Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet

No better time than the new year to improve your health and diet. There are plenty of fad diets out there, but when you realize you’re tired of limiting one food or another and want to try a less restrictive and more sustainable long-term diet…a plant-based diet may be the one for you. An extra bonus: a plant-based diet can help reduce your risk of developing chronic disease, such as heart disease and diabetes, and decrease your cancer risk. Let’s get started! Check out my audio guide and WZZM segment here.

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet puts a large emphasis on incorporating plant-based protein and/ or lean meats, ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy. The beauty of this diet is it is all-inclusive. It does’t limit any food groups and allows room for flexibility to make it work for you. Most Americans consume diets high in red meat and refined grains, which may make getting starting a little more challenging than expected, especially if you have any picky eaters in your household. Relax. I’ve got some easy guidelines to help you get started 🙂

The Basics:

Protein:

  • Limit red or processed meat intake to < 18 ounces per week. This includes lunch meat, bacon, sausage, and other cured meats. A deck of cards is about 3 ounces FYI.
  • Instead, choose fish, poultry (chicken or turkey), or other plant-based proteins, such as beans, tofu, or lentils.

Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Aim for at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Eat a variety and start by incorporating a fruit or vegetable at each meal or snack.
  • Not sure how to do the variety thing? Pick up a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried before (or haven’t had in a while) at least once a month. Yes, that may mean that weird prickly fruit you’ve been eyeing with bewilderment for years at the grocery store. Sticking to fruits or veggies in season can also help keep things economical.

Grains:

  • Always aim for using whole grains over refined grains for higher fiber intake and less added sugar.
  • Refined grains include white bread, white rice, pastries, candy, and other high-sugar foods.
  • Complex carbohydrates include whole grain breads and pasta, oats, barley, quinoa, and farro to just name a few.
  • But don’t misunderstand. Just because I call them complex, doesn’t mean they are any more complex to cook than those refined grains listed above. When all else fails, READ THE BACK OF THE BAG. Generally, they have basic instructions and even a little recipe to get you started.

Fats:

  • Opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats.
  • Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats include avocado, olive oil, walnuts, nuts, seeds, soybeans, etc.
  • Start by ditching the weird margarines and butter (unless you’ve got that portion control and serving size shit down pat).

Dairy:

  • Choose low-fat dairy instead of full-fat to avoid excess calories from fat that can lead to an unhealthy weight.
  • Again, there is a place for that creamy full-fat yogurt in a healthy diet if you have a good handle on serving sizes, but considering 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, I think we could all probably use to cut back on calories from excess fat wherever possible.

Alcohol:

  • If you don’t drink, don’t start. Period.
  • Don’t get me wrong. I love my chardy parties, but I try to keep that for the weekend so it feels like a treat.
  • Men: limit intake to 2 drinks per day
  • Women: limit intake to 1 drink per day
  • 1 serving: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ½ ounces of hard liquor

Takeaway:

  1. Start planning. Meatless Mondays or Salad Sundays. Make a realistic routine out of incorporating these plant-based meals. If you want to start by just doing a meatless meal once a week, then using those catchy phrases is a great reminder to do so.
  2. Keep to the basics. Don’t feel the need to recreate the wheel with new or complex recipes. Use your family favorites and find ways to adjust it to make it more plant-based. Pinterest is a god send so don’t even try to tell me you can’t find ideas.
  3. Make it work for you. Avoid getting overwhelmed and feeling the need to change every part of your diet by focusing on 2 aspects on the diet at a time.

Good luck! And don’t hesitate to email me with questions 🙂

-EAW