How to Start Eating a Plant-Based Diet
The number of people adopting a plant-based diet has exploded over the past few years, for reasons like its benefits for health, the environment, and animal welfare.1,2,3 Even if people aren’t necessarily labeling themselves as vegan, vegetarian, or even plant-based, the opportunities to choose plant-based items are seemingly endless. If you’re considering adopting a plant-based diet, here are some tips for getting started.
Determine your reasons for wanting to make this change.
The most attainable - and sustainable - changes we can make are the ones that we’re most deeply invested in. What motivated you to consider a plant-based diet? Are you concerned about your health, either in the short- or long-term? Do you have a family history of chronic disease? Perhaps you recently learned how current food choices are negatively impacting the environment or animals and are motivated to make a positive difference in these areas. Whatever your reasons may be, make sure you’re clear about them as this will help you to maintain your lifestyle changes.
Use your current diet as a starting point.
Plant-based registered dietitian Lauren Panoff says, “I would never tell someone to go vegan overnight. That doesn’t set them up for success, nor does it give them time to really make a plan for their dietary changes.”
Rather, Panoff recommends taking inventory of your current diet and getting clear about exactly how you want to change it. “Sometimes just writing down what you currently eat in a week makes it easier to say ‘oh, here I’ll use non-dairy yogurt instead of Greek yogurt’ or ‘for breakfast I’ll try seitan bacon and tofu scramble’,” she says. You might find that you eat more burgers and hot dogs than you thought, which could make it easy to swap veggie burgers and plant-based hot dogs in their place.
Make realistic changes.
A plant-based diet doesn’t have to look the same for you as it does for someone else, meaning that it’s up to you to decide how much of your diet you want to be plant-based. Do you want to reduce your meat and dairy consumption to twice per week? Do you still want to continue eating eggs, but eliminate other animal products from your diet? Do you want to try going vegan?
Give this some real thought, taking into consideration what changes are realistic, sustainable, and will set you up for success. You can always re-evaluate and adjust your diet plan to meet your needs and preferences.
Pay attention to nutrition.
Although plant-based eating comes with numerous health benefits, it’s still possible to make unhealthy choices without eating animal products. Choosing whole plant foods that are minimally processed the majority of the time is optimal.
Great plant-based protein sources include tofu, tempeh, seitan, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Incorporate healthy fats like nut butters, avocados, and olives. Whole fruits and vegetables are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that support overall health. Focus on incorporating a wide variety of plant-based foods to insure that your nutritional needs are met.
A multivitamin may be a good idea, but at the very least, people on a totally plant-based diet should be taking a vitamin B12 and omega 3 fat supplement.4 There are a number of resources online to help with plant-based nutrition, and finding a local registered dietitian with this expertise can be very helpful.
Shifting to a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be overwhelming or even difficult. Like any dietary change, it’s important to be clear about what’s behind your motivations to change, how to make adjustments that are realistic for you, and how to adequately meet your nutrient needs. Keep the above tips in mind to help make your plant-based shift easy.
- Hever J. Plant-Based Diets: A Physician's Guide. Perm J. 2016;20(3):15–082. doi:10.7812/TPP/15-082
- Toumpanakis A, Turnbull T, Alba-Barba I. Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. BMJ Open Diabetes Res Care. 2018;6(1):e000534. Published 2018 Oct 30. doi:10.1136/bmjdrc-2018-000534
- Lacour C, Seconda L, Allès B, et al. Environmental Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How Does Organic Food Consumption Contribute to Environmental Sustainability? [published correction appears in Front Nutr. 2018 Apr 18;5:26]. Front Nutr. 2018;5:8. Published 2018 Feb 9. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00008
- Rizzo G, Laganà AS, Rapisarda AM, et al. Vitamin B12 among Vegetarians: Status, Assessment and Supplementation. Nutrients. 2016;8(12):767. Published 2016 Nov 29. doi:10.3390/nu8120767