Last updated on November 28th, 2023.
It is that time of year again when everyone begins to reorganize their lifestyles and examine where they can do better, specifically with their health. More and more people are straying away from meals that consist mainly of animal-based protein and reaching for plant-based recipes.
More often than not, it is the “where do I start” that stops people from following through on these meal changes. There are a few things to do right from the beginning that will set you up for success in a plant-based diet, including stocking the pantry up with dry snacks such as nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. And starting with one or two meals a week that are solely plant-based.
If you are on the fence on whether or not a plant-based diet is a next step in your health journey, then keep reading to find out more information on what precisely a plant-based diet is and isn’t and some more pro tips on what a plant-based diet for beginners looks like for you.
What Is A Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is exactly what it says: eating primarily from plants. This is not to be confused with being vegan and not consuming animal products at all, but rather the more significant portion of your plate being that of either fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, or nuts/seeds.
When consuming a plant-based diet, you need to add all the essential parts of a well-balanced meal that includes:
- Vitamins and minerals
While some fats and proteins can come from animal products, a plant-based diet encourages the consumer to limit these consumptions and processed and artificial foods. Using oils such as avocado, sunflower, peanut, and olive oil can be easy fat substitutes, and protein from beans, greens, and tofu are also great alternatives.
What's Happening to My Digestive System On A Plant-based Diet?
If you ever experienced an upset stomach after eating a largely meat or dairy-focused meal, you all too well understand how food affects gut health.
Your digestive system is a very delicate part of your overall health. Eating foods that don’t break down quickly or can’t be fully digested by the body often result in cramping, diarrhea, or even constipation.
When on a plant-based diet, the digestive system is being introduced to foods rich in fiber that aids in bulking the stool to avoid constipation and encourage regular bowel movements. Pro and prebiotics are also found in plant-based diets that allow the gut to grow good bacteria lessening infections and inflammatory diseases in the body.
Some positive side-effects for your digestive system on a plant-based diet include:
- Regulate and lower cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure
- Proper function of the Immune System
- Help to fight off infections
- Provide important vitamins to the body
Overall, a plant-based diet can significantly improve digestive health and the basic functions of the body’s organs inside and out.
Foods You Can and Can't Eat On A Plant-Based Diet
When thinking about starting this lifestyle change, it is common to ask what foods you can and can’t eat on a plant-based diet. The general idea is to lessen the amount of animal and processed foods you intake on a daily basis, not so much eliminate them from your diet unless you plan on becoming vegan or vegetarian.
However, for the sake of these pro-tips, let’s focus on what foods are recommended to eat and which you may want to avoid.
|Foods You CAN Eat||Foods To Avoid|
|All vegetables||Fast Food|
|All fruits||Sugary, artificially sweetened drinks|
|Nuts and seeds||Refined grains aka white rice, bread, pasta|
|Whole grain, brown rice, quinoa||Processed meats|
|Legumes, beans, and lentils||Dairy products|
|Soy, tofu, and tempeh||Pre-packaged foods|
|Plant-based oils like avocado and sunflower||Chips, cookies, sugary cereal|
|Coffee and tea||Artificial sugars and sweeteners|
|Herbs and spices||Poultry, seafood, red meat|
When starting any diet, it is always important to consult your doctor and nutritionist to ensure you are creating a meal plan that is the safest and nutritionally diverse as your body requires. While it may appear to be a healthy option to eliminate certain foods from your diet, it is always best practice to seek medical advice before doing so.
Can I Eat Eggs On A Plant-Based Diet?
Eating plant-based does not mean eliminating all animal products. In fact, eggs can be eaten on a plant-based diet and are often recommended as an excellent source of protein and an array of necessary vitamins and minerals. Eggs can be used either as a salad topper, breakfast starter, or a delicious way to make soups and noodles rich and creamy without needing a sauce from a jar.
Can You Eat Bread On A Plant-Based Diet?
In short, yes, bread can be eaten on a plant-based diet. The goal here is to ensure you are choosing breads that are whole grain rather than white processed versions. Bread is an excellent source of fiber that we know assists in optimal gut health and can make eating a more plant-based diet easier for beginners. Toasting up whole grain bread and spreading avocado on top is always a crowd-pleaser. Or stuffing a freshly baked baguette full of greens, roasted vegetables, and a drizzle of olive oil can be just as satisfying as a burger.
Can You Eat Pasta And Rice On A Plant-Based Diet?
Rice and pasta are also allowed in a plant-based diet and are actually a part of a well-balanced meal. Both are chock full of fiber and vitamins that can help you stay full longer and steer you away from reaching for sugary sweets. Selecting brown rice, barley, or quinoa instead of white rice is the healthier option when it comes to this complex carbohydrate. Pasta mixed with fresh veggies and homemade sauce can satiate any hungry belly and keep you fuller a lot longer than that happy meal.
Is Oatmeal Plant-Based?
Any whole grain-based food is considered appropriate for a plant-based diet. So adding oatmeal to your breakfast table is not only recommended but a staple when it comes to meeting your necessary intake of vitamins and nutrients.
In addition, buckwheat, barley, and quinoa can also be great alternatives for oatmeal mixed with some nuts, seeds, and some fresh fruit. Oatmeal can also be used as a substitute for breading on zucchini sticks, eggplant parmesan, and a crunchy topper for an acai bowl.
Can You Have Dairy On A Plant-Based Diet?
While a plant-based diet recommends excluding dairy products from your recipes, there are a plethora of substitutes available.
When it comes to dairy products such as yogurt or ice cream, there are also alternatives found in the refrigerator aisle to add to any parfait, banana float, or smoothie. These also include coconut, soy, almond, and cashew, to name a few.
Plant-based vegan cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese, and parmesan include ingredients such as:
- Coconut and almond
While there are plenty of vegan cheese substitutes for the cheese lovers out there, there isn’t any cheese on the market that can take the place of fan favorites.
Can I Still Take A Multivitamin On A Plant-Based Diet?
Following a well-balanced and planned plant-based diet will likely provide you with sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. However, there are still some nutrients you will be lacking by limiting or eliminating meats, dairy, and eggs.
These vitamins include iron, B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, and zinc. Due to this, it is advisable to include a daily multivitamin in your regimen.
How To Get Started on A Plant-Based Diet
Getting started on a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing journey. Eliminating foods from your diet cold turkey is not always the healthiest option, and again you should always consult your physician before starting any diet plan.
How to get started on a plant-based diet can include some of the following steps:
- Start slow- create a weekly menu that includes at least two days of eating primarily plant-based
- Make a list of the plant-based foods you enjoy, which ones are a hard pass, and which you are open to trying
- Research plant-based food substitutes ahead of time, like dairy, so you know what to look for
- Meal-prep snacks and accessible options, so you are not tempted to run to the nearest fast-food drive-thru
- Don’t keep foods that aren’t conducive to your new lifestyle meal plan around to tempt you
- Explore recipes for snacks, desserts, smoothies, and on–the–go options, so you never feel deprived of your favorite go-to foods
Planning ahead of time and being prepared for those days you’re just not feeling the thought of cooking an entire meal are vital to any healthy meal plan. Keep in mind that there may be days you may slip a pepperoni slice in your mouth or inadvertently grab that block of cheese from the charcuterie board and that it won’t be the end of the world.
Give yourself space to gently make changes to your health and always be kind to yourself if or when you slip up; you’re human.
If you’re looking for additional how-to’s to getting started on a plant-based diet or honestly just want to take the to-do out of it altogether, here are a couple of tips on where to begin.
- Subscribe to a plant-based meal delivery service – These companies offer either already cooked and pre-packaged meals, recipes with all ingredients pre-measured and ready to cook, or a box of food items that are plant-based recommended for you to do with as you please.
- Take a course in plant-based nutrition course – These courses are designed to be online and allow users to go at their own pace for those wanting to take a class. These can be four, six, or even twelve-week courses and include many tools and downloads to enhance your plant-based education needs.
- Research plant-based recipes and food books – Visit your local brick-and-mortar bookstore or spend an afternoon scrolling through Kindle searching for food and recipe books focused on plant-based eating. Having tools within arms reach can make cooking on the fly easier than calling up Uber Eats.
- Watch YouTube videos on plant-based diet plans- When in doubt, watch YouTube; there are so many videos and tutorials readily available for anyone wanting a plant-based diet run down or a quick list of the dos and don’ts.
Starting a plant-based diet can be one of the healthiest options for anyone out there just looking to clean up their overall health, clear up the skin, lose weight, or just feel younger. As always, choose foods that are not only nutritionally dense and adhere to any of your personal dietary needs but are also delicious!