How to Begin a Plant-Based Diet
How to Start a Plant‐Based Diet
For some, a plant-based diet means reducing processed food and meat in their diet. Others may plan to go fully vegan. Eating a plant-based diet has many benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, inflammatory diseases, and type 2 diabetes.No matter what your intent is, there are many simple, delicious ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Start with small substitutions and changes in your diet. Replace animal products and processed foods with tasty plant based options. Just make sure that you're getting enough calcium, iron, and B12 by eating the right foods.
Establishing a New Diet
Visit your doctor or dietitian to make sure a plant-based diet is right for you.Before making any significant change in your diet, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor or registered dietitian. They can provide advice on meal plans, vitamin supplements, or lifestyle changes. These may be tailored to your particular level of fitness and health.
Create a 7-day meal plan.If you know exactly what you’re going to eat when you begin your new diet, you’ll be less likely to stray. Write down a menu of what you are planning to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and dessert every day.
- For example, for breakfast, you might eat oatmeal with a little bit of almond milk poured over it.
- For lunch, you might plan to eat a salad with tomatoes, onions, and olives.
- For dinner, you might write that you are having vegetable curry.
- If you know you are going out one night, pick your meal in advance from your written menu.
Buy whole foods when you go to the store.Whole foods are raw items that haven't been cooked yet. These include apples, bananas, spinach, and celery. Avoid buying prepackaged, processed foods, like chips, frozen meals, and sauces, as much as possible.
- You do not need to stop buying meat immediately. Avoid buying meat on a whim, however.
- Buy only the foods needed for your weekly meal plan. Make a grocery list ahead of time and don't stray from it.
Start by going meatless 1 day of the week.Meatless Mondays are a popular way to begin a plant based diet. You can choose any day of the week, however. Whichever day you pick, do not eat any meat on that day. If you eventually want to go vegan, don't eat any animal products that day.
Make changes 1 at a time.Making small changes in your diet will help you be more successful in the long run. You can start by eating fruit for a snack or by excluding animal products from your breakfast. Once this is a habit, move on to your next goal.
- When going out to eat, try to choose vegetarian options over ones with meat in them. For example, you could get a salad, eggplant parmesan, or a veggie burger.
- Instead of eating ice cream for dessert every night, you might start to eat fruit or a piece of dark chocolate instead.
- Don’t give up the things you love at the beginning. If you’re not ready to give up bacon, for example, try a simpler swap instead.
Eating Plant-Based Foods
Substitute vegetables for meat in meals.Many meals can be just as delicious without meat. You can try removing meat entirely from your favorite recipes or replacing them with a vegetable.
- Grilled eggplant or portobello mushrooms make for a delicious entrée.
- You can take out the beef from chili. Add extra beans or use a vegetarian beef substitute.
- Tofu and tempeh are great substitutes for chicken. You can use them in stir fry, salad, or tacos.
- Eat a veggie burger instead of a beef burger. You can buy frozen veggie burgers or make your own.
Look for plant-based sources of protein.Many people worry that they won’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet, but there are many great sources of protein found in plants. Some good sources of protein include:
- Green peas
- Peanut or almond butter
- Seitan, tempeh, or tofu
- If you are not on a vegan diet, you can still consume eggs and dairy as a source of protein.
Choose high-fiber foods to keep you full.If you don’t feel full or satisfied after a meal, you might start to snack or crave unhealthy foods. For each meal, make sure that you have at least 1 high-fiber ingredient to keep you full between meals. Some high fiber foods include:
- Legumes, including lima beans, black beans, lentils, and kidney beans.
- Whole grains, such as seeded breads, oatmeal, or quinoa.
- Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
- Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and swiss chard.
Eat fruit or raw veggies as a snack.This is healthier than eating processed foods, such as chips, cookies, or crackers. There are many delicious plant based snacks, such as:
Replace milk with non-dairy alternatives.If you want to eliminate dairy from your diet as well, you do not have to give up your favorite milk-based meals. Try using almond, soy, coconut, rice, or hemp milk instead. There are also non-dairy substitutions for yogurt, ice cream, and coffee creamer.
- Non-dairy milk may not work as well in baking. They can be used, however, in hot drinks, cereal, oatmeal, curries, mac and cheese, and smoothies.
- You can find non-dairy cheeses in your local groceries. These are usually made from nuts.
Getting the Right Nutrients
Eat more dark greens to get enough calcium.If you are cutting out dairy, you may be missing out on an important source of calcium. Fortunately, there are some great plant based sources as well. Turnip greens, collard greens, kale, and broccoli are all rich in calcium.
- You need at least 500 to 700 mg of calcium a day.
- You can also get calcium-fortified soy milk, tofu, cereals, and juices.
Consume legumes and leafy green vegetables to get iron.To prevent iron deficiency (also known as anemia), you should make sure that you are getting enough iron. Lentils, peas, spinach, and iron-enriched grain products can all help you get the iron you need.
- Iron is most easily absorbed from animal sources. This means that if you are on a meatless diet, you will need to consume twice as much iron from plant sources as you normally would from animal sources.
- Eating foods rich in Vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes, can help your body absorb iron more easily.
- Men need about 8 mg of iron a day while women need 16 mg.
Take supplements for B12 if you’re on a vegan diet.B12 can only be found in animal products. If you have cut out all animal products from your diet, you may need to take a supplement to get this important vitamin. You can get B12 supplements from drug stores, health food stores, and grocery stores. Talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
Track what you eat every day in a diet journal.This will help you avoid developing a deficiency. Use an online nutritional tracker, such as Super Tracker, or an app, such as MyFitnessPal or LoseIt. Plug in what you have eaten that day. It will calculate what nutrients you have consumed.
- You can also keep your own private journal. You will have to look up the nutritional content of each food you ate, however.
Visit your doctor.If you are worried about vitamin or mineral deficiencies, visit your doctor. They can do blood tests to check for any potential health problems. They may also provide some advice as to how to adjust your diet to enough vitamins and minerals.
- Mention any fatigue, weakness, clumsiness, dizziness, or tingling sensations to your doctor. Disorientation or personality changes can also be signs of nutritional deficiency.
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