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Plant Based Diet Benefits: A Beginner’s Guide to Get Started
With so many conflicting diet information out there it’s near impossible to know what to eat to feel your best. It can also be a contentious topic of conversation. My Keto and paleo friends are very sure they’re eating the best diet, while my Pegan friends think they’ve got the answer. In truth, we’re all different people with different needs, but one things is for certain, we need to eat more plants! Here’s the low down on what a WFPB diet is, the benefits of adopting this lifestyle, how you can heal your body, and the the 5 essential steps to get you started. In this article you’ll also find a beginner’s shopping grocery shopping guide, meal plan and recommended reading list.
Be sure to grab my FREE Plant-Based Fridge and Pantry Staples Shopping Guide.
What is a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet?
Eating plant-based means you consume primarily natural whole plant foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, tubers, and legumes, with a minimal amount of animal protein and dairy (10% or less) if you choose. The food you eat is as close to the way nature intended as possible, meaning minimally processed, not packaged, or originating from a factory.
How does a WFPB diet heal you from within?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of pharmaceuticals. There’s a time and a place for them, but I’d rather go the natural route first before I take a pill with a long list of side effects that quite frankly scare me! That’s why I decided to make the transition and reap the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Food has the power to deteriorate our health, but also has the amazing power to heal our bodies. When you eliminate processed food and fill up on natural whole plant-based foods your body has the power to heal itself in many (not all) cases. When you combine a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and stress reduction practices you’ll have the full power to reverse overwhelm caused by chronic stress, and heal your body from within.
The overwhelming support through academic studies and research demonstrates that a plant-based lifestyle greatly reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, a plant-based lifestyle promotes weight loss, and increases your intake of fiber, which has proven to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. When consuming fruits and vegetables and eliminating saturated fat found in animal products you could even see improvements in your skin and vision.
Bonus points for helping the environment!
In addition, a plant-based lifestyle helps the environment and does not promote animal cruelty. Whatever your reason for desiring to make the transition, you are probably feeling overwhelmed, and confused.
You can go one of two ways. You can completely eliminate all animal products from your diet, or you can take a more moderate approach and reduce your intake to 10% or less. Whichever you choose you will making a commitment to fill your diet with mostly plant -based foods.
If you’re ready to ease into the transition to a plant-based lifestyle, I’ve identified 3 essential steps to get you started.
How to Begin a Plant-Based Diet for Beginners – Step by Step
1. Reduce your intake of dairy.
Begin by reducing your dairy intake, and try subbing with a plant-based milk such as almond, cashew, soy, or rice milk. Breakfast is a good time to try subbing out milk. A green smoothie in the morning made with almond milk, or coconut milk in your coffee is a good place to start. Try different milk alternatives to see which one you like the best. When choosing a milk substitute make sure you pick one that is unsweetened to reduce added sugar.
If you’re not a milk drinker, begin with removing cheese from one of your meals each day. This is difficult for many who can’t imagine their life without cheese. If you’re a regular cheese eater, try removing it as your go-to snack and pick up a fruit or vegetable instead.
I do not recommend buying processed vegan cheese alternatives. If you’re used to eating regular cheese these are going to disappoint. They do not taste like real cheese, and often don’t melt the same way. In addition they are highly processed which does not follow within a WFPB diet.
There are ways you can make your own WFPB cheeses at home that taste better and are better for you.
2. Reduce your intake of animal protein. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
Animal protein and fish are greatly reduced when converting to a whole food plant-based lifestyle. Begin with removing animal protein from your lunch, and try adding a plant-based protein in its place such as beans, seeds, nuts, or quinoa.
When you have a good handle on lunch move towards removing animal protein from one of your dinners each week until you’ve reduced to one or two nights a week of animal protein, or none at all. At your meals increase your intake of vegetables, and whole grains. Half your plate vegetables, a little less than a quarter of your plate a whole grain, and a quarter of your plate plant-based protein is a helpful visual when putting together your meals.Use the graphic below for a more specific visual representation.
3. Embrace Whole Grains.
Carbs get a bad rep. Not all carbs are created equal. There are carbs that are high in fiber and nutrients, and then there are carbs that are high in sugar and low in nutrients. While the first is essential to ensuring you get a balance of the nutrients you need for optimal health, the later is sure to leave you nutrient deficient and increase your intake of sugar, putting you on a crash and burn roller coaster of high sugar intake.
You want to eat carbs that come in their whole and natural state. That means bananas, squash, potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain breakfast cereal, whole wheat bread, green peas, and corn. These foods are delicious, filling, and high in fiber and nutrients that will keep you feeling fuller longer. Embrace whole grains, but avoid processed grains such as anything that is listed as having enriched wheat flour, crackers, chips, pretzels, and cookies. If it’s packaged avoid it. If it’s in its natural state, embrace it.
Begin by going through your pantry and donating or throwing out any products that contain refined flour. Look at the ingredients and if you see “enriched flour” throw it out. Get rid of crackers, pastas, breads, bagels, pitas, cereals, etc that are not whole grains.
Stock up on whole grain products. Use my Fridge and Pantry Guide as a tool.
It can be challenging to embrace grains if you’ve been on a high protein high fat diet in the past. Read my article about 3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Deny Yourself Carbs for more information.
4. Consume Healthy Fats
Prior to transitioning to a WFPB diet you were likely getting most of your fat from dairy and animal protein. Now you will get your fat from nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados, and limited oil. Some WFPB diets completely eliminate oil. This is up to you. If you choose to use oil in your cooking go for a high quality olive oil or coconut oil, and use it sparingly. There are so many creative ways you can get around using oil in cooking.
Sautéing vegetables, use vegetable broth. Want a salad dressing, use vinegar, need oil for baking, try applesauce.
5. Increase Your Plant Protein
Plants have protein! I know, it seems crazy, but it’s true! Vegetables actually contain protein, but the highest concentration of protein is going to come from a beans, lentils, quinoa, and peas. You will also get protein from nuts and seeds, but I count this towards the healthy fats. Throw some beans in your salads, make a soup, a chili, a bean burger. Check-out my recipes for easy and creative ways to use plant-protein.
These were the books I read when I first decided to make the leap to a plant-based diet. How Not to Die by Michael McGregor, MD is an depth look at the science and research behind adopting a plant-based lifestyle, and how it will transform your health. He also goes into the “how” of making a plant-based diet work in your life. T. Colin Campbell is one of the pioneers of a behind plant-based diet. His research and book The China Study is the largest study done regarding the relationship between our health and our diet. For an in depth research study on how changing your diet can change your health, this is the go-to! I also recommend his book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition.
If you’re ready to jump in, and start cooking I’ve got a collection of easy and delicious recipes to try. Make sure you grab my complete WFPB Family Meal Plan with recipes and shopping list to get you started!
The journey towards a plant-based lifestyle is a learning process. Some people are ready to embrace the challenges all at once, while others want to step into the transition. Reducing dairy and animal protein, embracing whole grains, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables and plant protein will go a long way in helping you look and feel better on the inside and out.