How to Start Your Plant-Based Journey, Including Exactly What to Buy
Scene: I'm standing in the checkout line at Whole Foods with my brother, our masks on, keeping our distance from one another and a woman behind me in line. She intensely watches me unload a bounty of plant-baed items, and starts asking me about everything I am unloading onto the black conveyor belt: "Do you like that? Is THAT good? What do you think of this?" The first two questions are directed at my Califia Almond Milk (love), my Violife cheese (double love), then her own oat milk coffee creamer (had not tried it but told her people do love). We began geeking out about our carts full of plant-based dairy-free alternatives, piles of fresh veggies, bags of fruits, and other healthy whole foods and before I knew it she was telling me that she is a nurse, she aches all over, and she is going lant-based for her health.
"I just decided to do it. Today is Day 1. I ache all over," she said, gesturing up and down her body, gesturing to her hips, but somehow including her elbows and knees and ankles, and shoulders and sweeping in every joint, and you could feel her authenticity. Here was this strong healing body that had gone through a year of unrelenting medical crises and now you could feel her excitement at the idea that she was starting to take care of herself. She may have been aching all over but her energy was ebullient, like a first grader on the first day of in-person school.
"Last night I watched What the Health, and that was it. I was done. I feel like I've been lied to and now I know the truth." She was referring to the powerful documentary about how the meat and dairy lobbies have controlled the dialogue, and now studies have begun to tell a different story, the undeniable proof, coming out from study after scientific study, that a whole food, plant-based diet has the power to lower chronic inflammation, the cause of diseases, chronic pain and unhealthy circulatory conditions.
Going plant-based is better for your long-term health and the environment
The past decade has delivered to us a cascade of research findings that have shown, definitively, that a diet of mostly plant-based foods is healthier for you, lowering inflammation (and reducing joint pain), as well as reducing the long-term risk of life-threatening diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and high blood pressure. "I feel I have been betrayed by all the wrong information, and my government that allowed that message to get out," this nurse said. For someone in the medical field, she knew she had seen the truth, and today was the day to get started. It was time for her to take control of her diet and her health. She said: "I am done." And she waved her bag of salad greens in the air like a victory flag.
I lingered a bit longer than I needed to, my groceries already bagged, I was so excited by her new plant-based enthusiasm and watching her embrace this new life, right there in front of me. I introduced myself as the editor of The Beet and asked her to please email me about her progress. I know these moments are happening all over the country, every day at stores like Whole Foods, Krogers, and online at Vejii and PlantX, and I felt like I was witnessing a tipping point, where more and more people are embracing a plant-based or plant-leaning approach to a healthier diet.
People I know (IRL and online) tell me every day that they are ready to lean into more plant-based eating, and they ask me about whether to try certain plant-based creamers, cheeses, butter spreads, ice creams–or they want to share that they've just been to an amazing vegan restaurant, or tried a new recipe. To them and to this healing woman whose name I never even learned, I say: Keep going. The best is yet to come.
Where do you start? With a decision, then at the store, buying plant-based products
That five-minute encounter inspired me to write about what it takes to start. Here are my tips for anyone excited to lean into plant-based eating or go fully plant-based. Start now and don't be too hard on yourself. Make it fun, have an "I'll try it" approach to new products, and tell yourself that if you mess up, it's no big deal, just keep going and do the best you can.
Not everyone wants to start all at once, as she did, or as I did. For anyone who wants to ease into it, there is always Meatless Mondays, or going Vegan Before 6. Either way, whether you try a day a week, then two, then three until you get to all seven or whether you want to go with a plant-based breakfast and lunch and eventually add in dinner, what works for you is what is best. Listen to your instincts and follow them. But take the step to start, and you'll be glad you did.
Tip 1. You can start any time or day. It's never too late to start a plant-based diet
There is no right time or best age to go plant-based. Today is as good as any. Don't wait until the time is right, just leap ahead. Do as she did: Watch an inspiring documentary like What the Health, and follow it up with Forks Over Knives, about the effects of a whole food plant-based diet on health, and the ability to use food as medicine to reverse symptoms of heart disease, lower cholesterol, dial down high blood pressure and reverse the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. The sooner you start, the healthier your body will be within just a few weeks, including lowering inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Take your measurements now so you can test your progress since this kind of health change is super motivating.
Try the free and easy 7 Day Beginner's Guide to a Plant-Based Diet from The Beet
Tip 2. Go to the store and buy substitutes. Here are the best swaps that we love
The kind of recommendations that we were doing at the checkout counter is exactly the purpose of our product reviews, which we call Beet Meters. That is where we taste test every new product and add our reviews and recommendations and ask you to do the same. Each product is given points (and has points taken away) on a 10 criteria list of health attributes and taste characteristics, such as No Weird Aftertaste, As Good As the Real Thing. As far as we know the Beet Meters are the only review system for plant-based products that give scores for both taste and health. The health attributes are written by an RD and include limits for total carbs and no added sugar per serving and require fiber and protein to get full marks. we want you to add your reviews as well since not everyone has the same tastebuds.
You may love Forager plant-based yogurt while someone else digs the fine granularity of Lavva's Hawaiian Pili Nut Yogurt lineup. I happen to be obsessed with Violife parmesan that I can grate like the real thing, Earth Balance spreadable butter and Miyoko's Creamery butter as a harder style of butter for when I want something to melt. When you find your substitutes stick with them but don't be scared to experiment.
For easy plant-based swaps, check out this Guide to 11 Easy Vegan Alternatives to Your Favorite Foods from a Nutritionist.
For the plant-based beginners who want a little helpful "starter kit," we created the 17 products to buy today to stock up on everything you need for a plant-based diet. Add to this your favorite fruits and veggies by the cart full: Artichokes, asparagus, avocados, Brussel sprouts, snap peas, potatoes and fruit and berries, as well as whole grains like Oatmeal
Check out our lineup of favorite plant-based products here:
- Love creamers? Here are The 12 Best Coffee Creamers with Real Cream Taste
- Cheese-aholic? Check Out Our 9 Favorite Dairy-Free Shredded Cheeses
- Here are The Best Plant-Based Milks, and also a story that tells you which are the best plant-based milk to drink for the environment.
- Ice cream is some of the best non-dairy food out there. We tried over 32 ice creams to come up with our list of favorites. Check these out. (It was a tough job but someone had to do it!) We let kids, the harshest critics, taste-test the best non-dairy ice creams You won't believe which one won.
- We tasted plant-based meat substitutes, including burger-style patties and veggie burgers, and found the ones that are better than the real thing.
- If you think you are going to miss pork, check out these meat alternatives that are better than pork, and better for you!
Tip 3. Go to the farmer's market or best produce section and load up on produce
There is nothing more inspiring than walking along beautiful rows of fruit and berries, vegetables, and homemade vegan delights like ravioli and pasta sauce. When you're lucky enough to live by a farmer's market, like in Brooklyn or West Hollywood, or work by Union Square where the market comes alive two days a week, make it a ritual. You will plan out your week of healthy eating, from snacking on pistachios that have every flavor dusting under the sun from Jalapeño and Lime to Paprika and other spices. Then hit the berries and remind yourself that no matter what the price you are investing in yourself.
No market? There's always a decent produce section somewhere within a short drive, so if you want to join with a pal or two and take an uber or bike or walk, get yourself to the largest produce section you can and buy it all. On Long Island, I live near a store that is strangely called Giunta's Meat Farm on Route 112, but despite the name, it has the largest produce section this side of the Mississippi. And it's cheap! Wherever you shop, ask the manager for more fresh produce and try to push the store to bend the needle toward plant-based foods.
You can also always keep a bag of frozen mixed fruit in the freezer, as Chef Katie Lee suggests doing to make a healthy smoothie every morning. Maya Feller, RD also notes that the nutritional content of frozen fruit, berries and veggies is almost as good as fresh.
Tip 4. Have your favorite condiments on hand-–everything takes better with sauce
Whether you're treating yourself to a meatless burger or making a salad, the secret sauce is ... the sauce! Make sure you have a big jar of Follow My Heart Veganaise onhand to whip up your favorite dressing or sauce and check out the recipes The Beet has published to make sauces at the ready!
Make this Vegan Aioli Sauce, which is plant-based, and a great dipping sauce.
- 2 tbs of Veganaise
- 1 tsp of Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp of crushed garlic
- 1 tsp of lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp of date syrup,
- Sprinkle of garlic salt
- Combine all ingredients and stir.
Or make any of these Vegan Sauces and Dressings
Our own chef, JD Raymundo has a hauntingly delicious peanut sauce
Tip 5. Don't worry about where you're going to get your protein. It's in everything
We can't say this enough: No matter what you are eating on a whole foods plant-based diet: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and especially legumes–you are getting enough protein. Everyone worries about whether they are going to be able to get enough on a plant-based diet and the answer is a resounding Yes! Women need about 45 grams a day or more if you're super active, and men need about 55 to 70 grams a day, depending on your size and athletic stature or fitness and training habits, but you can crush this amount and then some, with a healthy plant-based diet that does not even require a plant-based protein powder, though if you want to supplement, here is a list of our favorite plant-based protein powders.
So stop sweating about protein and instead turn your attention to the healthiest sources of protein. A new study found that when our protein comes from plant-based sources we lower our risk of all diseases and early death (more motivation!). Just pile your plate high with plant-based foods like lentils, beans, edamame and add to your smoothies and salads all types of nuts, and seeds. Here is a full list of where to get your protein. Eat up and be well. And to the amazing, upbeat nurse in the check-outline, I would love to hear how it's going, from you!
The Top 20 Veggies with the Most Protein
Top 15 Legumes and Beans
11 Nuts With the Most Protein
6 Seeds With the Most Protein
The 10 Highest Protein Grains to Add to Your Diet