You can start a plant based diet today
Plant-based diets and food products are trending. This post will go through the following topics so you can easily start a plant-based diet.
What is a plant-based diet?
First, you need to know what is a plant-based diet? A plant-based diet consists of mostly foods from plants. These foods include fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), nuts, seeds, whole-grains and oils from plants (i.e. olive oil).
Unlike other vegetarian diets, people who choose a plant-based diet usually do it for health reasons rather than religious, cultural, or ethical concerns. Plant-based diets may have many health benefits.
In addition, plant-based eating is not about being restrictive. It is very similar to flexitarian and semi-vegetarian diets in that regard. You can eat a largely plant-based diet and still choose to eat small amounts of meat, poultry, fish, seafood dairy and eggs. The beauty is that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to plant-based eating.
My journey to a plant-based diet
I quickly gained weight when I went back to school as an adult. Unlike earlier in my life, I had a hard time losing the weight. I tried my typical weight loss plan of increased exercise and healthy eating. But none of my old “tricks” helped me loss the weight.
During my this time, a girlfriend lost weight quickly for her wedding by only eating vegetables. I was intrigued, so I decided to overhaul my diet for 30 days.
I planned to eat food without added sugar, flour, meat, fish, seafood, or any products from animals. For the first week I only ate vegetables and fruits. The second week I could add grains like brown rice. The third week I added back legumes. By the fourth week, I had adjusted to this new way of eating and continued it for over a year and a half.
Creating new recipes and food products excites me, so I took this as a personal challenge to figure out how to beat my hunger. I researched recipes and innovated in the kitchen.
The diet challenged me so much that I ended up eating this way for almost a year and a half. I went vegan, plus no flour or added sugar.
As a product developer, I was extremely surprised that I never realized the types and amounts of additives in the foods I was eating. I struggled to find things that I could eat and was hangry for the first 10 days or so.
Like I said, I did this type of diet for over a year. I learned after that time it was not sustainable for me.
- The first reason was that my day job requires a lot of travel. I had to make most of the things I ate from scratch so eating became a chore when I did have to travel.
- The second reason and main reason that I am no longer vegan is that I found it isolating. I either had to bring my own food or modify food on menus to be able to eat away from home.
- The next reason was just having to follow rules. I do not love rules, so I found following strict rules annoying.
- The final reason is likely the biggest, I love bacon. I cannot imagine my life without it forever.
Nowadays, I minimize the amount of animal products I eat. I consider myself both a plant-based eater. I become flexitarian at first, then transitioned to plant-based.
Flexitarian and plant-based diets are almost the same thing. The goal for both is to eat mostly foods from plants but without the limitation of no animal products ever.
Flexitarian and plant-based diets are very similar. They are both based on eating from plants with flexibility.
Since transitioning to eating mostly foods from plants, I have more energy and feel healthier. Another amazing thing happened, my resting heart rate dropped by 10 beats per minute.
In general, vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds are low in saturated fat, have heart-healthy fats and are an excellent source of fiber. Moreover, they give your body vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, all of which offer protection against disease.
Evidence is still growing. Even so, numerous studies indicate reduced disease from a plant-based diets.
“There was emerging evidence suggestive of benefits for body weight, improved markers of metabolic health, blood pressure, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.Emma Derbyshire
An interesting thing to know is the American Medical Association (AMA) is calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to indicate in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “meat and dairy products are optional.”
Types of plant-based diets
Diets focusing on eating the majority of nutrition from plants have minor differences.
First, vegetarians do not consume meat, but may eat eggs and dairy depending on the type of vegetarian. The vegetarian diet can be used as the basis for the other types: plant-based, flexitarian and vegan.
Flexitarian and plant-based diets are similar in that they focus on eating vegetarian and minimizing animal product consumption. Flexitarians may eat less animal products and meat overall.
Vegan has a bad reputation for some reason and is the strictest diet. Vegans do not eat any animal products or products made by living things. That means no eggs, dairy, or even honey.
Is a plant-based diet healthy?
Unfortunately, a plant-based diet is not automatically healthy. French fries, biscuits, cakes and sugary drinks can all be plant-based (and vegan and vegetarian).
Plant-based is a trending category and looks like it is here to stay. That means processed-plant based foods are in the supermarkets and making their ways onto restaurant menus.
As with all processed foods, they are not all equally nutritious. Some of these foods may actually contain more salt, fat and sugar than regular animal-based products.
Remember any foods that have been highly-processed (aka ultra-processed) should be eaten in moderation (aka rarely) whether they are plant-based or not.
Learn how to read food labels to help you to choose products that are right for you.
Easy ways to start a plant-based diet
Here are some tips to help you get started on a plant-based diet.
- Load up on vegetables. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner. Mix up the colors when choosing your vegetables. You can enjoy vegetables as a snack with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
- Change the way you think about meat. Try to think of meat as a side dish instead of the main dish. Try to eat smaller portions.
- Know about fats. Choose healthier fats. Fats from plants are healthier choices because they have less saturated fat than animal fats. Use olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados. Remember these are still fats so a little goes a long way.
- Eat a vegetarian meal at least one night a week. Although Meatless Monday was a wartime campaign, it is a good idea for you and your family. You can build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables like eggplant and squash.
- Start with breakfast. Eat whole grains at breakfast with nuts or fruit. For example, you can eat oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley topped with strawberries or almonds.
- Seek out green vegetables. The color green is associated with health for a good reason. Leafy vegetables are nutrient rich. Eat green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens at least once a day. You can steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry them.
- Think of salads as a main dish. 15 years ago, salads were a side dish and were not very tasty or popular. Luckily, over time this has changed dramatically. Salad themed restaurants have popped up everywhere and salad is now a meal. You should try to eat salad everyday if possible or at a minimum 4 times per week.
- Eat fruit instead of dessert. Research now links sugary desserts and added sugars with decreased health. Fruit is naturally sweet and satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.
- Add more vegetables to meat dishes. Part of the plant-based trend includes hybrids of animal based plus plant based menu items. Incorporate more vegetables into meat dishes. For example, when making a burger at home add beans, onions, or peppers to the patty before cooking.
Remember, a plant-based diet consists of food from plants. These plant foods include fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole-grains and oils from plants (i.e. olive oil).
Plant-based diets may have many health benefits. You can take baby steps and slowly incorporate more fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts into the meals you are eating.
Also, note not all processed plant based foods are healthy, so make sure you understand what you are eating.
What do you think? Can you transition to a plant-based diet?
Derbyshire, Emma J. Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Front Nutr. 2016; 3: 55. Published online 2017 Jan 6. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2016.00055. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216044/. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF et al. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science Nutrition. 2017;57(17):3640-3649. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26853923/. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
American Medical Association Calls for Dietary Guidelines To Indicate ‘Meat and Dairy Products Are Optional’ To Fight Health Disparities. https://www.pcrm.org/news/blog/american-medical-association-calls-dietary-guidelines-indicate-meat-and-dairy-products. Retrieved 18 August 2020.