Last updated on October 5th, 2023.
As more people contemplate the moral, ethical and environmental issues in the meat industry, more people are looking into plant-based nutrition. On the other hand, some people just want to eat better, live healthier and reduce the risk of heart disease. Whatever your reasoning, a plant-based diet can do wonders for your health.
Remember that you don’t have to go entirely vegan or vegetarian to start a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet is simply one that consists mostly or entirely of fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods. You can still have meat, fish, cheese and other animal products in moderation.
So how does one start a plant-based diet? What are the basics of a plant-based diet and what are the benefits of such a diet? What are the best foods to eat when starting this diet, and how do these foods affect your body as it gets used to its new daily regimen? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.
How Do You Start a Plant-Based Diet as a Beginner?
If historically you have been an omnivore with no restrictions on what you do or do not eat, you’ll need to start out slowly with gradual changes to your diet. This is to prevent your body from feeling sick from the sudden change in nutrients. The first thing to do would be to reduce your overall meat intake (especially red meat) and replace most of it with plant proteins.
Some great plant proteins to start out your plant-based diet with are:
- Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, beans and peanuts, which also provide essential amino acids. Fill up on these; they are great for you!
- Meat alternatives – tofu, tempeh, vegan burgers, and impossible burgers are all plant-based products which resemble meat in look, flavor, mouthfeel and protein content. Many people do not include these in their plant-based diet because they are heavily processed and are not necessarily healthier than meat due to their high sodium content. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not meat alternatives work for you.
- Fish – If you want to keep some meat in your diet, fish and shellfish are healthier alternatives to beef, pork and chicken.
When replacing all or most of the meat in your diet, you’re likely going to feel pretty hungry. This is natural and not something to worry about. Eat your fill; plant-based diets are not about reducing your overall caloric intake, but rather increasing the value of the calories you take in. Plants are a fantastic thing to eat on a keto diet.
And don’t worry if you’re not ready to entirely remove meat from your diet. Even a small reduction in meat intake can improve your overall health. Increasing the amount of plant-based foods as a percentage of your total caloric intake is what’s important here.
Next, we need to discuss what else your plant-based diet should include.
What are the Basics of a Plant-Based Diet?
Well, the basics of a plant-based diet are generally going to be eating less meat and dairy, and more fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Reducing the amount of animal products in your diet (or eliminating them altogether) will greatly reduce your cholesterol intake, which can aid in weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and other issues of the circulatory system.
In all likelihood, you’re considering a plant-based diet because you want to feel better, have more energy, lose weight, gain muscle mass or just feel better about yourself and your physical fitness. Or maybe you’re interested in animal rights and welfare.
Whatever your motivation, adhering to a plant-based diet (coupled with regular exercise) will most likely improve your overall health. And while the reduction or removal of meat from your diet is important, an equally important point is the reduction or removal of heavily-processed foods from your diet.
Some unhealthy foods have led to our current state of affairs, with global levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and heart attack simply off the charts:
- Crackers full of bleached enriched flour
- Chips chock-full of cooking oil and salt
- Sugary sodas
- Caffeinated energy drinks
If that doesn’t motivate a person to start thinking about changing their diet then likely nothing will. Eating gluten free has many health benefits because of the gluten free diet.and substituting all your unhealthy foods with plant based foods will help you live a longer healthier life.
What Foods are Part of a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is centered around foods produced from plants that are minimally processed (or not processed at all). Your best choices are listed below:
- Plant protein – As mentioned above, legumes are the way to go. Humans need protein and essential amino acids to survive, so you can’t really skip out on these.
- Leafy greens such as kale and spinach, and other vegetables – Onions, broccoli, beets, cucumbers, mushrooms, etc. are all great choices for filling out your diet. Vegetables provide calcium, choline and other vitamins essential to brain and body function.
- Fruits – The best part of a plant-based diet is all the delicious fruit you can eat! Apples, strawberries, blueberries, kiwis, mangoes, dates, you name it, if it is considered a fruit you have free rein to enjoy as much as it as you like.
- Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, cashews, almonds, chia seeds and sunflower seeds are a great source of healthy fats.
- Whole grains – Quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rice and corn are a good source of iron, zinc and essential amino acids.
- Herbs and spices – Dill, parsley, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon… whatever seasoning you’d like to dash into your food, it’s going to add nutrients to your food. Just make sure it’s not a salt-based seasoning (i.e. garlic salt) as the high sodium content isn’t exactly healthy.
One important thing to remember when having fruit is that you should eat it, not juice it. When fruit is processed into juice, the pulp is removed, which also means the insoluble fiber is removed. Both insoluble and soluble fiber are important for digestion, it is recommended that fruits are eaten whole or blended, as blending does not remove fiber.
Another important point to remember is to always mix up. When it comes to fruits, vegetables and all the other food categories, don’t eat the same thing every day. Mix it up to include a wide array of nutrients in your diet.
There are essential nutrients that berries provide that bananas do not, and so forth. “Eat the rainbow”, as the saying goes. Include foods of all different colors in your diet to ensure you’re taking a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.
There is a bit of a caveat here, though. There are certain supplements plant-based dieters should take (and really everyone else, for that matter). Vitamins B12, D3, K2, Omega-3 and zinc are all supplements we all should be taking, but especially individuals adhering to a plant-based diet. Certain deficiencies arise on plant-based diets, especially if they’re entirely vegan, so be sure you’re still getting enough calcium and the nutrients listed above.
What Happens to Your Body When You Start a Plant-Based Diet?
When you start a plant-based diet and stick to it, and exercise regularly, you will in all likelihood lose weight and gain muscle tone. You will feel better and more energetic because your meals will be lighter and more nutrient-dense. You won’t have to lie down and nap after an excessively heavy meal like you used to.
A few interesting changes that can take place in your body when you started a plant-based diet also include:
- Strengthened Immune System – When you reduce or remove animal products from your diet, your immune system will be bolstered. You may find that you don’t get sick nearly as often as you used to. All those additional nutrients you’re getting for all those additional fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans you’re eating increase your body’s ability to combat disease. A win-win!
- Improved Body Odor – What one eats affects one’s body odor and what is secreted when we sweat. Some research has shown that removing meat and dairy from one’s diet reduces the overall stinkiness of one’s body odor. You might even no longer need to buy deodorant! Nice.
- Wake Up Earlier With More Energy – After a few months on a plant-based diet, you may find that you wake up earlier in the morning with far more energy. You’ll wake up alert, energized and ready to take on the day. What’s better than that?
- Your Bowel Movements Become More Regular – Many vegans can attest to the fact that after weeks on a plant-based diet, their bowel movements became far more regular and predictable.
- Your Acne Clears Up – Many individuals who have embarked on a vegan or plant-based diet have reported overall improvements to the health of their skin and health. This has included the disappearance of acne, a less oily appearance, and healthier-looking, fuller hair that grows faster. Nothing wrong with looking better!
One potential negative result if your plant-based diet is entirely vegan is the effect on the B12 and calcium stores in your body. A diet devoid of animal products will eventually become deficient in these areas, both of which are important to bone health and overall health.
Make sure you are ingesting both supplements and plant-based milk products, such as soymilk, oat milk and almond milk to ensure you’re getting enough of these essential nutrients.
Eating plant-based, you will have much more energy because that food gets you going instead of slowing you down. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much easier you lose weight and gain muscle tone. You may also feel good about the fact that you are no longer contributing to an industry that involves so much animal suffering.
Remember that it takes time for the human body to adjust to drastic changes in diet, and that you might feel worse before you feel better. The human body becomes addicted to high-fat, high-sugar, high-sodium foods, and it will react when you remove them from your diet. But it will be worth it.
If junk food and red meat does sneak its way back into your diet, don’t fret. This is an incremental process and any progress you make will benefit your overall health. And you may be someone who keeps meat in your diet, and that’s okay too. We’re not all going to be able to (or want to) become vegetarians and vegans.
(If nutrition is your passion, and you want to help others live a healthier life, there are many ways you can do it. You can get a keto coaching certification, be a positive impact in someone’s life, study nutrition for you and others, become a certified ketogenic nutritionist, or just be a role model to those around you. Or, to increase your knowledge and learn more consider enrolling in one of the best courses in plant based nutrition. A healthier world starts with you and the steps you take.)