The ‘plant-based’ or vegan diet has exploded in popularity over the past few years. While vegans were once seen as quirky health nuts on the fringe of society, just about everyone knows a vegan or two.
Plant-Based doesn’t always refer to veganism, however. It can also refer to a diet that focuses primarily on whole, plant-based foods.
A great way to test-drive the plant-based diet is to limit your weekly grocery trips to one or two animal-derived products. If you can see yourself easily and sustainably eating around those options, a plant-based diet could be a great option for you.
Some examples of plant-based diets could include vegetarian, pescatarian, or full vegan.
A plant-based diet would also generally include less processed foods and more whole, natural foods. This is the best option to ensure overall holistic health.
In terms of health, a plant-based diet can be an excellent way to approach food choices. The common pitfall most plant-based or vegan nutritionists fall into is allowing themselves to consume anything as long as it doesn’t contain animal products.
However, the real power of a plant-based diet lies in its ability to allow the dieter to consume more whole, natural fruits and vegetables regularly. It is entirely possible to get everything you need from plants, but let’s face it, it can be a challenge.
The plant-based diet is not without its challenges. Veggies are great, but they don’t supply every single nutrient that your body needs.
Having a good balance of fat, carbs, and protein can be a bit trickier as well. In general, vegetables have a good carbohydrate content but little protein. Things like legumes, seeds, nuts and soy have far more. Your body also needs key vitamins and minerals that are more readily found in high-quality meats. Many vegans choose to supplement these nutrients.
Macronutrients are only one part of the equation. The other major portion when it comes to health is food quality. The great part about plant-based diets is that they contribute greatly to the food quality you can consume daily.
There are plenty of pros and cons to starting a plant-based diet, but the only way to ultimately know is to try it out yourself. With that in mind, below are 14 tips on how to start a plant-based diet.
1. Find Good Protein Sources
Vegans get sick of hearing it, but it’s a valid question. “Where do you get your protein?” Protein is a crucial macronutrient for the human body. It helps in fat loss, muscle growth, and energy production.
Protein is essential for any athlete or bodybuilder. It’s especially important if you are concerned about body composition or energy levels.
The stigma associated with plant-based or vegan diets is that they cannot possibly provide enough protein, especially among athletes. The key to providing your body with enough protein on a vegan diet is to be intelligent about the food choices you make. There are plenty of protein rich-plants available. Many commercial grocery stores offer pasta made from legumes or soy that are incredibly protein-dense. Nuts, nut butter, and legumes contain tons of protein as well. Athletes may want to consider a vegan protein shake such as Garden of Life Protein — it’s incredibly nutrient-dense and affordable when the cost per serving is factored in.
2. Find Non-Starchy Vegetables
As stated previously, carbs abound in plant-based diets. To combat this, focus on adding plenty of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, squash, carrots — anything that isn’t potatoes or corn.
Starchy vegetables aren’t all bad, though. You still need good carbs, and potatoes are a fairly nutrient-rich food. Just make sure that they don’t comprise the bulk of your diet.
Don’t think that potatoes or corn are “bad” for you — they are still important parts of a healthy diet.
3. Focus on whole, natural foods
The only way a plant-based diet could become unhealthy is if you use it as a license to eat whatever kind of garbage that you want. Kettle-cooked chips are “plant-based.” So are many cookies and nutrient-starved snack foods.
The best policy is to consume foods that don’t need a label at all. Almonds are just almonds. Broccoli doesn’t need an ingredient list because it only has one ingredient.
The worst culprit in this regard are foods that are labelled as “vegan” replacements to popular snack foods. These foods often contain a laundry list of over-processed ingredients that would make any crunchy yoga enthusiast faint.
Because veganism is so popular, big corporations have begun to produce a wide variety of vegan options for things like beef, cheese or bread. These alternatives are often worse than simply eating meat or cheese.
4. Look at labels
Nutrition labels can tell you most of what you need to know about a food product. Look for shorter ingredient lists and higher percentages of vitamin content to help you find nutrient-dense foods.
Don’t be afraid of high calorie counts. Calories are not nearly as important as food quality. Things like sodium and fat shouldn’t be avoided either. These food elements have been given a bad rap recently but are both necessary to your health and wellness.
5. Try meal prepping
Meal prepping can make your life much, much easier when it comes to food. When we try out a new diet, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of options available to us. Trying to make decisions throughout the day of what we should eat can be exhausting and confusing. Rather than stress all day about what to eat, do your research beforehand. Grocery shop and meal prep ahead of time so that you won’t have to think about your meals throughout the week. Switching to a plant-based diet isn’t worth flipping your world upside down to accommodate it.
Meal prepping can also help you become acquainted with new recipes and help you get a head start on cooking plant-based foods consistently as well. If you do it right, it should only take a few hours one day of the week.
6. Give it time
Our food preferences are often developed from our family environment and the way we were raised. A plant-based diet can feel foreign to some. Your body naturally tends to crave things that it is used to. Soda drinkers crave a soda. Junk-food addicts crave pizza (who can blame them?) and Twinkies.
The good news is that our tastes can change if we allow them the time to do so. If you allow yourself time to adjust to your new diet, your body will begin to crave fresh fruits and veggies and other whole foods. You will give yourself a new opportunity to discover the complexities and flavors of natural foods from the earth.
Nutrition and health are not a sprint. You don’t have to have it all figured out all at once. It’s okay to learn and make mistakes, as long as you stay focused and consistent.
7. Don’t make it about limitations
Rules are no fun. Everyone knows that.
The reason many diets fail is that they focus on the negative side of the way we treat our bodies — the “can’t” and “shouldn’t.”
When we switch our mindset to the positive side of food and health, the process is so much easier.
Instead of thinking about what you can’t eat, focus on the good things that you are putting in your body.
Get excited about new recipes and new experiences. Make it a goal to purchase two or three unfamiliar items from the produce section every week. Think about what you can do for your health instead of what you shouldn’t.
Reinforcing positive habits is much easier than avoiding negative ones. Make sure that you really support around you to help you on your journey.
8. Get used to the long haul
Everything worth doing is a process. When we try unfamiliar things, it’s easy to become discouraged pretty quickly. The first day of a plant-based diet can often be a massive failure that ends with going to bed hungry. That’s ok. You will learn to speak your new food-language proficiently and eventually be able to shop, cook, and eat on autopilot.
You will never know the true benefits of a plant-based diet unless you stick to it on a long-term basis. That’s why pushing past the initial discomfort is so important.
9. Start Over
The best way to really stick to a plant-based diet is to start over entirely. Clean out your fridge and pantry and give away processed or unhealthy foods to friends. To encourage yourself, even more, buy some cookbooks or new cooking utensils. This can make the process feel more fun and less like a chore.
To further reinforce this idea, you might want to buy some new clothes or workout gear as well. This can help signal to yourself that you have started a new lifestyle.
10. Make it pretty
Many people think in terms of aesthetics and design. In other words, the visual components of an object determine a large amount of the value or enjoyment that we derive from it. This certainly applies to food. When cooking your new plant-based recipes, make sure that they are pleasing to look at. Consult Pinterest or plant-based cookbooks for inspiration. This will drastically increase how you enjoy your food and make the process that much more enjoyable.
11. It’s OK to eat a “lot”
Here’s the great thing about fruits, veggies, and other whole foods: They don’t contain a ton of calories. That means you can eat big meals and still lose weight. The most calories you will find in a plant-based diet come in the form of nuts and starches.
Big, full plates of fruits and veggies are delicious, pretty to look at, and great for your body.
12. Make smart food swaps
To crush your new diet, you need to be able to replace the staples you have come to rely on. Try swapping butter for coconut oil or avocado. Use lentil pasta instead of traditional wheat pasta. Replace packaged snacks with dates, nuts, fruits veggies.
Food swaps can help make the process of beginning a plant-based diet easy and sustainable over a long period of time.
13. Focus on the positives
Again, this is a huge help when it comes to mindset. You need to remember your “why”!. A whole-food, plant-based diet can:
- Help a variety of health conditions
- Allow you to lose fat easier
- Avoid many diseases
- Improve energy
- Improve well-being
- Help your sleep
- Aid in digestion
- Provide healthy skin
- Combat the effects of aging
- Anyone of these benefits should be a great motivation.
14. Add exercise
No healthy lifestyle is complete without consistent, healthy movement.
If you’re new to fitness, don’t worry. Just like with nutrition, you don’t have to know everything to see great benefits. You just need to start somewhere and be consistent.
The fabled Arnold Schwarzenegger once advised people looking to get in shape to start by simply walking.
That’s a great way to start. A long evening walk can help burn fat and aid in sleep and relaxation as well. If your joints allow, do a few sprints two or three days a week.
Exercise can make food all the more enjoyable by making it feel like you have “earned” a big meal. Also, eating for exercise performance can be beneficial in that you begin to look at food as high-quality fuel for your workouts.
Don’t be afraid of weights, either. There are plenty of approachable, simple strength exercises that are crucial for your body and can be done by just about anyone. Weight training will create strong muscles that aid in your quality of life.
Starting a plant-based diet takes time. Remember to give yourself permission to fail and have fun along the way.