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Big Strides Toward Better Health: 3 Easy Steps to Start a Plant-Based Diet

Big Strides Toward Better Health: 3 Easy Steps to Start a Plant-Based Diet

If you’re reading this, you may have heard a few of the many benefits of adopting a plant-based diet, but you just don’t know where to begin.

You recognize that it can be good for you, but it can be very overwhelming to make big dietary changes, especially if you have tried fad dieting in the past without getting results. Well, you have come to the right place! A plant-based diet shouldn’t be thought of as a “diet” in the classic sense of the word. “Diets” are often restrictive, cutting out many foods and reducing calories and can lead to vicious cycles of dieting without being able to maintain anything long term. Plant-based eating should focus on adding in more plant foods in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable.


What is a Plant-Based Diet?

A plant-based diet can mean many things. It can include vegan, vegetarian, and Mediterranean diets, but the key is that most, if not all foods are from plants. Adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet (WFPB diet) takes this concept further and is intentional to include only plant foods that are minimally, if at all, processed. 

3 Ways to Start

Here are 3 helpful tips to get you started on a WFPB plant-based diet:

  1. Add more of your favorites
  2. Include all plant-based food groups
  3. Make food swaps

Add More of Your Favorites

Let’s explore each of these further. Start by adding in plant foods and meals that you already enjoy, and trying new foods slowly if you aren’t sure. For example, if there is a vegetable side dish that you really enjoy, pair it with a meal you regularly consume. Check out this Roasted Vegetable Recipe if you are looking for something new.  Fill half the plate with that vegetable, and then you still can enjoy the main dish, whatever it is, in a smaller quantity. Say you enjoy roasted broccoli with spaghetti and meatballs. Fill half the plate with broccoli as the main dish, and eat the spaghetti as a side dish. 

Include All Plant-Based Food Groups

Next, it is important to include all plant-based food groups. Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate provides a great visual for building a balanced meal that includes the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This is very important in the context of a WFPB diet. Including starchy foods like whole grains, potatoes and legumes can help to increase the warm, comforting feel of a meal. Including enough protein and healthy fats will help to increase satiety and keep you feeling full. 

Plant-Based Diet
Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/

Carbohydrates

There are 2 broad categories of carbohydrates: those that are broken down into glucose, our body’s primary source of fuel, and those that are not. Foods that are broken down into glucose include food with naturally occurring sugar such as fruits, and starchy foods like potatoes, legumes, and whole grains. Carbohydrate foods that are not broken down into glucose are full of fiber, or the portion of the plant that escapes digestion and some great examples are green leafy vegetables. Check out our article on fiber for more information. However, these two categories are not mutually exclusive. Food is like a package and will contain varying mixtures of nutrients. For example, potatoes are a great source of complex carbohydrates as well as fiber. 

When starting out on a WFPB diet, it is important to include carbohydrates, especially starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, legumes, and whole grains. This can help provide substance to meals and give an overall feeling of heartiness. Roasting root vegetables, eating fresh fruit with breakfast, or adding whole grains to salads are a few great ways to begin incorporating more plant carbohydrates into your diet.

Protein

The next important component to include in a balanced, plant-based meal is protein. Protein helps to support the growth and repair of tissues and is also important in helping you feel full and satiated after eating a meal. Protein is a nutrient that gets a lot of attention in the context of a plant-based diet, as many people wonder how you can get enough protein without eating animal products. This is a common misconception, as plant protein can provide more than enough to promote growth and repair within the body. Think about one of the largest animals on the planet: an elephant. Elephants are herbivores and consume only plants, and this diet pattern is just what they need. Similarly, humans can get all the protein they need from plants if intentionally planned out.

Protein-packed plants include beans and legumes such as lentils, black beans, and soy products, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and potatoes. Give your meals a plant protein punch by adding beans to soups and salads, snacking on nuts, and adding baked tofu to vegetable dishes. 

Fat

The last macronutrient for a balanced WFPB meal is healthy fats. Similar to protein, fat is important to include to help you feel satisfied even hours after you have finished eating. While the Healthy Eating Plate highlights healthy oils, choosing fats from whole plant foods is optimal. This is because oils are a very concentrated form of fat, providing lots of calories but not much bulk or other nutrients to help you feel full. Instead, using oils sparingly and eating whole foods like avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds can provide you with healthy fats and other important nutrients like fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. This is where the idea of “whole foods” is important in a plant-based diet. Try adding nuts and seeds to your morning oatmeal, or using avocado as a spread for sandwiches. 

Make Food Swaps

The third tip is to begin making food swaps. If you have added more plants to your meals but still find yourself craving your favorite animal-based foods, the last step is to begin finding plant-based versions of these foods. For example, trying scrambled tofu instead of scrambled eggs for breakfast, or making lentil-based meatballs to add to spaghetti. You can also swap out banana “nice” cream for regular ice cream with this recipe. This will allow you to still eat your favorite meals, but with a plant slant instead! Check out all of our favorite whole-food, plant-based recipes here

The Bottom Line

the diet continuum

Each small change that you make to becoming more whole-food, plant-based is a step in the right direction! Adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing approach. Because we can think about diet as a continuum, this means that a plant-based diet can look slightly different for everyone. But the bottom line is: include more plants. This will point you in the right direction and help you transition to a whole-food, plant-based diet. 

If you would like more information on adopting a WFPB lifestyle and the benefits it can provide for you, schedule an appointment with one of our providers today! We would love to support you on your journey as you begin a plant-based diet. 

 

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