[Without Pills or Going to Culinary School]

A year and a half ago, my husband and I stopped eating meat after a 10-day sausage-at-nearly-every-meal visit to his grandparents’ house in Germany. We didn’t plan to permanently give up meat, but we started liking how we felt as vegetarian and it stuck.

Then in January of 2017, I took another giant step further. I did something as a dairy-obsessed, cheese and milk lover that I never thought possible… I went vegan.

Over the past few months I find that I sleep better (no more battling regular insomnia), I feel better physically (fewer headaches, less bloating, better skin), and I feel better psychologically knowing I’m doing right by animals and the planet (I won’t go into that too much, but this is meaningful to me).

Now, this article isn’t meant to be preachy or come across like a strong-armed attempt to convert you to my plant-based ways.

In fact, I bet it will take zero convincing of anyone that eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds — vegan or not — is a great thing. Especially when those items take the place of highly processed, sugary, and nutrient-depleted foods.

So, here are my 5 favorite easy ways to eat healthier and get all the benefits without the side effects. And you don’t even need to be an accomplished chef to pull it off.

Try these quick and fun recipes or simple substitutions to what you may already be doing. Your body will thank you for the compounded positive effect!

#1: Replace chips and buttery popcorn with baked garbanzo beans

My dog Tuck wants to eat these baked garbanzo beans too. haha

I’m obsessed with garbanzo beans (or chickpeas). Not only do I blend them up into amazing homemade hummus, but recently I started baking them too.

So easy! And really fun to eat. You get the satisfaction of ‘munching’ them one at a time in front of the television without the guilt of partially hydrogenated oil, bad-for-you butter, or other processing chemicals.

Here’s how to make them:
Step 1: Drain 2 cans of garbanzo beans (you can also buy them dried and soak or boil them to get them soft first).

Step 2: Mix them with olive oil or coconut oil.

Step 3: Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and as much paprika or chili powder as you like, and then toss them until well mixed.

Step 4: Pour them onto a baking sheet covered with foil and bake for about 40 minutes at 360 degrees.

Step 5: Serve hot and enjoy.

Try this simple recipe once and you’ll be hooked too. Buh bye unhealthy snacks!

#2: Use nut milk in smoothies instead of dairy milk

There are tons of options for non-dairy milks for smoothies and more!

Here’s an example of a delicious vegan smoothie. I used cashew milk and some coconut cream in this.

After attending the L.A. premiere of the film What the Health? last month, I am now fully convinced that dairy is not good for our bodies.

Take just milk, for example. It’s purpose is to help a baby calf grow big and strong — fast. Now think of all the less-than-natural things dairy farmers do to keep the cow producing lots and lots of milk.

So, if you truly care about making an easy switch for better health — and weight loss — just make the change from dairy milk to a nut or seed milk in smoothies. It’s masked with all the other flavors, so you will not notice the change, but your body will perk up.

My favorite is cashew milk because it seems the most creamy and as a recovering half-and-half addict, that’s what I go for.

But almond milk, coconut milk, and even flax milk are great options too!

Try them each out and see what you like best.

Over time you could start using them in cereals, with oatmeal, and in coffee to make more of a transition off dairy.

[BONUS: Want to try a 30-Day Vegan Challenge? I have no affiliation with this free challenge, but thought it was a great resource!].

#3: Eat fruit as dessert to quench sweets cravings

Strawberries | Blackberries & Cantaloupe | Blueberries & Banana

Have a sweet tooth?

Instead of reaching for tub of ice cream or slice of cake, cut up fresh fruit and top it with walnuts, pecans, flax seeds, unsweetened coconut flakes, and cinnamon for a satisfying and sweet post-dinner treat!

If you are still weening yourself off of overly sweet foods, add a bit of agave syrup to the mix to give it more sweetness without the bad side effects of processed sugars.

Another fun hack that I use for dessert is to put a can of coconut cream in the fridge for a few hours before scooping out the cream part (save the oil for a smoothie later!) and blending it with berries or unsweetened cocoa powder or a banana for an amazing dairy-less mousse!

Put that on top of any fruit concoction and it’s divine! [That’s the purple cream in the middle photo above inside the cantaloupe].

#4: Stop believing that ‘only meat provides protein’

For some reason we believe (culturally) that meat is needed at every meal or we will drop dead of a protein deficiency.

Healthy vegans all over the world belie this claim, but it’s persistent. Heck, I used to believe it for most of my life!

But did you know that there is nearly as much protein in pumpkin seeds as there is in steak, gram for gram? And pumpkin seeds actually lower cholesterol (instead of raising it) and are great sources of magnesium, fiber, and iron too.

So here’s one hack, just cut your serving size of meat in half (or go a whole day without meat) and sprinkle pumpkin seeds on salads, blend them into smoothies, or munch on them as a great and quick snack.

Another easy change to make is to cut your serving of meat down on your plate and replace it with even more vegetables.

Some of my favorite veggies are peas, broccoli, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, squash, asparagus, cauliflower, and lots more.

#5: Put lemon juice (or fruit) in your water

Put fruit in your water to make it tastier. #GetHydrated

Everyone knows that staying hydrated is a key component of weight loss, fewer headaches, sleeping better, better skin, and a whole host of other positive health-related effects.

But drinking water doesn’t feel as fun or satisfying as drinking other things.

So, a simple hack to make it more appealing is to add lemon juice or your favorite fruits so that the water will take on a more delicious flavor. Even cucumber is great!

Fancy hotels and restaurants do this all the time, so why not replicate it at home? Then reap the incredible rewards of being more hydrated.

What Else?

Share with me other great ways to improve your health, lose weight, and sleep better without pills or a culinary degree.

I love hearing simple and fun substitutions to eat more plant-based and less processed foods.

Start small, build, and I bet you will too!

Originally published at medium.com