How to Start a Plant Based Diet: 8 Tips for Beginners

    
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD

Are you interested in starting a new plant-based diet? Before you start overhauling your fridge, here is everything you need to know about adding more plants to your meals. Including the different kinds of plant-based meal plans to choose from, how to choose the best foods and 8 easy steps to get you on the right track.

Ready to tackle a plant-based diet today? Download this free guide to plant-based eating. Complete with custom macro calculations, vegan food lists, and vegan meal planning templates to get you started. 

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What is a Plant-Based Diet?

The term plant-based is used frequently, but it doesn’t necessarily describe just one style of eating. Plant-based really just means the bulk of your food choices come from plants. 

Adding more plant foods to your day can be as simple as increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables and does not always mean avoiding animal-based foods entirely. 

There are really four main types of plant-centered diets, and they are:

  • Vegan
  • Vegetarian
  • Pescatarian
  • Flexitarian

Vegan diets represent the strictest in plant-based eating, forgoing all animal products and by-products. Many who follow a vegan meal plan will also avoid wearing leather or using products tested on animals.

Vegetarian diets have a little more flexibility, allowing some dairy products like eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt. 

Pescatarian diets are rich in plants, but more protein comes from fish and seafood. This type of diet often includes dairy, as well. 

Flexitarian is really just a fancy way of saying “omnivore.” However, the intention of flexiatrians is different than the average meat-eater, since the emphasis is on choosing more plant-based foods frequently, but allowing meat, seafood, and dairy from time to time. That is compared to traditional meat-eaters where animal foods can make up the bulk of what they eat. 

What is a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet?

A whole food plant-based diet is also popular - combining the approach of choosing less processed and more “real food” options on a heavy plant diet. 

This style of eating would exclude most processed foods, including some meat alternatives like veggie burgers, seitan, and tempeh. And would focus on more simple ingredients and foods found as they are in nature - such as beans, lentils, fruits, veggies, and whole grains.   

Is a plant-based Diet Healthy? 

Ultimately, any diet that includes high amounts of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables is healthier than those without. 

But that doesn’t mean going plant-based automatically means good nutrition for everyone. After all, Oreos and french fries are technically vegan!

Depending on the style of diet you choose, and the quality of your food choices, getting a balanced diet can be more challenging when choosing plant-based. 

Pros

A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are associated with heart health, weight loss, and reduced risk of multiple chronic diseases (1,2,3). Additionally, eating more produce is linked to improved mood, energy, and appetite control (4,5). 

These effects are mainly because many plants contain fiber and are high in many essential nutrients. And eating more nutrient-dense foods can have profound health benefits. 

Of course, nutrition is not the only reason why people would transition to a plant diet. Some other non-nutrition related reasons people choose plant-based include animal welfare and sustainability.

Cons 

Yes, it is entirely possible to get everything you need from plats, but let’s face it, it can be a challenge. 

Some of the disadvantages of plant-based diets come into play when the type of meal plan you choose becomes more strict. Plants are incredibly nutritious and can benefit your health, but resorting to only plants for all of your nutrition can make it harder to get 100% of your nutrient needs. 

Balancing your vegan macros can take a bit more strategy than when animal-based options are included. Plant proteins are not as protein-dense as animals - since they also tend to be a source of fat or carbohydrates as well.

Additionally, plants are not naturally rich in certain vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, DHA and EPA omega-3s, iron, and zinc. This may cause some people to require supplementation to get enough of these nutrients. 

Bottom Line

As long as you are choosing nutrient-rich foods and paying attention to your overall diet, any diet can be healthy - especially a plant-focused one. 

So if you are looking to improve your health or your nutrition intake, adding more plants can be a great way to accomplish this. But going 100%, plant-based isn’t necessarily best for everyone. It really boils down to personal preference and what makes the most sense for you personally.

What are Plant-Based Foods?

Plant foods are anything that grows out of the ground, and anything made entirely from foods that grow out of the ground. 

For a whole foods approach, this includes: 

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole Grains

And for other plant-based options you can consider:

  • Tofu
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh
  • Beyond Meat burgers
  • Other vegan products 

Check out the complete list of vegan foods to choose from. 

How to Eat a Plant-Based Diet

To help you master starting a plant-based diet, here are 8 tips to get you off on the right food and help you stay on track for the long haul. 

1. Eat More Plant-Based Proteins

Research associates eating more protein with a wide range of benefits - such as fat loss, reduced hunger, and reduced cravings (6). 

However, there is a lot of debate about whether or not plant-based diets provide enough protein to achieve a high protein diet. Additionally, plant proteins can be described as inferior. 

But this is false. It is totally possible to get plenty of plant protein and support your needs. 

The key is to try and get protein at every meal and choosing the most protein-dense plants you can find. 

Here are some more tips to help you grab the benefits of plant proteins and crush your vegan macros

2. Load Up on Non-starchy Vegetables

Carbohydrates come from everything that grows out of the ground - aka plants! Thus plant diets can feel carb-heavy for some. 

Include plenty of non-starchy vegetables - essentially everything except peas, corn, and potatoes - to get high amounts of nutrients with fewer carbs. Non-starchy vegetables can also help you control your calories since they tend to be high in water weight and low in overall energy. 

3. Cut Out Processed Foods

You don’t need to go 100% whole food to get the perks of plants. But you also don’t want to overdo it on vegan processed foods either. 

Plant-based is trendy, so more and more food manufacturers are labeling products as vegan and creating plant-based alternatives for traditional junk foods like ice cream, cookies, candy, chips, pizza, etc. 

Look for more fresh produce and whole food options to increase the number of plants in your diet, while minimizing processed foods altogether, This will help you control calories, increase nutrition, and cut out a lot of added salt and sugar you don’t need. 

4. Limit Natural Sugars

Just because something is labeled as natural doesn’t make it beneficial. There are plenty of “healthy” added sugars on the market that aren’t much different, nutritionally speaking, from regular table sugar.  

Just as on any healthy diet, limiting your intake of added sugar from beverages and foods can support better wellbeing (7). 

5. Use Portion Control 

Calories still matter - especially if you are looking to lose weight. Plant-based diets are associated with weight loss because stacking your plate with more fruits and vegetables can help you fill up on fiber and water without the high-calorie counts. 

To make sure you are staying on top of your overall calorie goal, use portion control, and choose more foods that fit your daily energy needs. 

6. Read Nutrition Labels

One of the easiest ways to ensure you are getting good nutrition and learning how to read a nutrition facts label. 

Look for more items made with simple ingredients, and that contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and healthy fats, with less saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and overall calories. 

7. Track Your Nutrition 

It is almost impossible to know if you are supporting your health and fitness goals with your food intake if you aren’t tracking your calories and macros.

Use a food tracking app to log your daily intake and ensure you are getting the right nutrition and staying on top of your diet. 

Download the free Trifecta app to get custom macro recommendations and daily tracking support. 

8. Learn to Meal Prep

Lastly, the best way to take full control over your plant-based meal plan is to design it yourself. Meal prepping not only allows you to have complete control over all your food choices, but you’ll also be prepared with healthy options that fit your diet when hunger hits.  

Want to take your vegan meal prep to the next level? Grab this free meal prep toolkit for plant-based diets. Complete with food lists, meal planning templates, and custom macro calculations.  

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