Plant-Based Diet Basics – Learn How to Begin a Plant-Based Diet Today!

By Kelsie White

Plant-Based Diet Basics – Learn How to Begin a Plant-Based Diet Today!

Nutrition Bites | Week 1

Welcome to Nutrition Bites! I would like to start by introducing myself. My name is Kelsie White, and I am a Registered Dietitian here at Lifestyle Medical. I have a passion for plant-based nutrition, and it is my goal through this series to bring you actionable tips and tricks for adopting a more whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) lifestyle. Nutrition is often made to be very complex, so it is my goal to help guide you through some of these complexities so that you can implement lasting lifestyle changes for yourself. Nutrition Bites is a series that will dive into nutrition education topics and plant-based recipes, in both article and video format. Let’s get started!

This week’s topic is all about plant-based basics. Before we dive into specific recipes and their health benefits, I want to talk about what a whole foods, plant-based diet is and what some of the health benefits are, as well as some suggestions for getting started.

Health Benefits

As I mentioned before, nutrition is often made too complicated, especially when it comes to social media. Influencers and health gurus often push very specific diets, avoiding certain foods and food groups all together for certain diseases. This really is only necessary in certain instances, for example if you have Celiac Disease, avoiding gluten is your best option. But oftentimes, being too focused and restrictive will provide little to no benefit and create fear and confusion around eating.

The good news is that a whole foods, plant-based diet that is focused predominantly on eating plants closest to their original form is oftentimes the best dietary pattern for many of the ailments that our society faces today. It alone is not a cure-all, but when combined with other lifestyle interventions such as regular physical activity, stress management, good sleep hygiene and social support, can help to promote significant improvements in health and well-being.

So, what are some of the many health benefits that adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet may provide? Research has shown promising effects on reducing risk of heart disease, inflammation, diabetes, and certain cancers as well as helping to maintain a healthy body weight and promote brain health in addition to being more environmentally friendly.

The good news is that even if a complete whole foods, plant-based diet is not for you, any steps you take in that direction can be beneficial. Think of dietary patterns as a continuum. In the image below, the left side of the spectrum represents a diet that is mainly animal products. As you move to the right side, you can see that there are more and more plant foods that are included. The more whole, plant foods you can include in your diet, the more protective your diet will be for your health. A great goal to aim for if you aren’t ready to adopt a 100% WFPB diet is to aim for an 80/20 split: 80% of the foods you eat are whole plant foods, and 20% are animal or more processed products.

Daily Dozen – Lifestyle Medical Style

One way to ensure that you are getting a variety of whole plant foods is to look at the Daily Dozen – Lifestyle Medical Style. This is a daily checklist adapted from Dr. Michael Greger on 12 things to include in your daily life. These include beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous veggies, greens, other vegetables, seeds, nuts, spices, whole grains, beverages, and exercise. Take a look at the image below to see how many servings of each food group are recommended each day.

3 Steps to Go More Plant-Based

Now, let’s say you are convinced and are ready to take action to include more plant foods in your diet. Here are three ways to make that happen. The first step is to add in plant foods and that you already like to eat. For example, if there is a vegetable side dish that you really enjoy, such as roasted Brussels sprouts, add it to a meal you eat on a regular basis. Start by filling half the plate with that vegetable, and then you still can enjoy the main dish, whatever it is, in a smaller quantity.

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 means eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This will not only ensure a balanced diet filled with nutrients, but also meals that are satisfying and keep you feeling full.

Lastly, is the idea of making food swaps. If you have added more plants to your meals but still find yourself craving your favorite animal-based foods, this last step is to begin finding plant-based versions of these foods. For example, trying scrambled tofu 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 more of a plant focus. For even more recipe ideas, check out some of our WFBP favorites on our website or YouTube channel.

For more information and ideas to help you go more plant-based, check out our full article here.

Now that you have some steps to get started, I want to focus our attention on a few key nutrients that are important to remember if you follow a WFPB diet. These include nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, calcium and iron. It is very possible to get adequate amounts of these nutrients when eating more plants, there just needs to be a little extra planning to make it happen. Here is a list of some food ideas to help you get some of these nutrients:

  • Omega-3s: Chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, avocados, and green leafy vegetables.
  • Vitamin B12: Fortified nutritional yeast, fortified plant-based milks, fortified whole grain cereals, tempeh, and supplements.
  • Calcium: Kale, spinach, bok coy, collard greens, broccoli, figs, and almonds.
  • Iron: Tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and dried figs. 
The Bottom Line

The key takeaway that I want to emphasize is to just include more plants. It does not have to be an all or nothing approach. Including more plants in your diet will help to displace some of the less healthy foods that you might be consuming, as well as bring a variety of health benefits. Remember, start by adding more of your favorites, include all the plant-based food groups, and find food swaps to make some healthy substitutions. You are in charge of your health and wellness and taking control of your diet to include more whole plant foods is a great step in the right direction.

Weekly Challenge

This week, aim to make 3 plant-based meal swaps. Who knows, you might just find your new favorite!


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