Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet + Tips for Making the Switch
Have you been thinking that switching to a plant-based diet makes a lot of sense, but you just don’t know where to start? You’re not alone! Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular because of their amazing benefits.
It’s one of the smartest things you can do to boost your overall health, have more energy, live a longer life, and take better care of the planet. Many chronic disease symptoms can be prevented, managed, or even reversed by going plant-based.
And your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and many other illnesses is significantly lower, too. Making the switch to a whole-food plant-based diet also reduces chronic inflammation and helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Here’s our beginner’s guide to a plant-based diet plus our top tips for making the transition easy and enjoyable!
The Basics: What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A whole-food, plant-based diet relies on natural plant foods to meet your nutritional needs. The focus is on whole unrefined, minimally processed foods that come from plants. You consume very limited or no animal foods, including meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and honey.
What Beginners Need to Know About Going Plant-Based
Making the switch to a plant-based diet doesn’t have to mean becoming a vegan or vegetarian. If you choose to, you can still consume small amounts of animal products. Consume mostly whole, plant-based foods is still considered a plant-based diet.
The Five Main Food Groups of a Plant-Based Diet
Here are the five main food groups of a whole-food, plant-based diet:
- Tubers and Root Vegetables
- Whole Grains
- Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes
The Benefits of Switching to a Plant-Based Diet
The benefits of a plant-based diet are numerous. They include:
- Better Overall Health: A whole-food, plant-based diet can prevent or slow the progress of many chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Those who go plant-based tend to live longer, too. That’s because plant foods tend to be higher in fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients while being lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.
As a result, you will probably also notice that you have more energy and can think more clearly throughout the day. You will likely feel healthier in general and experience fewer health complaints like headaches and tummy troubles.
- Easier Weight Management: A whole-food, plant-based diet eliminates the processed, sugar-filled foods that lead to obesity. It also incorporates more fruits and vegetables while reducing fatty meats, which means that people who follow this type of diet tend to be leaner without worrying about counting calories.
- It’s Better for the Planet: Eating plant-based is better for the planet because it’s more sustainable than eating meat grown on industrialized, factory farms. Meat-heavy diets require more natural resources and produce more greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re looking to live a greener lifestyle, making the switch to a plant-based diet is a great place to start.
Tips for an Easy Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
So, are you ready to make the switch? Here are our top tips for an easy and smooth transition to a plant-based diet.
1. Take Time to Educate Yourself
This is an incredibly important first step because it will help you define your reasons for making the switch to a plant-based diet. Educate yourself about the health and nutrition benefits of going plant-based. Learn about how animals on factory farms are treated and familiarize yourself with the environmental impacts of industrialized meat production.
2. Consider Your Mindset
You must approach this new way of eating with a positive mindset and an open mind. Remind yourself of all the wonderful things you’re gaining from transitioning to a plant-based diet, instead of dwelling on what you’re giving up.
This shouldn’t be about deprivation, willpower, or missing out. In fact, the more you experiment with plant-based eating, the more you’ll see that you’re really not missing out on anything. You’ll learn pretty quickly that vegan and vegetarian foods are just as delicious… and you’ll love the way they make you feel, too.
3. Substitute, Don’t Eliminate
If your normal dinner is something like a chicken breast with rice and a side salad, you’ll be pretty unsatisfied if you just take away the chicken and don’t replace it with something else. Instead of simply eliminating the meat, find a suitable plant-based substitute to replace it with, such as tofu, lentils, or beans.
4. You Don’t Have to Go Meatless All the Time
Remember, switching to a plant-based diet doesn’t have to mean becoming vegan- unless that’s what you want to do! But do consider experimenting with new plant-based meat replacements in your recipes to see what you like.
If you’re not ready to give up meat completely, try going meatless on certain days each week, such as Meatless Mondays. Or keep certain meals meatless, like no meat at breakfast or lunch, and then a small serving with dinner. It’s ok to do a little experimenting to see what works best for you.
5. Do Try to Eliminate Red Meat Though
If you decide to continue to eat meat occasionally, do consider eliminating red meat entirely. It may sound tough, but you’ll get more health benefits from your plant-based diet if you take the plunge. Red meat can take a major toll on your health, even in moderate amounts.
According to a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, eating just two servings of red or processed meats per week increases your risk of heart disease. It’s also difficult to digest, which makes it a leading cause of bloating and tummy troubles.
And of course, red meat is high in saturated fats, so it’s a major contributor to unhealthy weight gain.
6. Stick to Familiar Preparation Methods
There’s no reason to change everything at once. If chicken salad sandwiches are your favorite, make them the same way you always do but substitute chickpeas for the chicken. Or, if you’re crazy about barbeque, grill some tofu, slather it with barbeque sauce, and serve it with your favorite plant-based sides.
Need more ideas? Turn traditional beef chili into Three-Bean Chili. On Taco Tuesday, make your tacos with a lentil filling. Taking your favorite recipes from meat-based to plant-based really isn’t as difficult as you might think. Sticking to familiar recipes will make the transition to a plant-based diet so much easier.
7. Learn a Few Go-To Plant-Based Recipes
Switching to a new eating and cooking style can be challenging but learning a few go-to recipes can really help. As you begin to get more comfortable with converting your favorite recipes to plant-based, try rotating in some new recipes here and there.
Having a little fun and exploring new dishes, textures, and flavors is a great way to ease into this new lifestyle. Choose a few plant-based ingredients and recipes that really appeal to you and give them a try. If you love them, add them to your list of go-to meals.
If you don’t like it, find a way to modify it or try something else entirely. The more you experiment, the more you’ll learn about which plant-based foods and flavor combinations you like most. That’s the key to making a change you can stick to for the long haul!
8. Plan Ahead
Plan on doing meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prep about once a week, especially when you’re just getting started. This will make it much easier to stick to your new eating plan, it will save you money, and it will reduce food waste.
Once a week, sit down and plan out all of your meals for the week and make a grocery list. On your day off, go grocery shopping and prep your food as you put it away. You can simply wash and chop your produce, or you can batch cook your meals.
Either way, advanced planning and preparation are the keys to success anytime you’re making a major lifestyle change, and switching to a plant-based diet definitely qualifies.
9. Call Ahead Before Eating Out
Some restaurants don’t have a lot of plant-based options to choose from, but most do or are at least willing to modify a dish so it’s vegetarian-friendly. Planning is key when it comes to eating out or ordering in.
Call the restaurant and explain your dietary needs. Ask what options are on the menu and if the kitchen can accommodate your preferences. You will probably be pleasantly surprised to find that most restaurants are more than willing to work with you.
And remember, you don’t have to eat meatless at every meal. You can still enjoy your favorite restaurants in moderation, even if they don’t have vegetarian options. What matters is that you’re sticking to a mostly plant-based diet and eating fewer animal products overall.
The Takeaway Message: Progress, Not Perfection
Remember to give yourself some grace as you go through this process. Don’t be the person who has one slip up and then simply gives up. That’s the exact opposite of proactive thinking. It’s like dropping your phone and then purposely smashing it with your foot.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet shouldn’t be all or nothing. Mistakes are how we learn and grow. The key is to keep making progress, no matter how big or small. We are all just human after all.