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Starting a Plant Based Diet

Everywhere we turn, we hear something about plant-based diets. Maybe you see foods in the grocery store that claim to be plant-based, or the latest website or social media post is ranting and raving about the benefits of plant-based eating

The basis behind this diet is a decrease in the amount of processed and packaged items that you eat, which is well-known for improving health factors. 

So, what are plant-based diets, and are they healthy for you? How do you get started on a diet like this? First, let’s dive into the details, and then you can decide what’s best for you and your health.

Plant-Based Diets 101

If you’re curious about a plant-based diet, it’s simple – consuming primarily fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, heart-healthy oils, and whole grains while limiting processed items. Thankfully though, if you love a good grilled salmon or delicious weekend omelet, you can still enjoy these things! There isn’t one hardcore way to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet; you don’t have to eliminate meat or dairy products if you don’t want to! The overall goal is to have most of your intake coming from plant-based foods. 

This in and of itself isn’t exactly a “diet,” per se; in reality, it’ll be more of a lifestyle change, of the endless choices you make for your meals over time. So while there is no pre-determined plant-based diet, to be exact, it’s more of finding healthier substitutes for foods you would typically eat or see in the grocery store.  

8 Simple Steps to begin a plant-based

Start slowly, it will take time to adjust to a new healthier way to eat. Both the body and the mind are set in certain patterns and habits. Be kind and patient with yourself. It is process of evolving into a healthier person.

  1. Use the “Crowding” concept. Fill up the majority of your plate with vegetables, rather than meat. Make sure you include plenty of colors in choosing your vegetables.
  2. Meat portion control. Have smaller amounts of meat by reducing the serving size down to 4 ounces or less.
  3. Good fats. Fats in olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are particularly healthy choices.
  4. Start eating vegetarian one night a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
  5. Eat whole grains at breakfast. Start with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Then add some nuts or seeds along with fresh fruit.
  6. Go green. Try a variety of green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens each day. Steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry to preserve their flavor and nutrients.
  7. Big Salads. Fill a bowl with salad greens such as romaine, spinach, Bibb, or red leafy greens. Add an assortment of other vegetables along with fresh herbs, beans, peas, or tofu.
  8. Fruit for dessert. A ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.

Differences

Below are three of the more popular options in regards to particular ways of eating in a plant-based fashion. You might recognize one or two of them!

DASH: DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and is a popular diet with a significant focus on fresh fruits and veggies, while also incorporating lean protein (such as fish and poultry). The DASH diet has been shown to help prevent high blood pressure, since there is a decrease in processed (read: high in sodium, fat, and excess calories) foods and an increase in whole foods. 

Mediterranean: known more for being a guide, the Mediterranean diet is plant-based but not strict on the “rules.” Lots of fresh fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains are the foundation of this way of eating, which has also been shown to decrease disease risk and improve health factors. 

MIND: MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and combines critical ideas from the above diets. The difference with MIND is that the overall goal is to improve the brain’s functions and improve mental health as one ages. Fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, whole grains, and fish are recommended.

Just because these three diets are popular doesn’t mean they completely eliminate animal products; as you’ll note, both the DASH and MIND diets include meat! However, the guidelines here are to work these items into a diet in moderation while making good decisions about the quality of your protein options. For example, this could look like freshly baked chicken instead of fried chicken wings, a hearty piece of grilled salmon in place of a gooey cheeseburger, and maybe even trying tofu or tempeh instead of crispy bacon. 

Goals

While the main goal is to focus on consuming heart-healthy fats, fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, and whole grains, there will always be grey areas. So here are some tips to keep in mind when looking at your plant-based plate!

-Fats aren’t bad; in fact, we need them in our diet for multiple realms of health. However, some fats are better than others. Aim to cook with oils like olive, avocado, and coconut, limiting vegetable oil and butter.

Variety is key! Choosing fruits and veggies that give you an entire rainbow of colors will keep you interested in different foods and supply you with the vitamins and minerals that you need to function appropriately. 

-The inclusion of grains in your diet is essential for health. Aim to consume whole and minimally processed grains, like brown rice and hearty bread, while limiting white bread and white rice.

-Lean meats aren’t terrible for you; chicken and certain types of fish are beneficial and can help boost protein consumption. Try limiting processed and packaged red meats while getting fresh meat as often as possible. 

-Eliminate or reduce refined products. This includes white bread, sugar, cereals, snack bars, vegetable oil, and almost anything else pre-packaged!

Bottom Line

There’s no specific way to eat a plant-based diet…. that’s what’s so great about them! You can tweak your eating habits to fit your health and wellness goals, while still paying attention to foods that can be harmful. 

Moderation is key with any diet, and plant-based is no different. Don’t think you’ve got to turn into a vegetarian to reap the health benefits of eating more whole, nutrient-dense foods; instead, pay attention to foods that need to be limited (like red meats or unhealthy fats), and decrease consumption of packaged and processed foods. Over time, you’ll begin to notice that making subtle changes to your diet isn’t difficult – you’ll probably even enjoy the improved health benefits at the same time!