Perhaps you’ve heard about the plant-based diet from a friend, family member or co-worker. Maybe you’ve seen a documentary like “The Gamechangers” or “Forks over Knives” and it piqued your curiosity. No matter how you first came across this lifestyle, it’s likely that you have some burning questions. This post aims to answer them all and point you to some more detailed resources you may find helpful. Read on to learn everything you’re dying to know about a plant-based diet.
This is meant to be a lengthy guide, covering a number of different subtopics. To help you navigate around, use the table of contents links below to skip to the parts that interest you the most. Or just read through the whole thing to get a good primer.
Disclaimer: This article and all linked content are meant to inform and inspire. They should not be considered a substitute for medical advice. If you have any health problems, you should discuss any dietary changes with your doctor.
- What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
- Variations of a Plant-Based Diet
- Diet vs Lifestyle
- Why Choose a Plant-Based Diet?
- How to Get Started on a Plant-Based Diet
- Tips for the Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
- The Plant-Based Food Groups
- Building Your Plate on a Plant-Based Diet
- Calorie Density on a Plant-Based Diet
- Can I Get Enough Nutrients on a Plant-Based Diet?
- Aren’t Plant-Based Diets Expensive?
- Taking Your Plant-Based Diet on the Road
- Common Obstacles on a Plant-Based Diet
- Recommended Resources
- The Bottom Line
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is a pattern of eating that seeks to emphasize plant foods and significantly reduce or eliminate animal products for various reasons. (We’ll get to those later.) The diet focuses on a variety of plant foods including fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Variations of a Plant-Based Diet
You may have noticed that there are several different acronyms or variations associated with a plant-based diet. This is because there are varying degrees of plant-based eating that focus on different aspects. Let’s clear up any confusion by going over some of these now.
WFPBD – Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
A whole food plant-based diet has an emphasis on plant foods in their whole or minimally processed forms. Those following this pattern of eating aim to avoid or eliminate animal products as well as heavily processed foods, including processed sweeteners, junk foods, and those made with heavily refined ingredients.
What constitutes a whole food? A good rule of thumb is to aim for foods where nothing harmful has been added and nothing beneficial has been taken away.
Take rice for example. Brown rice is eaten with no additional processing. Whereas white rice has had the outer bran and germ layers polished away. Those outer layers contained much of the fibre and nutrients. So, to get white rice, something beneficial has been taken away.
If we look at peanut butter, we can find natural varieties that contain only peanuts. Those are a great choice. However, you can also find varieties with added oils, emulsifiers and sugars. In those cases, something harmful has been added.
This should give you an idea of what to look for when you’re shopping for whole or minimally processed foods. The ingredient label is also a great tool to use in guiding your decisions.
Examples of whole foods: Vegetables and fruits in their whole forms, intact grains, legumes like beans and lentils, as well as nuts and seeds in their whole form.
Examples of minimally processed foods: natural nut and seed butter, hummus and bean dip, whole grain noodles, etc.
WFPBNO – Whole Food Plant-Based No Oil
This variation of a whole food plant-based diet follows the guidelines outlined above as well as avoiding or eliminating added oil and products containing added oil. This is done to avoid some of the health concerns associated with consuming refined oils, like an increased risk of heart disease.
Oil is not considered a whole food, as most of the nutrients the food contained are eliminated in the processing. This includes most of those beneficial antioxidants and plant compounds. For more detailed information on oils and whether or not they can be considered healthy, check out this post.
WFPBNSOS or SOS free – Whole Food Plant-Based No Salt Oil or Sugar
This is another variation on the whole food plant-based pattern. It follows those guidelines with the additional exclusion of added salt, oils and sugars. The reason for this is that those 3 additives are used in highly processed foods to make them hyper-palatable and addictive. As a result, we’re drawn to eat more of them and end up suffering the consequences.
This variation is often suggested for those who suffer from food addiction. By removing the additives that make us addicted to food, people can gain control over their consumption and move on to have a healthy relationship with food again.
The Daily Dozen
The Daily Dozen is a guideline suggested by Dr. Michael Greger, founder of nutritionfacts.org and author of “How Not to Die” and “How Not to Diet”. Dr. Greger and his team pour over all of the English language research studies published on nutrition and distill them down into short videos or blog posts that the general public can understand.
His daily dozen is a list of food guidelines that research has shown to aid in disease avoidance and promote longevity. The list includes health-promoting foods like beans, berries, cruciferous vegetables, greens, whole grains and more.
Nutritarian is a phrase coined by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. The basic premise is that your long-term health is dependent on the amount of nutrients per calorie you consume.
This variation is similar to a whole food plant-based SOS-free diet, with an additional focus on nutrient-dense foods dubbed G-BOMBS. This stands for greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds.
This variation also includes some light intermittent fasting, as they recommend leaving a minimum of 13 hours between your dinner and breakfast the next day.
While the variations above focus mainly on what you eat, vegan is an ethical lifestyle that aims to exclude all animal products in all aspects of life. This extends to include not only what you eat, but also the clothes you wear (leather, wool etc.) and the products you use on your body and around the home (free of animal by-products and not tested on animals). The main focus is to exclude any product or service that exploits animals in any way.
It’s important to note here that while most of the variations above focus both on what to eat and avoid, a vegan diet only really focuses on what you don’t consume. So, something labelled as vegan, simply tells you that it doesn’t contain any animal products.
You may feel the pull to live this ethical lifestyle for the animals as well as your health and that’s perfectly okay.
If this is the case, there’s a rule of thumb to keep in mind: Just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
There are tons of vegan foods on the market today (which is AWESOME), but not all of them will fall in line with your health goals. To ensure your food meets all of your ethical AND health goals, you’ll need to become adept at reading labels. Luckily, I’ve got an in-depth post on label reading to help you out in this area.
Which Variation Should I Follow?
This is an easy question for me to answer because I can’t make this decision for you. The only person who can answer this question is you, based on your personal goals and motivations. You have to do what feels right to you, or else you’ll never stick to it.
My advice is to read over the different descriptions and see what feels right to you. You may try out different variations or even combine them to come up with a dietary pattern that best meets all of your needs. Don’t get hung up on the labels, you do you boo. I’ll be here to help you eat more plants no matter what.
Some things to consider:
What are your main motivations?
- Ethics, environment, health, or a combination of the 3?
Do you have any health conditions or family history of health conditions?
- Those trying to heal from health conditions may want to consider a stricter guideline to help with that diagnosis.
Do you suffer from food addiction?
- If so, an SOS-free approach may help you regain your freedom from this common addiction.
The only right answer is the one that works for you. Don’t get hung up on the labels and don’t assume that you only have one choice. Ultimately, the guidelines you follow are likely to evolve over time based on your current motivations and needs. Embrace the journey.
Diet vs Lifestyle
I want to take a moment here to really stress an important point. Eating plant-based is not another fad diet. Most fad diets focus solely on weight loss, often sacrificing your long-term health in the process. Diets also tend to be temporary in nature. Something you muscle your way through to meet a specific goal, and then promptly abandon once you’ve reached that goal.
A plant-based diet is a lifestyle choice. Whether you’re an ethical vegan or looking to take care of your health, both require lifelong changes rather than temporary ones. After all, temporary changes will only ever net you temporary results.
This means that it is vitally important to make this change in a way that is sustainable for you. The good news is, with some practice, it becomes easy to convert old favourites into plant-based versions that are in line with your personal goals.
Why Choose a Plant-Based Diet?
As I noted above, there are many reasons why someone may choose to adopt a plant-based diet. Those reasons tend to fall into one of 3 categories: health concerns, environmental concerns and ethical concerns. Let’s briefly discuss them each now.
The typical western diet today tends to be calorie-dense and nutrient-poor. It’s estimated that less than 5% of the western world consumes an adequate amount of fibre and nearly 75% don’t consume enough fruit or vegetables. The results are not surprising, disease rates continue to soar as today, more people die of lifestyle-related diseases than ever before.
Many have been led to believe that these diseases are genetic, and there’s nothing they can do to stop them. However, the science behind the plant-based diet offers an empowering message. We have power over our future health destiny, and that power lies at the end of our forks.
“Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.”Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Now it is believed that genetics could make up as little as 20% of the equation. The other 80% has to do with our lifestyle choices. This grants us more control than many realize.
There has been a staggering amount of research to demonstrate that a whole food plant-based diet can reduce the risk for diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer. In some cases, it can even halt the progression and reverse these killers. For more detailed information on the health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet, check out this post.
Most people know by now that our planet is in crisis. Leading scientists are calling for large-scale changes in an effort to reverse the damage before it’s too late. One such change they are calling for is to significantly reduce meat consumption. Here are some stats to explain why this is:
- Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all modes of transportation combined. (Approximately 51% comes from livestock and their byproducts, whereas about 13% comes from transportation)
- Raising livestock is a thirsty business. The amount of water consumed to net 1 hamburger is equivalent to about 2 months of showers. 55% of the water used in the USA is for animal agriculture, while only about 5% is for domestic use.
- Raising livestock also takes a lot of space. 1.5 acres of land can produce 37,000 pounds of plant foods or 375 pounds of meat. This leads to continued deforestation (and rainforest destruction) in an attempt to meet an unsustainable demand for animal-based products.
One thing is painfully clear, the current food model is unsustainable. As the population grows, we continue to trash our planet to attempt to meet growing demands. That is why the most powerful change an individual can make is to rethink the food they put on their plates.
It’s common knowledge that the life of a farm animal is short and often brutal. Glimpses into the factory farming system show just how bad it can get. This is often hidden from the public as it wouldn’t sit well with people if they were witness to it. Beyond food, animals are abused and mistreated to test cosmetics and to make clothing for our consumption.
Those who choose a plant-based diet for ethical reasons do so to avoid supporting an industry that continually takes part in animal cruelty. Animals are sentient beings that experience emotions and feel pain (unlike plants). We also don’t need to consume animal products to be healthy (in fact, consumption increases risks for many diseases). So, this makes eating plant-based an easy choice.
How to Get Started on a Plant-Based Diet
When I first learned about a plant-based diet I was intrigued by all the benefits, but I had no idea how to make the transition. I knew it was going to require an enormous change on my part, but I was a little intimidated about how I was going to tackle this huge shift.
The most important thing I learned about transitioning is that there is no wrong way to do it. The right way to get started is the way that works for you. Let’s go over some options and the pros and cons of each.
Some people choose to jump in with both feet and transition all at once. They are so excited to start their health journey that they run at it headfirst and don’t look back.
This process involves a few steps:
1) Educate yourself about what foods to purge and what to include (like you have in this guide)
2) Grab a couple of plant-based cookbooks, search up some appetizing recipes on Pinterest or check out my recipes page for inspiration.
3) Go through your kitchen and purge all of the items you will no longer be eating. All meat, dairy products, eggs and anything containing animal products. This list will depend on which variation you’re following. You may also be purging heavily processed foods, highly refined sweeteners, oil and products containing those as well.
4) Make a grocery list and head to the market to restock your fridge and pantry. For more details on what this should include check out my post on how to stock your plant-based kitchen.
5) Start making delicious plant-based meals to enjoy with your family.
It’s the most direct route and one that a lot of people choose to take. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the cold tofurkey method.
- It’s the fastest way to transition
- It’s the best way to get rid of any processed food addictions. Suffer for a short period but your palate will reset and you’ll start to enjoy the taste of whole unprocessed foods again.
- Ideal for those who find change exciting and who are eager to start seeing results.
- Can be overwhelming for those who are uncomfortable with change
- It may not be ideal for families with young children
- You’re likely to have a few dud meals in the beginning. Hang in there, you’ll find your groove and get a better sense of what you enjoy.
Slow & Steady
If the idea of diving right in gives you the cold sweats, you may want to take the slow and steady approach. This method involves making small, manageable changes over a set period of time. Taking a little time to get comfortable with each before tackling the next change.
This can be approached in a couple of different ways:
One Meal at a Time
In this method, you start by eating one plant-based meal every day for a week (or however long it takes to get comfortable with it) before moving on to the next meal. You could start by mastering your plant-based breakfast before moving on to lunch, and finally dinner.
One Food Type at a Time
As the name suggests, transitioning this way involves slowly giving up one food item (or group) and getting comfortable with that before moving on to the next. For example, giving up highly processed foods, then moving on to meat, then dairy products, eggs, and eventually highly refined sugars and oils (if you choose to go oil-free). How you group these foods and how many you eliminate at once is entirely up to you.
As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to this method. Let’s go over them now.
- It’s a gentle way to transition, ideal for families with young children.
- It allows you to get comfortable with some new foods before changing out others. Which is ideal for those who aren’t very adventurous about food.
- Slow sustainable changes work well for people who are apprehensive of change or feel overwhelmed when taking on too much at once.
- It’s a longer transition which may delay some of those positive results.
- This can make some feel frustrated at their perceived lack of progress.
- If you aren’t consistently making meaningful changes, this process could get dragged out over a much longer time than you intended or abandoned altogether.
I truly believe there is no wrong way to make this transition. What matters is that it works for you. Think it over and choose the method that feels like the best fit for you.
What You Can Expect During the Transition
Some people can make large changes to their diet without the slightest hiccup. For others, however, large changes can cause some temporary discomfort. The degree to which you experience any side effect depends on how well your body handles change and what your diet looked like before the transition.
During the transition, you may (or may not) temporarily experience the following:
These can include headaches, skin breakouts, or withdrawal-like symptoms. This is often a result of withdrawal from stimulants like caffeine or sugar. It can also occur as the result of your body clearing out the chemical additives often found in highly processed food. The best way to handle these symptoms is to drink plenty of water to facilitate this process and rest as needed.
Some people experience a lot of gas when they begin eating more legumes. This is often due to the high fibre content as well as some compounds contained in certain foods like beans.
To help counteract this gas you can:
- Soak your beans before cooking
- Add a bay leaf or seaweed to the cooking water for beans and legumes
- Move regularly to help trapped gas move through your digestive system
For more tips on how to deal with a sudden uptick in digestive gas, check out this post here.
This is a common side effect in the beginning. It’s typically due to the sudden uptick in fibre.
Most of the western world is considered fibre deficient. It takes certain types of gut bacteria to handle fibrous plant food. If your diet was not exactly a fibre parade, it can take some time for your gut to catch up.
You can help ease constipation by drinking lots of fluids or by adjusting your fibre intake slowly. It’s recommended to add fibre gradually, by about 5 additional grams per week to allow your gut to catch up.
It’s important to remember that during this transition your gut microbiome is going through a major overhaul. Meat-loving bacteria will be dying off while plant-munching bacteria will be slowly growing in numbers.
This is a beneficial change as those meat-loving bacteria are responsible for some harmful by-products that increase the risk of disease. Thankfully, those plant-loving gut bugs that will replace them are very health-promoting.
It’s perfectly normal to experience a little digestive discomfort while this process is happening. It can take a few days to a few weeks for this changeover to occur. Be patient, soon your digestion is going to be so much smoother.
Tips for the Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
Change can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s all about how you approach it. Here are some tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
Find Your Why
The first step in making any meaningful change in your life is to identify your motivation. What’s your ‘why’? What drove you to say “I’m doing this!” These reasons will be different for everyone and can be deeply personal. I encourage you to sit with yourself for a few minutes and identify your main reason for making this change.
Know that reason. Revel in that reason. Remember that reason. Whether you write it down and hang it in your kitchen, turn it into a picture for the lock screen on your phone, or journal about it to get your feelings down. Have something you can refer back to that will remind you of your ‘why’ whenever you are feeling weak.
When things get hard people tend to quit because they stop focusing on why they started in the first place. Make sure to remind yourself of your unique reasons. Post it around or keep it visible if that will help you.
These early days, when you may be groping around feeling like you don’t know what you are doing, you are going to be at your weakest. Just know that you will learn all you need to know and figure out all those things you are unsure of. It gets easier, I promise. It eventually becomes second nature and you won’t even have to think about it.
Make a List
When change feels difficult, it can help to establish a comfort zone that you can slowly expand on. To do this, sit down and make a list of food and meals you enjoy that are already plant-based. You may be surprised by how many you come up with. Things like whole-grain toast with nut butter, avocado toast, salads, pasta with marinara sauce, baked potatoes, etc.
Next, add meals to the list that require only small modifications to make them plant-based. Things like chili made with beans or lentils instead of ground meat, oatmeal made with plant milk instead of cow’s milk, or fajitas made with mushrooms instead of meat.
Then star the items that can be prepared quickly. These quick meal ideas can be your safety net if you don’t have time to tackle a new recipe, or if a new recipe doesn’t go as well as planned.
Hang this list on the fridge to help out when you have no idea what to make. This list can serve as your comfort zone. As you find new plant-based recipes and foods that you love, add them to the list and watch your comfort zone grow!
Stock Your Kitchen for Success
Nothing hampers progress like a lack of options. If you open your fridge or pantry and think “there’s nothing to eat” you’re more likely to fall back on old habits and reach for an old favourite or head to the drive-thru window.
This is why I always suggest keeping a clean environment. This simply means choosing not to have foods on hand that you are actively trying to avoid. After all, you can’t eat what you don’t have. Instead, fill your kitchen with lots of plant foods that appeal to you. A well-stocked kitchen will aide in your progress.
For more detail on how to stock your plant-based kitchen, check out this post.
The Plant-Based Food Groups
Okay, so you’re avoiding the animal products, and perhaps some other foods. What does that leave you with in terms of food options? Despite what you may be thinking, LOTS! It’s currently estimated that there are more than 20,000 edible plant species on the planet. Some sources have this figure up in the hundreds of thousands. Regardless of what the actual number might be, the point is that there is no shortage of plant-based foods for you to enjoy.
Let’s go over the plant-based food groups to give you an idea of what your plant-based diet will look like.
If you’re coming from a low-carb or paleo diet, you may have some fear surrounding grain products. To that, I will say that whole grains can be very health-promoting. But, as it always does in nutrition, quality counts. While unrefined and intact grains can be very health-promoting, refined grains are not. So, it’s important to focus on WHOLE grain products.
Whole grains have been shown to help stabilize blood sugars, clear excess cholesterol and estrogen from the blood, reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke and more. They also provide fibre and complex carbohydrates that your body uses as energy, as well as important vitamins and minerals.
Examples of whole grains: Oats, wild rice, millet, barley, quinoa, bulgur, buckwheat and more.
Legumes are nutrient powerhouses, plain and simple. These little gems are packed with protein, fibre and important minerals like iron and calcium. Legume consumption has been linked to better blood sugar control, better weight control, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and more. They are also extremely economical. Dried beans and lentils are some of the most cost-effective proteins available today.
Examples of legumes: Beans, lentils, edamame, tofu, tempeh, peas and more.
Fruits and Vegetables
This food group offers so much but is often overlooked in the typical western diet. Fruit and vegetables are going to provide you with a myriad of micronutrients, antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds. These foods are nutrient-dense but low in caloric density, meaning you can (and should) eat them in large quantities.
As Dr. Michael Greger so succinctly put it:
“We should all be eating fruits and vegetables as if our lives depend on it – because they do”Dr. Michael Greger
Examples of fruits and vegetables: Berries, apples, pears, citrus fruits, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, leafy greens, bell peppers and so much more.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds may be more calorie-dense than the other plant-based food groups, but they offer a lot in terms of nutrition. They provide protein, antioxidants and are a good source of healthy fats. Walnuts, in particular, are high in protective omega-3 fats, while brazil nuts have been effective in lowering cholesterol levels.
Nuts and seeds can be incorporated in a number of ways. Whether you sprinkle them over a dish, add them to a healthy trail mix or blend them into a creamy sauce or dressing.
Examples of nuts and seeds: Walnuts, cashews, pecans, flax seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds and more.
Building Your Plate on a Plant-Based Diet
If you’re new to a plant-based diet, you may be wondering what your meals should look like. Most of us grew up with meat as the centrepiece of all our meals. Shifting away from that can leave you feeling a little lost. Not to worry, you’re just going to build your plate a little differently than you are used to.
The plant-based plate is built around a starch or a combination of starches. This can include starchy vegetables (think potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, etc.), grains (rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, etc.), or legumes (beans, lentils, and more). Aiming for about ¼ of your plate as legumes, and another ¼ as a whole grain or starchy vegetable is a great idea. The other half of your plate should be mainly non-starchy vegetables and/or fruit. Nuts & seeds can be featured as a condiment to your dish.
- Beans and rice with a side salad
- Lentil bolognese with lots of veggies
- Loaded baked potato with your favourite veggies, beans, some cashew cheese sauce and a side of steamed broccoli
- A buddha bowl with greens, your grain of choice, some roasted chickpeas and your favourite veggies.
If you really get stuck, a good rule of thumb is a grain, a green, and a bean. This free guide will provide more meal combinations to keep you going. The possibilities are endless, and you definitely won’t be lacking for things to eat.
Just focus on eating a good variety of plants to get all of your nutrients. Nutrient diversity is very protective to your health, so rotate in different foods and make sure you’re aiming for a rainbow throughout the day. For more detailed information on how to build your plant-based meals, check out this post.
Calorie Density on a Plant-Based Diet
I should talk a bit about calorie density here, as it’s a pretty important concept for any plant-based newbie. Calorie density refers to the number of calories in an item relative to a certain measurement. So, calories per bite, or calories per serving. For continuity, the chart below is in calories per pound.
Some people, after transitioning to a plant-based diet will notice they frequently feel hungry. Some will take this to mean that they need meat to feel good and satisfied. This is just not the case. If you are often feeling hungry, chances are good that you just aren’t eating enough calories.
Calorie Density and Portion Sizing
Plant foods are lower in calorie density than animal products, processed foods and oils. So, if you are serving yourself a similar amount of plant food as you would have eaten in animal-based foods, you’re going to be consuming fewer calories. This is helpful if weight loss is one of your health goals, but you want to be sure you provide your body with enough energy to get through your day. So be aware that you may need to eat larger portions than you previously did in order to get the same number of calories.
If you take a look at the table above, you’ll get a good idea of the difference in calorie density between the standard western diet (items in red) and a plant-based diet (items in green and yellow). If you are eating nothing but leafy green salads, you’re going to be hungry often. You need to ensure you’re eating adequate starches (grains, legumes and starchy vegetables) to round out your meals so you feel satisfied. You can even top them with some calorie-dense nuts or seeds to make them more filling.
As a simple guideline, the items in green should be eaten freely, items in yellow eaten in moderation and items in red should be avoided. Beyond that, just listen to your body, eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
Can I Get Enough Nutrients on a Plant-Based Diet?
The short answer is yes. But when are we ever satisfied with short answers? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.Position paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The key point there is appropriately planned. Eating a healthy plant-based diet is about a variety of nutrients and foods. If you’re eating nothing but mock meat substitutes and french fries, your health will reflect that.
Instead, aim for a good variety of all of the plant-based food groups discussed above to ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients your body needs. If you aren’t sure what proportions to enjoy them in, download my free ‘What’s for Dinner?’ guide. It provides tons of plant-based meal combinations set out in the ideal proportions that will help you feel your best.
In terms of nutrients, there are a couple of things that you may not be able to get from food alone. Let’s go over those now.
B12 is an important vitamin for our nervous system. It is not present in food today unless it has been fortified (some non-dairy milk and packaged foods like cereals and nutritional yeast are fortified with B12 as well as other vitamins). B12 deficiency is pretty serious and is common, even among those who eat meat.
This is because B12 is actually made by microbes found in the dirt and soil. As our society implemented more sanitary practices, natural access to this vitamin diminished.
Your best course of action is a simple supplement. Either 200+mcg of B12 daily or 2000+mcg once a week will keep you covered. I prefer the weekly dose as it’s easier to remember (a Monday morning routine) and a bottle will last us a long time.
The other vitamin people (omnivores and plant-eaters alike) have trouble obtaining in optimum levels is vitamin D. Nicknamed the ‘sunshine vitamin’, we can make some when exposed to the sun’s rays, but this is often difficult in the colder months. You may get some from mushrooms, or fortified foods, but many still tend to be deficient.
Since vitamin D3 has been found to potentially decrease overall mortality, it’s not a bad idea to consider a supplement.
The recommended amount is 2000 IU a day to get you into the optimal range. If you are overweight or elderly, you may want to consider increasing that amount to 3000-4000 IU a day to get you into the optimal range.
Plant-based nutrition is a large topic that warrants a guide of its own. Check out the recommended reading section below for some more in-depth articles on plant-based nutrition.
Aren’t Plant-Based Diets Expensive?
Some people feel that a plant-based diet is inherently expensive. This can be true or false, but the answer depends on how you shop. If you purchase lots of mock meat products and processed vegan alternatives, those can become quite pricey. If you shop exclusively at specialty markets or health food stores, those can also be more expensive.
However, if you stick to unprocessed foods, your plant-based staples are actually rather economical. Plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, peas and tofu are much less expensive than any animal-based protein you will find. Other plant-based staple foods like oats, potatoes, rice, and bananas are also pretty inexpensive.
When you stop to think about it, plant-based diets can be rather inexpensive. Personally, I spend much less on my groceries now than I did before we went whole food plant-based. For more tips and tricks on how to save money on your groceries, check out my post on eating plant-based on the cheap.
Taking Your Plant-Based Diet on the Road
Most people think it’s pretty easy to eat plant-based at home, but they fear that it’s nearly impossible to get a plant-based dish on the go. It’s actually much easier than you may be thinking. Let’s discuss how to take your plant-based diet on the road.
Eating Plant-Based at Restaurants
Plant-based diets have been steadily growing in popularity. This means that businesses are finally starting to answer the demand. Today, there are more vegan and plant-based restaurants than ever before. This means there are always options for places to eat.
What if not everyone in your party is digging the plant-based vibe? No problem. Most restaurants today now offer at least a few plant-based options on their menus.
Some tips for dining out:
- Check out the menu online ahead of time if you can. This allows you to scrutinize the menu without everyone else staring at you while they patiently wait to order.
- If you can’t find a plant-based main, check out the sides section of the menu. Often you’ll find things here like baked potatoes, rice, beans, and other sides you can cobble together into a filling meal.
- Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re unsure whether a menu item is made with animal products. The servers are well versed in the menu and will be able to guide you to something that suits your preferences.
For more helpful restaurant tips, check out my post on dining out on a plant-based diet.
Travelling on a Plant-Based Diet
You may be sitting there thinking that it’s all well and good to eat plant-based in your own city, but feeling a little lost when t comes to hitting the road. Don’t sweat it, there are plant-based options available anywhere in the world. A little preparation in advance will leave you feeling confident wherever you go.
Some tips for travelling plant-based:
- Choose your accommodations wisely. It can be helpful to choose a hotel or Airbnb with access to a kitchen (or kitchenette) so you can do some of your own cooking.
- Do some online recon. Look up nearby markets and restaurants that serve plant-based foods.
- Get over the language barrier by making a list of words for animal-based foods in the language of the country you are travelling to. This will help you figure out what foods items to avoid on the menu.
- It can also be helpful to learn how to ask for vegan or plant-based options in the language of the country you are travelling to.
For more handy travel tips, check out my guide to plant-based travel.
Common Obstacles on a Plant-Based Diet
It can be difficult to make big changes in your life, but that’s no reason to stay stuck where you are. Planning for obstacles is the key to success. Let’s go through some common obstacles and how to work around them.
Isn’t it funny how the minute you choose to start eating healthier everyone around you suddenly becomes an expert in nutrition? You may experience some push back from those around you. This is often because your choices are challenging their beliefs, causing some psychological stress referred to as cognitive dissonance.
Try not to sweat it, as these reactions have nothing to do with you. Instead, do your own research to ensure that you are well informed and comfortable with your choices. This way, negative comments from others won’t make you second guess yourself. You’ll be better able to ignore them and keep doing you.
It’s common to go through periods where you crave some of the old foods you are used to. This is by design, as many of those foods were formulated to be addictive. It can take a few weeks for your palate to adjust so you begin enjoying the taste of whole foods over highly processed foods.
During this time, be patient with yourself. It takes time to establish new habits, and your brain is going to remind you of old routines for a while. The good news is, your brain loves to find routine and patterns in your actions. So, it will adapt to the new, healthier habits you are forming.
Try indulging in your cravings in a way that still fits in with your health goals. For me, that often means adapting baked goods so they contain healthier ingredients. Or making some oil-free baked tortilla chips or french fries for those savoury cravings. For more tips on dealing with food cravings, check out this post.
Making the Transition Alone
What happens if you’re all gung-ho and ready to go plant-based, but your family is not? Well, this can be a tough one. Having support is a huge predictor of success, but cajoling people into doing something that they aren’t ready for is no way to gain support. In fact, it’s likely to hurt your chances at success rather than helping.
Luckily there are a few ways around this. You can approach the transition with a friend, or join a plant-based community online. It can be really helpful to have some people to talk to who know what you’re going through. They can offer support and advice that you may not be able to get at home.
For mealtimes, consider making a plant-based meal and allowing other members of the family to add their animal products to it if they wish. This way, they are still benefitting from the nutrients contained in your plant-based meal. They may even begin to enjoy them. This method grants them the space to change their minds over time and come to the decision on their own.
For more tips on how to deal with being the only plant-based eater at home, check out this post.
Social functions can be tough when you’re new to plant-based eating. Here you are, getting into your groove when suddenly you’re put into a situation where it can be hard to find a viable food option. It can be tough at first, but with some practice, you will get the hang of it.
Here are some tips for navigating social situations while living the plant-based life:
- Try to go in with a positive attitude and compassion. Don’t judge what other people are eating or you can be absolutely sure they’ll have something to say about what you’re eating. You do you and never mind the rest.
- Offer to bring a dish. If it’s appropriate to the event, bring a dish to share. Aim for something substantial and filling in case it ends up being your only plant-based option.
- If possible, bring a friend or partner who eats plant-based as well. This can help you feel more comfortable, and if they bring a dish too, you’ll have at least 2 plant-based options.
As a reformed picky eater myself, I totally understand how scary this change can feel. When I went plant-based, I was not a super fan of vegetables, beans were not my favourite and the idea of trying new foods made me feel more than a little uncomfortable. The good news is, you can learn to love new foods. If I could do it, I have full faith that you can too.
My biggest piece of advice for the less adventurous eater that wants to make this change is to start with foods that you’re already comfortable with. Even if your idea of vegetables consists of potatoes and iceberg lettuce. Start with the foods that you like while slowly adding new things to crowd out the foods you want to avoid. It can take some getting used to, but you will begin to enjoy new foods and flavour profiles.
I have lots of different articles with tips on this topic, so be sure to check out the recommended reading section below.
I Don’t Have Time to Cook
I hear ya. It can be tough to find time to cook healthy meals, especially when you’re feeling tired at the end of a long workday. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, this has more to do with priorities than it does with time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and if it’s important to us to eat healthy meals, we’ll find a way to make it happen, right?
It’s a worthy thing to prioritize too, because when we don’t make the time to take care of our health, we then have to make time for illness, and nobody wants to spend their downtime like that.
Luckily, there are lots of different ways to save time on your meal prep. First and foremost, keep your meals simple. It doesn’t have to be Insta-worthy in order to be nourishing and delicious. Take the pressure to create big elaborate meals off of yourself and stick to the basics.
You can bake a potato in the microwave in 5 to 7 minutes. While it’s cooking you can drain a can of black beans and prep a simple salad or steam some vegetables. Serve with some salsa and guacamole and you have yourself a nourishing meal.
Batch cooking or meal prepping can also help save you time. This involves taking some time once or twice a week to cook foods in advance. Whether you batch full meals, or just longer cooking components like grains and beans, you’ll save time all week long.
Check out the recommended reading section below for time-saving tips, more information on batch cooking and a free workbook to help you plan for it.
I’ve tried to cover a lot in this guide (and link to other helpful posts too), but it would be impossible to cover everything here. So, feel free to take a browse around the site for other helpful articles, recipes and resources.
I’ll also link to some other plant-based resources that I highly recommend. Be sure to check them out when you can.
The Bottom Line
Phew! We covered a lot there. If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I sincerely hope this guide gives you a good grasp on the what’s, why’s and how’s of a plant-based diet.
It can be daunting at first (I know I was more than a little nervous) but you will quickly get the hang of it. I was very much a meat and potato kind of kid growing up and was not a fan of vegetables. I also tended to feel tired and crappy after a meal. Now, I get bummed if we run out of broccoli and I feel light and energized after my meals, as I should. The bottom line is, you may be feeling unsure of yourself and whether you can do this, but if I could do it, I wholeheartedly believe that ANYONE can do it.
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