Thinking about going on a plant-based diet but wondering how to get started?
Don’t worry, it’s a fantastic change to make for your health and it’s easier than you might think.
Our plant-based diet primer will walk you through everything you need to know from the science, to the strategy to help you stick to the change.
You’re going to love this.
What Is A Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet as the name suggests is one which is focused on eating things made from plants and usually to the exclusion of all other products.
That means no meat, no fish, no dairy, no poultry and no eggs.
Now, there’s no official definition of “plant-based” and that means some people use it to describe vegan diets and others to describe vegetarian diets.
We don’t think it matters too much and as long as you’re aiming to eat mainly plants, then “plant-based” is fine as a description of your diet.
What Does The Science Say About A Plant-Based Diet?
The concept of eating a purely plant-based diet is, surprisingly, quite new and this is because while vegetarian diets have been possible for thousands of years – vegan diets have only become practical thanks to the synthesis of Vitamin B12.
However, the science suggests that plant-based eating is healthy.
A review in Frontiers of Public Health says that it can improve your fertility and reduce your chances of getting diabetes.
Another review in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology came to the same conclusion.
Nutrients published a review which suggested that black Americans may benefit particularly strongly from a plant-based diet.
And the British Medical Journal showed that plant-based diets are linked to a lower likelihood of early death.
Thus, for now, the evidence is that plant-based eating is a positive step for your health.
What Should I Eat Everyday On A Plant-Based Diet?
There are some food that ought to be eaten any day of the week on a plant-based diet and all of these foods are going to be healthy and can be consumed whenever you are hungry:
- Whole grains (such as barley, brown rice, rolled oats, whole wheat, millet, etc.)
- Legumes (these can be dried or canned – though try to use low salt – such as beans, peas, veggie burgers, adzuki, etc.)
- Green vegetables (fresh or frozen, it doesn’t matter, such as collards, spinach, bok choy, parsley, etc.)
- Root vegetables (potatoes, leeks, carrots, turnips, etc.)
- Most other vegetables (think radish, leek, garlic, etc.)
- Fungi (mushrooms of any description are super good for you)
- Fruits (fresh or frozen, it doesn’t matter, such as apples, grapefruits, grapes, kiwis, etc.)
- Seeds (must be rich in Omega 3s such as chia seeds or flaxseed)
- Spices (go crazy – anything is fine)
- Drinks (water, any unsweetened plant milk, tea, coffee, etc.)
What Should I Eat Occasionally On A Plant-Based Diet?
There is nothing “unhealthy” about these foods but they contain higher levels of fat and calories than the “regular” list and if you’re taking up a plant-based diet to try and lose some weight – then smearing everything in coconut oil and avocados is not going to help with that.
You can eat any of these foods occasionally but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your intake unless you’re trying to bulk up too.
- Nuts (that’s anything from cashew nuts which aren’t really nuts to actual nuts like peanuts and it includes any nut products such as peanut butter too)
- Coconut (this includes the milk, chips, desiccated, raw, etc.)
- Avocado (sorry, we know this is a big deal)
- Dried Fruit (this has a much higher sugar content than you might appreciate)
- Soy products (miso, tempeh, tofu, etc.)
- Sweeteners (maple syrup, sugar, etc.)
- Seeds (all the seeds that aren’t high in Omega 3’s)
- Alcohol (sadly, even when entirely plant-based alcohol isn’t good for you)
What Should I Avoid On A Plant-Based Diet?
There are also foods that you ought to be aiming to avoid on a healthy plant-based diet.
Now, we want to stress (as you will see below) that you don’t have to cut all of this out at once but that’s the long-term objective.
- Meat and yes, this includes fish and poultry
- Dairy (that means yogurt, cheese, milk, cream, etc.)
- Eggs (all forms of egg from ostrich to quails)
- Added plant fats (olive oil, palm oil, etc. are all high in calories and bad for the health of your heart too)
- Refined sugar (in all its many forms from brown and white sugar to corn syrup)
- Refined grains (that’s white flour, many cereals, etc.)
- Protein isolates (yes, we know these appear in many “plant-based” burgers but they’re absolutely terrible for you – this includes pea proteins, soy proteins, etc. you might allow this on a very occasional treat basis but no more)
- Fruit juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, sodas, etc. (they’re all packed with sugar)
How Do I Stick To A Plant Based Diet?
One of the biggest challenges of going plant-based is sticking to it.
It’s easy to aspire to a healthier lifestyle sometimes, than it is to adapt to one.
The good news is that you can better prepare yourself for the switch by following these six simple actions to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed.
Know Why You Want To Switch And Take Action
It’s important to have a motivation to make change in your life.
It might be losing weight, becoming healthier, caring for animals, reducing your impact on the environment, or something entirely different.
It doesn’t matter what the reason is (or reasons are, for that matter).
What matters is that it’s clear and that you write this reason down.
You can then put this written reason on the fridge or the wall and refer to it when you’re feeling like it’s all a bit much.
Remind yourself as to why you wanted to make the change and if it matters to you, you’ll find the strength to do it.
Try Baby Steps Rather Than Huge Change
The end goal of “plant-based” eating is to end up with a diet that consists only of plant material.
But it doesn’t have to be the very first goal.
Sure, some people can handle a full transition to a plant-based diet without flinching but most people find it’s easier if they do it in stages.
Start by cutting out meat. Then remove seafood. Then later ditch the dairy. Then the eggs. Finally, cut out the processed foods.
Don’t be too hasty to rush through each stage either, it’s better to make permanent manageable adaptations to your eating routine than forcing yourself into something you end up resenting.
And forgive yourself for the occasional relapse.
It’s not “over” if you slip and eat a slice of cheese – you just dust yourself off and begin again.
Make Your Home Food Environment Healthy
Temptation is the biggest enemy when you first go plant-based.
Sure, you know that it’s better for you but there’s bacon, eggs and sausages in the fridge.
The secret here is to get rid of that temptation.
The things you no longer eat, shouldn’t be easy to get to in your food environment.
When you go out to eat, make sure you have a list of plant-based restaurants on your phone and go to those places when you do.
It also helps to plan your week’s menu and ensure that you always have the right ingredients in stock to create your meals – if you have food to eat, you’re less likely to go looking for alternatives that aren’t as good.
Keep Things Simple, But Keep Them Varied
Eating should be fun, but we’ve met plenty of people who went plant-based and then turned their food into a nightmare.
You’re not looking to make massively complex recipes and you don’t need to sit there with a calculator working out whether you’ve had exactly enough of each nutrient to go around.
Sure, we know that some people enjoy that approach to eating but for us? It’s too much.
You want a simple routine that includes plenty of variety if you want to stick to this and that means: eat whole foods (colorful ones), learn to make plant-based versions of your favorite foods (it’s easier to stick to the diet when you eat the things you love) and experiment regularly (new recipes are so easy to find).
And that’s it.
The more that plant-based living feels like regular living, the more likely you are to enjoy it and thrive on it.
No spreadsheets required.
Get Support From Friends And Others
One thing that we’ve found really helps people go plant-based is some support.
So, build a network of folks around you to give you a cheering section and you will find it’s much easier.
You can always connect with other plant-based eaters in your area (check Facebook for groups, etc.) and there are other groups out there too such as the No Meat Athlete Running Groups, the folks on the Veggie Boards Forums, the Plant-Based Nutrition Support Groups, Regular Meetups lists, and even Reddit has a Plant-Based subreddit.
We’d also recommend that you have a good talk with friends and family, particularly those that you eat with or cook with on a regular basis.
Don’t turn into a preacher at this point – explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and ask for their support but don’t cajole them into joining you, that won’t help you and may just annoy them.
Find an accountability buddy and ask them to help you develop and stick to habits too.
This can be a very powerful way to stick to any plan.
Develop Other Healthy Habits
Finally, it’s best not to see a plant-based diet as your only avenue to better health, weight, etc.
You should develop other habits that nurture your body and mind.
It also might involve sharing your love of your new lifestyle with others through blogging, vlogging, podcasting, etc.
Helping others and being proud of it is a wonderful way to remind yourself of all the benefits that this lifestyle brings.
Last Word on the Plant-Based Diet Lifestyle
Going plant-based is a good thing for your health.
It can take a little while to get used to but it’s a step worth taking.
Treat the journey to plant-based eating as a marathon rather than a sprint and forgive yourself the occasional mis-step on the way there – once you’ve made the change, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it decades ago.