More and more people are switching to a healthy diet to be free of chronic diseases. Among these, the plant-based diet appears as a good option to achieve a longer life expectancy and help the environment. However, does this mean that you should eat only vegetables?
According to experts in the field, you don’t need to be a strict vegetarian to start this type of diet. Therefore, you shouldn’t worry if you find it hard to give up meat and other animal foods completely. You simply need to learn how to choose.
Here are some practical tips!
What’s plant-based eating?
Campbell and other experts define plant-based eating as eating more plant-based foods. These can be fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and oils. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should be strictly vegetarian or vegan.
On the contrary, it’s a flexible eating style, as you can combine vegetables with small amounts of animal or processed foods, as long as they don’t exceed 5% of your diet. The idea is to reduce meat, dairy, and eggs to a minimum and replace their protein intake with legumes and oil-seeds.
Alternative and Complementary Therapies Journal emphasizes that the objective is to eat everything that doesn’t have a bar code and that’s as fresh as possible. For example, organic foods. Another definition considers eating plant foods in their most natural version, such as eating oranges instead of squeezing their juice.
This type of diet provides the nutrients necessary for optimal health. However, the more plant foods you consume, the more you’ll need vitamin B12 supplements. Vegans, vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, and flexitarians fit under this type of diet. Still, it may be a more flexible option.
Tips for Starting a Plant-based Diet
Like any other diet, when starting, it’s necessary to perform a certain scheme of work and personal motivation to achieve your goals. To successfully adapt to a plant-based diet, here are a few tips.
1. Connect with a good reason
It’s important that you find the reason that drives you to make a lifestyle change through plant-based eating. For example, some people find ethical-philosophical reasons, like not accepting animal slaughter or capture. Others are ecological, as meat production can have an environmental impact.
The economic reason is also valid, due to the high cost of food of animal origin. However, the objective of improving the state of your health is one of the most common motivators. In this sense, the Porto Biomedical Journal states that the consumption of vegetables helps to establish healthy eating patterns throughout life.
Higher consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fiber reduces the intake of cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat, associated with chronic diseases. In any case, the important thing is that the motive is as personal as possible so that it’s sustained over time.
2. Evaluate your starting point
You should be realistic and have a general idea of your current diet.
What are its pros and cons and what should you change, add, or eliminate?
Review your eating habits and, if possible, write in a diary what you ate over the last few days. The idea is to then select the healthiest.
3. Gain knowledge of plant-based diets
If you plan to reduce the consumption of foods of animal origin, you must ensure the intake of adequate nutrients. Meat, eggs, and dairy products provide protein, calcium, vitamin D, B12, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fat. Vegetables, on the other hand, are deficient or don’t provide these nutrients.
For this reason, during the transition period to another type of diet, you need to know the supplements that will be needed to maintain the balance of your diet. As the information found on the internet or social networks can be somewhat contradictory or confusing, it’s best to seek advice from a nutritionist-dietician. If possible, choose one that specializes in vegan or plant-based diets.
This is the best way to get the basic knowledge about this model of nutrition, the use of supplements, and other foods that help you compensate for the nutrients provided by the animal source.
4. Seek support
The support of family and friends is essential to start with a diet or a change in your eating plan. They should be active participants in the new lifestyle. They can be part of the selection and purchase of food, the preparation of the menu in the kitchen, or at the table.
The idea is that you don’t feel alone in this new path. The more members of your circle of friends and family participate, the faster and more enthusiastically your goal will be achieved.
5. Stock your pantry
If you’re new to this, the first thing you need to do is stock up on plant foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of these foods are legumes and whole grains. As protein sources, you can select options such as the following:
Experts from the British Nutrition Foundation recommend fruits and vegetables as a source of health. Cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, and other vegetables are a source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. Roots and tubers will give you the energy you need.
With these ingredients and a good recipe book, you’ll be able to prepare a nutritious menu. If you wish to add animal foods, remember that they’ll only represent the smallest percentage of your diet. Eggs, milk, and yogurt can be part of your snacks.
6. Develop your own menus for your plant-based diet
Take advantage of your consultations with a professional to ask about some models of menus that you can prepare.
In addition, your imagination and creativity should be at their best in the kitchen. You can use vegan food recipe books or, if you have a friend who’s a cook, you can ask them for their best recipes of plant-based preparations.
A good breakfast could look like this:
- Oatmeal with cinnamon and banana.
- A whole-wheat omelet with scrambled egg, beans, and avocado.
- A whole wheat muffin topped with avocado and blueberries.
Lunch may include the following:
- A Greek salad with tomatoes, olives, parsley, and feta cheese.
- Lentil lasagna.
- Tomato and basil soup.
Dinner, meanwhile, may contain the following:
- Baked polenta with tomato sauce and ricotta cheese.
- Grilled vegetable skewers with tofu.
- Quinoa and spinach salad.
Snacks go well with yogurt and nuts. You can also accompany them with chopped fruits or freshly squeezed juices to make the most of vitamin C.
Benefits of a Plant-based Diet
The benefits of a plant-based diet are recognized by studies and international organizations. Here are some of them.
- Prevents chronic diseases: Some epidemiological studies show that people who eat a plant-based diet have a lower incidence of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, among others. This is related to the presence of bioactive compounds in vegetables.
- Reduced likelihood of excess weight and obesity: According to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, plant-based diets reduce body mass index (BMI) and help prevent obesity in children and adults. Vegetables have a high water and fiber content. Satiety and appetite control could be behind these benefits.
- Less environmental impact: Thomas Nemecek comments that, unlike animal-based food production, plant-based eating is environmentally friendly and ecologically favorable, resulting in less environmental damage.
If you decide to switch to a plant-based diet, increase the number of vegetables in your diet without having to give up animal foods. Find a personal reason, consult a professional, stock your pantry, and prepare the best and most nutritious meals.