A plant based diet is a way of eating based on whole, minimally refined plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole-grains, and legumes. It also includes small amounts of nuts and seeds.
Here are some tips for getting started on a plant-based diet. I have been on a plant based journey since I was 18, and I’ve learnt a lot over the years. I hop that I can offer some advice to help you get started on a plant-based diet.
Make achievable changes
It is up to you whether you want to jump straight in and switch to a completely plant-based diet straight away, or if you just want to transition step-by-step. When I became plant-based I made the change overnight. It was easy because I was single and cooking for myself. I didn’t have to worry about feeding children or a spouse. So it will depend on you and your circumstances as to what changes you want to make.
You don’t have to change everything straight away. The aim is to improve your health and well-being. The more whole plant foods you include in your diet, the healthier you will be and the better you will feel.
Start by eating more plant foods
Eat more food
You will find that you will be eating more food than what you used to eat. This is because plant foods are high in nutrient density but low in calorie density. They fill you up without causing you to take in too many calories. This is also the reason why people tend to weigh less on a plant-based diet.
Research shows that the people who eat the most food actually weigh the least. By ‘most food,’ I mean the greatest volume of food. Not the greatest amount of calories. Calorie dense foods are smaller in volume but high in calories (e.g. chocolate, cakes, fried food). They have lots of calories but won’t make you feel full.
Crowd out the bad food
By eating more food (whole plant foods) you will crowd out the food that is not health promoting. There will be less space on your plate and in your stomach for the meat, animal products and junk food.
This is a good way to transition children too. You can still offer animal foods if you wish, just make most of what they are eating whole plant foods. My kids in particular love potato, sweet potato, cucumber, tomato, corn, brown rice, wholegrain pasta and lentil burgers. Make sure there is plenty of the healthy plant foods on their plate that they enjoy so you know they are filling up on those foods.
Eliminate highly processed and refined foods
Highly processed and refined foods have little nutritional benefit. They are often high in calories, or high in oils and sugars, and low in fibre. They are usually expensive too.
Refined foods have most of the good stuff removed – fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Choose wholegrain and minimally refined foods.
Oils have been highly refined and have little nutritional value. They are comparable to refined sugar, in that they have had all the good stuff (fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals) removed, leaving only empty calories.
Eat until you are satisfied
You don’t need to deprive yourself when it comes to food. If you deprive yourself you will get hungry and it will make it harder to stick to a healthy diet.
Stock up on healthy plant foods
Focus on low fat plant foods
Make Healthy Swaps
You don’t need to come up with fancy new meals. Cook what your family already likes to eat, but make healthy swaps.
Cook food you enjoy
Instead of thinking about how you are missing out on eating meat, cheese etc, focus on all the new and interesting plant foods out there. There are so many flavours and cuisines to try (e.g. Indian, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Middle Eastern. You can use the abundant variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and legumes to make delicious, flavourful meals.
Keep it simple
When I first transitioned to a plant-based diet I kept my meals really simple. I focused on food that I already liked and based my meals on those foods. When I became plant based at about 18 years of age I didn’t really know how to cook, so I ate very simple, familiar food. I ate mostly brown rice (Asian style ‘fried’ rice), wholegrain pasta (with a dairy free pesto sauce), roasted veggies, salad, porridge (oatmeal) and wholegrain pancakes. There may have been one or two other things that I ate but I can’t remember what they were.
Over the years my repertoire has expanded and I eat a lot more variety, but in the early days, I still enjoyed these simple meals that I had on rotation. You don’t need to make your plant based meals complicated, fancy or expensive.
Don’t aim for perfection
Your ultimate goal doesn’t have to be eating whole plant foods 100% of the time. You don’t have to completely eliminate all processed and refined foods altogether, or straight away. Eating some processed foods occasionally isn’t going to ruin your health.
If you have a setback it doesn’t mean you need to give up or throw it all in. Just start again at the next meal. One mistake doesn’t mean failure.
The aim is to eat mostly whole plant foods most of the time. And this may take some time to achieve.