How to Start a Plant-based Diet
Where are you right now? You may be thinking like I did a few years back ... did I even eat any vegetables today? Yep, there was a time when I realized that vegetables were almost totally missing from my diet. I'm not sure what spiked this realization.
Maybe it was because of what I'd read about the health benefits of eating plants or because I was getting older or because I just wasn't feeling up to par. I've always liked vegetables, but sometimes they seemed like an afterthought and weren't always that interesting. At any rate, getting started as a plant-based eater needed to be a priority on my to-do list! Does this sound like you?
"Did I eat enough vegetables today?"
I decided to make fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and plant-based cooking my main focus. I started this website to keep track and paid attention to interesting recipes brimming with vegetables. It wasn't all that hard, and getting started can be easy for you, too.
It can be as easy as doing something new every week. Something like trying non-dairy milk, having a smoothie for breakfast, or trying a deli meat alternative. By the end of the year, you'll have 52 new habits.
Why Eat a Plant-based Diet and What is It?
Why eat plants? In a nutshell, plant eaters live longer, healthier lives with fewer problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes. They also usually have fewer aches and pains. It's never too late to start. Many of these conditions are reversible. Plant eaters have healthy bones and higher blood protein levels than omnivores and average fewer nutrient deficiencies, as well. (source)
"Plant eaters live longer, healthier lives..."
There are many variations on the theme of plant-based eating as I discussed in my post, "What it means to be a Nutritarian, Plant-Strong or Plant-Based," but if you include FRESH FRUITS and VEGETABLES, LEGUMES, WHOLE GRAINS, NUTS and SEEDS, but NO DAIRY or EGGS and very little or NO MEAT or PROCESSED OIL, you can consider yourself a plant-based eater.
Steps to Getting Started
- Read this post about plant-based meal planning myths and mistakes. Then, plan meals each week. What do you already eat that's an easy switch-over to plant-based? Rice as a side made into the main dish, meatless chili, pasta with veggies, soup, veggie burgers instead of meat? It'll just come easier for you if you know what to eat.
- Eat a plant-based breakfast and lunch until you're ready for the whole day. What's not to love about a strawberry smoothie, creamy oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts, or a tofu scramble? For lunch, try a large salad with beans or rice added in, or make a sandwich using a deli meat alternative.
- Join the Meatless Monday movement and try one day, then another and so on. Surely there are meatless meals that you enjoy. Pasta with tomato sauce and sliced zucchini, maybe.
- Focus on what you're adding into your diet, not what you've left out. There are such a plethora of colorful, beautiful vegetables in the market. Your plant-based recipes don't have to be elaborate but give them the same love you'd give meat. Chicken is pretty boring by itself without added spices and some fancy cooking. There are so many recipes to choose from. Read recipes, watch cooking videos and get inspired!
- Embrace the salad bar. If you have access to a healthy salad bar, by all means, stock up on salad because it can make your life easier. Shopping for dinner? Make a salad from the salad bar for the next day's lunch. Just avoid the meat dishes and get excited by the veggies.
- Try meat substitutes such as smoky tempeh "bacon" or "turkey" deli slices until you feel more comfortable without meat.
For a look at any concerns you have about giving up meat and dairy, read my article, "15 Mindsets: Eating a Plant-Based Diet." In the meantime, here are a few of the most common concerns.
Will I get enough protein?
The short answer, YES. Ample protein is in all foods, including vegetables and grains. Watch the video below, "Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?" And, to learn more, read my article "Am I Getting Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Diet."
What about calcium?
By eating calcium-rich plant-based foods, "including leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and kale, white beans, fortified soymilks and juices, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, you can obtain all the calcium your body needs. But keeping your bones strong and avoiding osteoporosis depends on more than calcium intake—you also need to keep calcium in your bones. Exercise and vitamin D help keep the calcium in your bones. Calcium is abundant in leafy greens as well as legumes, oranges, and tofu." (source)
Won't eating so many carbs put on weight?
Simple carbs, yes, but you shouldn't put on weight with complex carbs like rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, whole grain bread and, of course, all vegetables and fruits. Complex carbs contain micronutrients and our bodies need them for proper functioning of the immune system and to enable our body’s detoxification and cellular repair mechanisms to protect us from chronic diseases.
Fiber-rich whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, and brown rice, help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Dietary fiber can also make you feel full longer, so you may eat fewer calories and decrease the risk of obesity.
Studies have even shown that those eating whole grain carbs (70 grams per day) lowered their risk of mortality by 22%.
Will I feel hungry?
You should only feel normal hunger once you start eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, not hunger brought on by lack of adequate nutrition. Dr. Fuhrman calls it, Toxic Hunger. To see more about this concept and how to improve and maintain great health, read the explanation of his plant-based Nutritarian Diet.
Do yourself a favor and start eating a plant-based diet today because it's never too late to get healthier.