A Beginner's Guide to a Plant-Based Diet

If you've been thinking about taking up a plant-based diet but aren't sure where to begin, this blog is for you. Today, we're talking about how you can continue enjoying many of your favourite foods and get the nutrition your body needs while making the switch to a plant-based diet.

Far from being prescriptive, increasing the number of plant-based foods you’re eating can actually open up your plate to a whole new world of foods and possibilities. There are also a wide range of documented health benefits of plant-based diets, including a decreased risk of death from heart disease, weight reduction, and a decreased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. New research even suggests that plant-based diets are linked to an abundance of bacteria in the gut associated with less inflammation, more than what is found in omnivores.

Some people jump completely into a plant-based diet cold turkey, while others need a gradual transition. Figuring out what’s right for you can take some experimenting, but following these six tips is a good way to get your feet wet before diving into the glorious (as well as delicious and nutritious) world of plant-based eating.


Tip 1: Take a Look at All of the Options Available

When you hear the phrase "plant-based," many are quick to assume that going on a plant-based diet means eating leafy salads for every meal. While we love a great salad, it's important to incorporate a variety of foods into your meals. The next time you go shopping, be sure to explore the many meatless food choices available. Whether it's pasta, quinoa or black-bean tacos, you have an abundance of options to choose from, so don't feel the need to swap out everything you love.


Tip 2: Start Your Days Strong With a Nutritious Smoothie

An easy way to load yourself up on a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables is to get into the habit of starting the day with a nutritious smoothie, which will help give you that all-too necessary boost of energy and confidence in the morning. For an extra health kick, there are also a variety of natural health products (NHPs) that you can add into the mix, as well. For example, I like to add a greens supplement into mine (which is something I've talked about before) to get the absolute most out of my morning smoothie routine.

Here is one of my favourite smoothie recipes for you to try out. Featuring the potent benefits of spirulina, and coupled with quercetin-rich berries and healthy greens, you can't help but feel healthier from the first sip!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (240 ml) organic spinach
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) organic raspberries
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) organic blackberries
  • 1 organic banana
  • 1 cup (240 ml) cashew milk
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) ice
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) spirulina 

Add the ingredients together, blend and enjoy! 


Tip 3: Aim for 75 Per Cent

In your daily meals, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables on your plate over time until you reach your goal. A simple measure of this is aim to cover 75 per cent (or three-fourths) of your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables. This is easiest way to measure your diet, as it will allow you to visually see the ratio of plants to other foods that you're eating.

Some people who are just starting out on a plant-based diet (many of whom go cold turkey) may feel hungry more often. This is because plant-based foods are much more nutrient-dense, which means that they deliver more nutrients with fewer calories. This is one of the reasons that plant-based diets have been shown to help people with long-term weight loss. So, fill that plate up with veggies more often if you need to, in order to compensate and ease yourself into your new diet. You can also curb your appetite by increasing your plant-based protein sources, since protein increases our feelings of satiety (or feeling of fullness).


Tip 4: Protein

A common stumbling block for those who are new to a plant-based diet is a belief that they’re not getting enough protein without meat. The plant world, however, is full of delicious and complete protein sources. In terms of protein, beans, legumes and nuts are staples, especially because they're so easy to toss into a salad. When thinking about transitioning, look at points in your diet where you can swap things out.

You can go one step further by slowly replacing some of your unhealthy snack food vices with better options. For instance, consider replacing your lunchtime bag of chips with nuts and seeds, such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts, which are a great source of protein and help to satisfy that crunchy craving in a healthier way. “Sometimes having that stepping stone is more important than saying it’s all or nothing.”

Spirulina (as featured in our smoothie recipe above), quinoa, hemp seeds, lentils, tofu and tempeh are other tasty and widely available plant-based protein sources. You can also visit your local CHFA Member health food store for plant-based protein supplements if you need an extra boost for your workouts.


Tip 5: Prepare a Plan to Go Meatless

Throughout life, your parents, teachers and mentors have always taught you to be prepared — and this is one of the many times to apply those lessons. Planning ahead is perhaps one of the best ways to help you stay on track of and reach your health goals (even beyond just your nutrition).

Remember that switching over to a plant-based diet doesn't have to happen with just the flip of a switch, and there's no reason why it has to. If your plan is to follow a vegan diet, start by cutting out red meats in your first month, followed by white meats in the second month, then fish the third month and so on. Take it slow and experiment by getting creative with recipes, and swap out the meats in your meals for veggie-based alternatives that you like. (For example, some people might find it difficult to give up hamburgers, but marinated, grilled portobello mushroom tops are an amazing swap for the beef or chicken patties.)

If you need motivation, keep in mind that by taking slow and steady steps to increase your vegetable intake, you’re going to be making a significant impact on your health and the environment!


Tip 6: Supplement

It's possible to meet all of your major nutrient needs through a plant-based diet, but many vegans and vegetarians find that supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin or protein powder can serve as a reliable nutritional add-on. Before making changes to your diet and healthy regimen, speak with your healthcare practitioner to see which supplements are right for you.

And these are our tips! Now start out simple by finding some recipes you love, get together with friends, and start enjoying a cleaner, plant-based diet.


Other Research

  • Vegetarians has 24 per cent reduction in risk of dying from ischaemic heart disease compared to non-vegetarians.
  • Veg diets help with weight reduction, even long-term (>1 year) (meta-analysis, 2016).
  • Lower blood pressure (meta-analysis, 2014).
  • “[Plant-based diets] are associated with decreased all-cause mortality and decreased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Evidence suggests that plant-based diets may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease events by an estimated 40 per cent and the risk of cerebral vascular disease events by 29 per cent. These diets also reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes by about one-half.”
  • New research even suggests that plant-based diets are linked to an abundance of bacteria in the gut that are linked to less inflammation than those found in the intestines of omnivores (human gut study, 2017). 

Michelle W. Book is the in-house holistic nutritionist and spokesperson for the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA). As a busy professional with a young family, Michelle strives to spread the message that small changes in our everyday lives can have significant, positive effects on our health and happiness.