Updated: May 19
Start living a healthier and happier life with a plant-based diet. Whether you're trying to lose weight or just be healthier, a plant-based diet can help you get there.
There are lots of reasons people consider going vegan or plant-based. Some people want to feel and look better, learn how to cook healthier, have an easier time working out, or lose weight. Some people are thinking about the animals and the environment surrounding them, but all of these reasons share one thing in common — they're all very important!
Let’s explore more about a plant-based diet.
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Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Lower blood sugar
Lowers Your Risk of Heart Disease
Improves Kidney Function
May Help You Lose Weight
Lowers Cancer Risk
Good for Your Gut
Better skin health
Fewest food cravings
Understand the Food Groups
To begin, you'll need to know more about the food groups. The five major groups are grains, vegetables and fruits, dairy products, protein foods, and fats and oils. Understanding each section can help you build your meals properly so you receive sufficient nutrients from your diet.
The group of grains consists of foods like bread, rice, cereals, and pasta — foods that are rich in carbohydrates, which are an excellent source of energy.
The group of fruit and vegetables is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
The group of dairy products consists of food like milk, yogurt, and cheese. This group provides calcium for healthy bones and teeth.
The group of proteins consists of foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts — foods rich in protein, B vitamins (thiamin riboflavin niacin), iron, and zinc. These nutrients are essential for growth and repair.
And the last group has fat and oils. We need these too, but we need less of them than we do of the other food groups. They provide essential fatty acids (linoleic acid) needed for growth and development, vitamin absorption, and blood clotting. They also provide energy and help the body absorb some vitamins (A, D, E, K).
The US Department of Agriculture offers an excellent source of information about each food group that you might want to read, too.
Types of Vegetarians
There are different vegetarian diets. They are:
Vegans - this diet excludes all animal products from the diet, including honey.
Lacto-vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or foods that contain them. But they do include dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter.
Ovo-vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products, but allow eggs.
Lacto-Ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, and poultry, but allow dairy products and eggs.
Pescatarians do not eat meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs, but allow fish.
Flexitarian or semi-vegetarians restrict animal products, except on a few occasions.
How to Start a Plant-Based Diet
Now that you know the group of foods and why each one of them is important and having described the Plant-based or Vegetarian diets that exist, we can go over how to start your diet.
If you want to adopt a vegan diet for weight loss or health benefits, here are some tips that might help you make the transition:
1. The foundation of any successful endeavor is planning and preparation. If you fail to plan, there’s a good chance that your efforts will bring you back to your old habits and routines. So consider making a plan for how you will eat more plants.
2. Talk to your family. Make sure the people in your home are on board with the changes. This is important because they may have strong emotional attachments to the foods they are used to eating, and this can derail your best intentions. It’s also important because everyone has to eat, and if they don’t like what’s being served, they may revert to their old habits. Meet with everyone in your household individually before making any changes so that they know what is going on and help you stay motivated.
3. Know your sources of proteins. Remember, you cannot deprive your body of proteins. Consume food rich in proteins, either through animal products or through other sources like grains.
4. Do not cut off fats and oils completely. Like proteins, healthy fats and oils are essential to building certain components in our bodies. Therefore, choose small portions from healthy fat/oil sources, for example, avocados or olive oil.
5. Go slow. You don't have to go vegan overnight if it feels too overwhelming. Start by eating more vegetarian meals each week and gradually phase out meat from your diet until you've reached your goal. For example, you can start on the weekends. On Saturday and Sunday, don't eat meat, then start adding more plant-based meals as you get comfortable. You'll start seeing how easy it is to incorporate vegetables into every meal.
6. Focus on what you can eat instead of focusing on what is off-limits. It's easy to feel deprived when you're trying to give up meat, dairy, and eggs all at once. Instead of thinking about your favorite foods that you can't eat anymore, focus on all the delicious fruits, vegetables, and grains that you get to enjoy.
7. Have healthy snacks available. Snack on trail mix or homemade granola bars throughout the day for energy. That will help you get nutrients and feel full without adding too many calories.
8. Avoid temptations when doing grocery shopping. Fill your cart with all the healthy food that you need first and avoid passing by the aisle that has junk food.
9. Don't expect perfection. Being vegan doesn't mean never falling off the wagon again — it means doing your best to have a healthy lifestyle each day.
List of Foods and Substitutes Recommended for a Plant-Based Diet
There is plenty to choose from. These are only some examples, variety is something you won’t lack in a plant-based diet:
1. Nuts, seeds, and legumes: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, black beans, lentils, chickpeas.
2. Any fruits and veggies, including starchy vegetables: apples, bananas, oranges, berries, spinach, carrots, and potatoes.
3. Whole grains: quinoa, barley, whole wheat bread, brown rice.
4. Plant-based fats: olive oil, coconut oil, unsweetened coconut.
5. Sources of proteins: soy products, vegan meats, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables, and non-dairy products.
6. Substitutes for milk: almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, soy milk.
7. Several commercial brands sell a substitution for eggs, too, so you can enjoy your morning scrambles!
Whether you want to try a vegetarian diet for health, environmental, or other reasons, a plant-based diet can be an incredibly healthy one. The key is to get all of your essential nutrients mainly, from plant foods instead of animal products. Don't let the myth that you can't get enough protein on a vegetarian diet discourage you. Just have a balanced plant-based diet and reap the benefits.
And as always, stay healthy and come back for the next topic.
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