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!
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.
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.
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.