How to eat a plant-based diet to stay healthy

How to eat a plant-based diet to stay healthy

Okay plant-based newbies! Let’s start with some definitions before we talk about how to eat a plant-based diet to stay healthy:

Vegan: Veganism is a movement against animal cruelty. Vegans don’t eat food or buy anything, including clothes, bags, furniture, etc., that are made with animal derived ingredients. No meat, no seafood, no fowl, no eggs, no dairy, no honey, no leather, no gelatin. Anything that comes from animals, or is a bi-product of animals is a no-go, in every area of life.

Vegetarian: Someone who doesn’t eat meat. But they could eat fish, dairy, eggs, etc. There are several kinds of vegetarian diets. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt, and eggs, but no meat, poultry, seafood or fish. Lacto-vegetarians eat milk and dairy products but not eggs, meat, poultry, seafood or fish.

Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB): Focuses on nutrient dense, whole plant foods. This includes veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans & legumes, nuts & seeds. All processed foods are avoided when eating Whole Food Plant Based, including oil, refined sugar, refined white flour and any overly processed foods and ingredients. If it comes wrapped in plastic or in a cardboard box, chances are its not whole food plant based.

Plant Based: This term is used to describe people who eat vegan food and also a Whole Food Plant Based diet. When something is described as “plant based” chances are it won’t have any animal products, but it may have oil or other refined ingredients. Just be sure to read the labels. But here’s the thing: veggies, fruits and whole grains bought from the loose bins don’t have any labels! 

Roadmap

So now that you know the “why” behind a whole foods plant based diet, it’s a good idea to start where you are in learning how to incorporate these foods in your journey to a healthier life.

If you want to see where you are right now, take this quick survey to help identify what you need to do and where you need to improve. It is a good snapshot and takes 3 minutes.  

Don’t focus on what you are giving up, but rather what you are adding and substituting. The more plant based foods you add, the less room there will be for packaged, processed and animal foods. The goal is to crowd out all the unhealthy foods, and foods that are not nutritious or beneficial. You want to focus on nourishing, whole plant foods. 

Progress

Each step of the way is a success, and it is important to focus on your progress to move closer to eating more whole plant-based foods. Keep in mind that there is a temptation to eat animal products and dairy in “moderation”, but as Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn says, “moderation kills.”

If your goal is to reverse disease, then there’s no time to eat animal products. Coronary bypass surgery is much more “extreme” than eating plant-strong so don’t do a head trip on yourself. Eating plants is not extreme. 

Do a walk-through

Before I started on a whole foods plant based diet, I rehearsed. I did a walk-through in Whole Foods, starting in the produce section and ending at the other side of the store, face-to-face with the gelato. I made sure I understood how I would prepare all the vegetables, which ones I would buy, and which ones I would leave behind. I did the same with all the bulk items, packaged items, nuts and seeds.

I learned how to read the labels on packaging, and realized that if bread says “whole grain,” it needs to be the 1st ingredient, otherwise there would be a good chance that refined flour is in the mix. Better yet, I learned to buy only sprouted grains. There are tons of choices. 

The sodium content, per serving, should not exceed the number of calories per serving, which eliminates most canned items and “prepared” noodle dishes. That is the ideal scenario, but difficult sometimes.  You will learn to prepare your own, so just do the best you can.

Buy soba noodles that are not seasoned, or Amy’s Soups which are pretty low in sodium.

At the same time, you need to look at the fat content, which should equal no more than 10 to 20% of the total calories.

Steer clear of products with saturated fat and hydrogenated trans fats, which are so unhealthy and problematic.

Food synergy

Lots of nutrition research focuses on “nutrition reductionism” of the study of isolated nutrients. But this is not how we eat our food, nor would we want to. We consume countless nutrients and substances that work in synergy with each other in our bodies, and this food synergy is what determines the state of our health over a period of time. 

Several studies show that when food is consumed in its whole form, the nutrients work best, rather than consumed as isolated nutrients. Without getting too detailed, the bottom line, as T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. explains in his book, Whole, “this incredible symphony of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients working together with our bodies cannot be replicated in any supplement or pill.

Eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods is the best way to ensure optimal health.”

Leafy green fire extinguishers

Aim to fill your plate with vegetables (both green and starchy), whole grains, beans and legumes. Add nuts, seeds, herbs and spices as flavor enhancers. I will provide some great links for cookbooks, meal batching and prepping and everything else you need to help get you started without overwhelm.

Colorful Vegetables and Leafy Greens: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, squash varieties, leeks, asparagus, kale, spinach, lettuce, collard greens.  Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn , author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, refers to these leafy greens as the “fire extinguishers on the burning cauldron of inflammation that burns in our bodies.” 

Root Vegetables: White, yellow, and red potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, onions 

Colorful Fruits: Apples, bananas, citrus, berries, melons, pineapple, kiwi pears, mango, stone fruits 

Whole Grains: Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, oats, millet, teff, amaranth, corn, spelt 

Beans and Legumes: Garbanzo, kidney, black, navy, white, Lima, pinto, lentils, edamame, split peas 

Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, macadamia, cashews, pecans, pine, Brazil 

Seeds: Sunflower, sesame, flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin, poppy 

Now that you know how to eat a plant-based diet to stay healthy, click here for nutrition facts about oil.

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “How to eat a plant-based diet to stay healthy”

  • Hello Amy,
    What an interesting and informative article. Everything related to how to live a healthier life is a huge interest of mine. It is absolutely true that everything we eat, have somehow an effect on our body and brain.
    I’m not a vegan nor a vegetarian, but I do very seldom eat meat. My protein sources are fish, chicken, milk products, and eggs. I am about to reduce the intake of these gradually. I know that animal protein causes the many chronical diseases, which could be avoided if we choose the right food.
    How very glad I am to have found your website. I’m certainly going to read more of your helpful and enlightening articles.
    Kind regards,
    Pernilla

  • Hi Amy, thank you for the packed full of information article! I haven’t eaten meat in years now but I do eat eggs and animal products. Thanks to facebook and my bleeding heart, I have been seriously considering giving those foods the ax also. It is a big decision for me and I liked that you included foods that are good alternatives. Thanks again.

    • Hi Jill — it is very difficult to give up ALL forms of animal products, with dairy being the most addictive of all. It is a very big decision and something that still haunts me daily. We have grown up on those foods and so how can we just walk away from them? Those foods represent love, tradition, family, feel-good stuff, and how can we get that from salads and beans…? So it is a struggle both physically and emotionally and requires a lot of discipline. Having said that, it is the healthiest way to go, hands down. Thanks for writing!

  • I always love when someone comes out as a vegan and everyone around them freaks out. How do you do it? OMG no meat at all? and so on. I also like when people say “I only eat plants”. My aunt is a strict vegetarian and she has a belief that household pets can smell it and know she doesn’t eat animals. I find some of the research behind plant based eating quite persuasive. I’ve done it before, but in all honesty not in a long time. This blog is a great guide for me to give it another go!!!!

    • Hi Penelope — I can tell you that there is enough scientific research to back the claim that none of us need to eat animals to stay healthy. We can get enough protein from plants, beans, and legumes, without any of the fat or artery-clogging meat from animals. Also, even if we eat organic animal protein, we are still consuming the hormones of that animal, which isn’t healthy for us. I’m not saying its easy, but it is much healthier, by far. Thanks so much for writing!

  • Hey Amy,

    interesting article. Being Vegan was already kind of a struggle for me (did it for 3 months) but “plant-based” sounds for me like playing life on hard mode!
    My sister is vegan for 3 years now. She also had a plant-based diet for some time. I can remember that she mentioned in this direction during her lecture about how bad eating burgers is 🙂
    I can imagine that starting a plant-based diet has a lot of health benefits, but shouldn’t we eat at least some meat? Every time I ask my sister this question, she tells me that meat is bad for our body. But I read a bit about the paleo diet. And many people report that the paleo diet has a lot of health benefits as well. It is a bit confusing. What do you think Amy?

    • Hi Sergej and thanks for writing. I will point you to my post about eating meat, and all I can say is that there is countless research out there from top docs in the country that point to the fact that eating animal products has a direct correlation between heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, dementia, cancer and the like. There is strong evidence to suggest that dairy causes inflammation, which is the root cause of many diseases. Dairy also includes everything the cow eats, which includes steroids, fertilizers and hormones, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, veterinary medications, synthetic preservatives, additives, and (possibly most disturbing) white blood cells.
      Here is my post about DAIRY.

      Keep in mind that being vegan is different than being plant-strong, whereby the premise of being plant-strong is cutting out all white flours, sugars and elimination of oil.
      Being vegan doesn’t necessarily cut out oil, and that is the main difference.

      As for the paleo diet, it’s all about eating animal products so it is something that I cannot endorse. I appreciate your reaching out and thank you again for writing! Let me know if you need any other info!

  • I love this post! The more plant-based advocates out there the better. I have been working on becoming more and more whole food plant-based. I do like chocolate chips though! lol But there are even awesome replacements for those. I’ve been making a chocolate banana nice cream in the evenings to get that chocolate craving, but using whole foods. (1 -2 frozen bananas. 2 TBS cocoa powder. 1 date. 1 tsp vanilla. A little plant-based milk. Use a blender or food processor.) It’s so, so delicious! You can do anything with plant foods, I’m convinced of it!

    My absolute favorite things to eat that are satisfying and healthy are potatoes. How can you go wrong with potatoes? You can’t!

    • What can I say. Like minds meet in cyberspace…! I love your recipe and have copied it down. Can’t wait to try it. Yes it is a huge transition, and especially difficult for those of us who love chocolate…! I always manage to find my way to the cookie bar at Whole Foods. I agree about eating potatoes. Especially organic sweet potatoes. So orange and sweet! Thanks so much for writing. Stay in touch!

  • Thanks for the run down on the plant based diet. This is something I am trying to implement but admit that I am not always successful in going the whole way. Interesting that you suggest not using olive or coconut oil. This is definitely something I will try to implement

    • Hi Karen! It’s true, I’m afraid, that very little or NO oil at all is the way to go, for the simple fact that it holds no nutritional value, and is all fat. So there are other foods we could eat that would provide more nutrients without the fat. Tamari, Braggs Liquid Aminos, homemade tahini dressing, etc., would be great substitutes for oil. Also, water frying with onions and garlic is delicious! Instead of oil, just add the water, and cook slowly until the onions are soft. There are lots of choices. You’d be amazed how oil is added to almost every food product out there. Thanks for writing!

  • I am so impressed with your resources here. I love the options and the choices you are offering. I have an omnivore lifestyle but my whole food plant quota has practically taken over all my sources of nutrients. It is a very good feeling in my body to eat from the earth. Thank you for your work and all that you offer those of us who are working towards a finer balance. Much appreciated.

    • How thoughtful! Thank you for writing, and yes, it is a great feeling to eat cleanly and healthfully. I am glad you appreciate the content here. Come back to visit!

  • Great post! I have been interested in a plant based diet for some time in the hopes of curing or eliminating some health concerns, but I am not quite ready to give up meat.
    I work diligently to add in as many local, fresh, organic produce as I can, but grains do not work well with my body.
    What do you think I should add more of to replace meat? I would like to go meatless about 2 or 3 days a week and work my way up.

    • Hi Irma! You can easily go a few days a week without eating meat. You can start with stews, salads, soups, tacos, anything you want that you can use lentils and beans instead of meat. You can easily bake some veggie burgers, or make a stir-fry without any animal products. I can help you with this if you are interested! Thanks for writing!

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