The world is changing, and you’re likely spending more time at cooking than ever before. There are so many things you can’t control during this pandemic era, so why not focus on something you can control, like your diet? If you’ve been thinking of transitioning to a plant-based diet but never had the time to research how to do it properly or cook your meals, there’s no time like the present. This plant-based starter guide will provide a roadmap for eating more plants, having higher energy levels and boosting your health. 

What does "plant-based" or vegan mean?

The term “plant-based” technically doesn’t have an official definition. Some say “plant-based” when they mean vegetarian, others consider it vegan. It’s really up to you to decide what type of plant-based diet works best for you. As a reminder, vegetarian diets include all plants, dairy, and eggs, while vegan is plant foods with absolutely no animal products (not even honey). 

Why you should try a plant-based diet

There is no denying that plant-based foods are rich in nutrients that help you feel great on a daily basis. Plants are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, all of which play a crucial role in your overall health. For example, the best sources of immune-boosting Vitamin C comes from plants, like citrus, peppers, and strawberries. Minerals, like potassium and magnesium, play a role in regulating blood pressure and keeping the heart-healthy, and they are abundant in bananas, potatoes, leafy greens, and more. Not to mention that basically all plant-based foods have fiber, which contributes to digestion and heart health, as well as antioxidants, which reduce inflammation. 

If that’s not enough, it seems like more and more research is published daily in favor of a plant-based diet. A brand new study in JAMA Internal Medicine found replacing animal proteins, such as meat and eggs, with plant-based proteins may reduce the risk of premature death and death from cardiovascular disease. Another research study concluded that following a plant-based whole foods diet for 6 months improved BMI and cholesterol levels. 

Tips for starting a plant-based diet

If you’re ready to jump on the plant-based train, we are here to help! Like any diet change, having a plan is the best way to successfully make a change and stick with it. Follow these tips to be on your way to plant-based nirvana. 

Start with one plant-based meal a day

When you’re completely new to a style of eating, going all-in on your first day can be daunting. Instead, start with just one plant-based meal a day for a week. Then add in a second meal, then a third meal, and before you know it you are eating plant-based.

Switching to one plant-based meal a day for a year also helps reduce the impact your food has on the environment, and more consumers than ever are making the change because of their concern for the planet, according to a new survey. Eating just one more plant-based meal a day is enough to save the same carbon emissions as driving from LA to New York.

Breakfast is simple: Start with your first meal, since you can easily make plant-based smoothies, oatmeal or loaded toast, with avocado or chickpea spread.

For lunch, try this easy salad: A big leafy green lunchtime salad is a straightforward and healthy option. Make sure you incorporate some sort of protein, like chickpeas, lentils or quinoa, which add bulk to the salad and keep you full. 

Add a plant-based dinner: Your favorite pasta, with red sauce, vegetables, meatless meat, and vegan parmesan cheese is a great start. Or try a veggie-loaded pizza with plant-based mozzarella cheese. The Beet has tried shredded cheeses to determine which ones we love best.

Know your plant-based proteins

Protein is important for muscle building, but it also plays a major role in hunger and appetite. Without enough protein in your diet, chances are that you’ll feel hungry all the time. This is actually one of the major complaints I receive as a nutritionist, from many of my clients who transition to a plant-based diet. They need to learn where to get their plant-based proteins. The simple way to avoid the hunger trap is to make sure you eat plant-based protein at every meal. Here are some examples:

Pay attention to Iron and Vitamin B12

Iron delivers oxygen through the blood to the tissues, and Vitamin B12 is necessary for blood cell formation and energy production. These two nutrients are notable for plant-based eaters because they are a little bit tougher to find in plants, but definitely not impossible. With strategic meal planning, you can get plenty of iron from foods like lentils, chickpeas, oats and tofu, and Vitamin B12 is found in nutritional yeast, fortified plant milks and fortified cereals. If you feel a major dip in your energy levels after going plant-based, consider how much protein, iron, and Vitamin B12 you’re eating. Your doctor can measure the status of these two nutrients levels in the body with a simple blood test. 

Avoid processed foods which can contribute to weight gain

It’s no secret that eating tons of processed foods isn’t great for you (and can actually cause weight gain). That also goes for vegan processed foods. Although there are a ton of plant-based packaged foods hitting store shelves, the best way to eat a healthy plant-based diet is to stick to whole foods. Of course, it’s okay to enjoy a processed treat here and there. Everything in moderation!