Are you interested in eating a more plant-based diet? I wrote this guide to help get you started!
What Is A Plant-Based Diet?
A plant based diet is just as it sounds – a diet that emphasizes plant-based foods.
…it is not necessarily a strict vegan or vegetarian diet.
“Plant-based” can mean that most of your diet is plant-derived, but that you also supplement your diet with eggs, fish, and small amounts of meat.
A plant-based diet should also be focused on unprocessed foods.
In a perfect world, all of our food would be made fresh (right before we eat it) with freshly-harvested ingredients. As fruits and vegetables are stored or processed, they start losing nutrients. For example, a freshly made soup will have more nutrients than a canned soup. A freshly made marinara sauce, made in your blender, will have more nutrients than a marinara sauce from a jar.
Unfortunately, I just don’t have that much time to spend in the kitchen. None of us do!
So as much as possible, I try to eat as many raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds that I can. I choose brown rice over white rice. I’ll buy quinoa over couscous. And while I’m not much of a bread eater, when I do, it’s whole grain (or sprouted grain).
And when I buy canned or package foods out of convenience, I go for minimally-processed options. If it has additives like food coloring, preservatives, added sugars, or anything else that I don’t expect (don’t put palm oil in my peanut butter!) – I don’t buy it.
When you grocery shop, read nutrition labels.
Learn how to build a plant-based diet grocery shopping list.
Plant-based diets are not just about eating fruits and vegetables!
Some people think that a plant-based diet is eating nothing but fruits and vegetables, or trying to subsist on lots of salad and leafy greens. This isn’t the case at all! There are LOTS of different foods that you can eat on a plant-based diet in addition to fruits and vegetables including brown rice, quinoa, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Best of all, you can use these ingredients to make familiar dishes that are much, much healthier than their processed counterparts because YOU control how much sugar, salt, and fat that goes into your food – and YOU control what is added (or not added) to your food. You don’t have that level of control with processed foods.
Eat locally and with the seasons (within reason).
A lot of people who promote a plant-based diet advocate eating locally, or eating with the seasons. I think that this is generally great advice, as seasonal foods are freshest and most nutritionally dense. And buying food that was grown/raised locally supports farmers in your own area. It’s fantastic for the local economy.
But I am also not at all opposed to eating bananas, pineapples, and mangoes (I live in Upstate NY), nor will I turn my nose up at frozen strawberries in January! Find a balance that works for you, but try to eat locally and seasonally most of the time.
Health Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet
I have followed a plant-based diet since early 2008 and it has transformed my health. With a combination of green smoothies and unprocessed foods, I have lost 40 pounds and my cholesterol dropped 45 points (it was flagged as “high” when I was just 23 years old). I have so much more energy in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I find that I can easily maintain my ideal weight.
Here are some of the key benefits of a plant-based diet:
Plant-based foods are packed with nutrition and fiber, yet they are not calorie dense. This means that you can eat hearty portions of plant-based whole foods without feeling like you are on a diet.
It is also very difficult to overeat since the fiber bulks up your meal so you automatically consume fewer calories.
Plant-based foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Making your own soups, sauces, and other meals means that you are eating fresher, more nutrient-dense meals.
Packaged and processed foods are less nutritious than their fresh counterparts because many nutrients diminish when processed and stored on supermarket shelves.
Most people report an increase of energy when eating more plant-based, whole foods. Part of this has to do with boosted nutrition as plant-based foods provide more energy-producing vitamins.
Another possible reason for an increase of energy is that this diet is easier on the digestive system. This frees up energy for other things.
Plants are high in fiber. Eating a plant-based diet makes it super-easy to meet dietary fiber intake guidelines every single day. This helps support gut and colon health.
Countless studies show that people who eat more servings of fruits and vegetables, and a diet that is higher in fiber, may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables (and fiber) also supports gastrointestinal health, vision, and helps meet nutritional needs.
Many fruits and vegetables, as well as some nuts and seeds, may contain components that have been shown to be protective or even mildly therapeutic for certain medical conditions. Diets higher in fruits and vegetables have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, while lowering the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
I could write a whole book on this as there is too much information to cover in this article regarding the health benefits of plant-based eating.
However, I have a section on Incredible Smoothies that features recipes based on scientific studies that may provide benefit for or protection against common health problems.
Simple & Convenient (But Also Tasty!)
I hear this excuse a lot, and I have used it myself: “But I don’t have time to make all my meals from scratch…”
There is a misconception that eating a plant-based diet means that you will spend hours in the kitchen cooking everything from scratch. This is not the case at all. It really doesn’t have to take a lot of time to make healthy, plant-based meals. If you have the right recipes, you can eat healthy, delicious meals that take minutes to prepare.
Green smoothies are one of the quickest and easiest meals to make. Toss some fresh fruits in a blender with a couple handfuls of leafy greens, a tablespoon of flaxseed or chia seeds, and a scoop of protein powder and zzzzzzzzzzip! – breakfast or lunch in under a minute.
Here are 25 of the best green smoothie recipes that you will ever taste!
Whole foods snacks are quick and easy, too. Almond butter on celery, a piece of fruit, or my peanut butter cup pudding, (pictured above) take little time to prepare.
And for dinner? Planning ahead makes dinner a breeze. Did you know that you can cook up a large batch of brown rice or quinoa, then portion it out and freeze it for later use? I do this all the time so that I can make quinoa salads, maki rolls, and re-fried black bean-quinoa tostados in minutes.
If you have the right recipes and plan your meals, a plant-based diet is not only super healthy, but super convenient as well.
Browse some of my favorite plant-based recipes on Incredible Smoothies!
Big Picture Eating vs. Eating For Nutrients/Counting Calories/Carbs/Etc…
While there is a lot of conflicting health information out there – especially in the natural health movement, most experts agree that we all should:
- Eat more plants and plant-based foods,
- Avoid or limit processed foods,
- Reduce or eliminate added sugars,
- Drink water, coconut water, or tea in place of fruit juice or sweetened beverages,
- Move your body (exercise),
- Get adequate sleep,
- And try to eliminate, reduce, or manage stress that plays a major role in destroying your health.
If you follow these basic principles, you will be much healthier than you were before.
Instead of fretting about the quantity of calories and carbohydrates, focus on quality. Nutritionally, there is a big difference between a 100-calorie slice of pizza and a 100-calorie apple. And when you are not eating pasta and cookies, a high-carb, whole foods diet will result in weight loss and better health over the long term.
Instead of worrying about every tiny detail or chasing after “THE perfect diet”, take a big-picture approach. Keep it simple and sustainable.
But Isn’t A Plant-Based Diet Super Expensive?
A lot of people think that switching over to a plant-based, whole foods way of eating is cost-prohibitive. Just walk into any health food store and you will quickly get sticker shock when you see just how much organic groceries can cost.
Keep in mind, however, that you are not buying extra food on top of what you currently buy. Instead, you should be replacing unhealthy packaged, processed foods with healthy, unprocessed versions. And no, you don’t have to buy everything from the expensive grocery store that many have dubbed “Whole Paycheck”.
And let’s face it – most of the boxed and pre-packaged foods in grocery stores are, in fact, more expensive than a bag of quinoa or black beans, and even most fruits and vegetables. A frozen pizza provides 1-2 meals. But a bag of quinoa will make dozens of servings or more, and often, the bag of quinoa is cheaper than the frozen pizza.
Joining a warehouse club like Costco or BJ’s is an excellent way to save money while buying whole food ingredients. I buy a lot of my organic produce and pantry staples (rice, quinoa, etc…) from BJ’s. I also use Thrive Market to save up to 50% off my pantry staples.
Read more tips on saving money while eating healthy.
So How Do I Eat?
As a natural health blogger, I get asked this question a LOT. People really want to know exactly what I eat in a day. What diet do I follow. What do I think about certain foods, or dietary concepts.
So if you want to know how I lost 40 pounds, dropped my cholesterol by 45 points, and rocked a flat stomach in my 30s, then head over to my blog post where I spell out exactly how I eat.