Plant-based Diet 101: What You Need to Know Before Starting a Plant-based Diet
Are you considering trying a plant-based diet but don’t know where to start? Here’s a quick overview of the basics of the plant-based diet for beginners including what to eat and why.
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is a move away from processed foods to whole foods, foods that are in their natural state. It emphasizes the quality of the food, using organic, locally sourced fresh foods with minimal processing.
Think of the difference in a jar of spaghetti sauce compared to a sauce made from organic, locally sourced fresh tomatoes, onions, and herbs that you make yourself. The jar of spaghetti sauce may have been made with canned tomatoes, dried herbs, dehydrated onion flakes, flavor enhancers, and other preservatives, then processed again before being canned and shipped to your local store.
The more you process food, the more nutrients are lost along the way. By using fresh whole foods, you are able to maintain as many nutrients as possible from the kitchen to your dinner plate.
As its name implies, the plant-based diet is mostly plants and uses minimal or no animal products. However, many who do continue to eat meat will choose healthy meats that come from animals raised in a natural environment like grass-fed beef or pastured chickens.
Is a Plant-Based Diet the Same as Vegan?
A plant-based diet and veganism are similar, but not the same. The difference is in their focus. Vegans avoid all animal products. This includes meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish. Many vegans also avoid the use of animal products in their daily lives such as leather goods, furs or other items made from animals.
While many vegans do eat a whole food plant-based diet, others happily enjoy a variety of processed foods, including sodas, sugar and sugar-substitutes and other junk food.
What Are the Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet, consisting of fresh, organic and locally sourced foods, is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Increasing the amount of fresh vegetables, including raw green vegetables, can improve health, boost energy, reduce inflammation and help to prevent chronic diseases. And, as a bonus, a healthy, nutritious diet is an important part of your daily self-care routine.
It can also help you to not only lose weight but also make it easier to keep the weight off. Have you ever eaten a fast food meal only to find yourself still hungry afterward? Your body is craving additional nutrients. By eating fresh vegetables, you give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs to keep you going, which helps you to feel fuller longer in addition to cutting your cravings.
Top Myths About Eating a Plant-Based Diet
Myth #1: You Can’t Eat Meat
A plant-based diet focuses on eliminating processed foods and eating whole foods instead. It’s not a vegan diet. You can still eat meat and animal products on a plant-based diet, just look for ethically raised animal products such as organic grass-fed beef and free-range poultry.
Myth #2: It’s Too Expensive
A plant-based diet is cheaper than many processed foods and meats. Eating a simple diet based on in-season fruits and vegetables with grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, is far less expensive than convenience foods and a high-protein diet. It’s the extra exotic ingredients that may be enticing but aren’t really necessary that can really add up.
Myth #3: It’s Too High in Carbs
A plant-based diet does include complex carbohydrates. However, unlike most processed foods, whole foods such as brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and legumes are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, that not only fill you up but also provide lots of nutrients as well.
What Foods Can You Eat On a Plant-Based Diet?
Generally, if it grows in the ground or walks on the ground, you can eat it on a plant-based diet. Here’s a list of popular foods you can eat on a plant-based diet:
- Beans and Legumes
- Nuts and Seeds
- Whole Grains
What Can You Not Eat On a Plant-Based Diet?
If it was created in a laboratory, then you generally avoid it on a plant-based diet. Here are some things to look out for:
- Processed Foods
- Food Additives
- Refined Sugar
- Refined Grains, including white flour, white rice, pearl barley
Can You Lose Weight On a Plant-Based Diet?
You can lose weight on a plant-based diet, just like you can lose weight on any diet. The key is to be conscious of what you eating, aware of how much and what types of foods you’re consuming, and make sure you are getting adequate nutrition for your own personal body and metabolism. Everyone is different. What works for one person may not work for another. Always check with your health care specialist before beginning any new diet.
How to Lose Weight on a Plant-Based Diet
A healthy diet should be something that satisfies you, provides the nutrition and energy you need and makes you feel better while you’re on it. Having said that, keep in mind that whenever you start a new way of eating, it takes around a week to get adjusted to it.
If you’re still struggling with a diet after a week, listen to your body. Make any adjustments needed. A plant-based diet is a flexible diet. Some people do fine without eating animal products, some people don’t. Tailor your plant-based diet to meet your own personal needs.
Here are some tips and suggestions for an easy transition.
- Avoid processed foods. Cook your meals from scratch.
- Cut out sugar and sugar substitutes. Sweeteners can cause cravings.
- Watch your fat intake. Adding in avocados and nuts can slow or prevent weight loss.
- Increase your intake of green leafy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables. These fill you up, provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants and help keep you hydrated.
- Eat 50% of your fruits and vegetables raw. Have a green smoothie for breakfast. Add a salad or slaw to your lunch and dinner. Eat fresh, raw fruits and vegetables for snacks and deserts.
- Eat a variety of different colors in your fruits and vegetables to ensure you get a wide range of nutrients. Plus, it looks great, too.
- Eat at least 1-2 cups of beans or legumes every day. This provides protein, fiber and helps to fill you up.
- Make sure you eat enough. Don’t skip meals unless you’re practicing intermittent fasting. If you’re hungry, eat.
- Eat a variety of foods including starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Relax when you eat. Take the time to enjoy and savor your food.
- Make sure to chew your food well. Whole foods have more fiber and require a bit more chewing than softer processed foods.
- Drink plenty of water. Many times you may think you’re hungry when actually you’re thirsty. Then next time you start to reach for a snack, drink a glass of water first.
Making Your Meal Prep Easier
One of the drawbacks of eating a whole food plant-based diet is preparing your meals from scratch. Make it easier on yourself by planning your meals in advance. Start with several basic meals, and then prepare your food in batches.
Have ingredients on hand to create quick and easy meals when you’re short on time. Make a big pot of rice or beans and freeze some for later meals. Cut and package vegetables so they’re ready to toss in the steamer or stir fry.
While preparing fresh whole food plant-based meals at home does take time, just remember that it helps the environment, it’s healthier, and best of all, it tastes great, too.