snacks of seeds, veggies and nuts and take them with you when you’re out and about.
Your health, the environment and the animals will thank you.

Red Lentil Veggie Curry

Serves 4-6

For inspiration on your journey, try this delicious and hearty plant-based noodle soup.

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste
  • 1 tbsp fresh turmeric, diced
  • 1 pint of vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp amino acid or soy sauce
  • 1 cup of cauliflower, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup of mushrooms
  • 1 small sweet potato, diced
  • 1 cup of leafy greens
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 lime

To garnish

  • 3 spring onions
  • 3 shallots
  • cilantro leaves

Pour about 1/3 of the coconut milk into a wok or heavy pan. Bring to a boil and add the onion and sweet potato.

Add curry paste and turmeric. Stir to mix completely and cook until it is fragrant.

Add cauliflower, soy sauce, red lentils and the pint of vegetable stock. Bring to boil and then lower temperature to simmer, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.

Squeeze the juice from 1 lime and pour that into the mixture.

Add the remaining coconut milk, leafy greens and mushrooms and cook for another 20 minutes on low.
Let it cool, then garnish with spring onions, shallots and cilantro leaves.

Elissa Cirignotta is a writer, teacher, world traveler and change maker. When she’s not teaching or practicing yoga in Des Moines, Portland Oregon or Sicily, you can find her growing plants, planning trips and writing stories. This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Spring 2018 issue.


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