The Plant-based Diet: Beginners Guide
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Do you find yourself eating a lot of processed foods? Are you worried about developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes or heart disease? If you're looking for a meal plan with minimally processed foods to lower the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, then we've got you covered. Cut down on animal products and switch to a healthy plant-based diet.
Whether it's eating healthy, building muscles or weight loss, the rule of the game is pretty simple: What you eat matters. Switching diets isn't that simple, many critics and skeptics raise concerns over plant-based eating. You might have your questions too: Do plants have all the nutrients they need? How is this different from a vegan diet? Can I not consume any animal products? Does this help lose weight and lower the risk of heart disease?
In our detailed guide on "What is a plant-based diet and why you should go for it", we answer all your questions. So you can choose for yourself if eating healthy plant products works for you.
What is a plant-based diet?
To set the record straight, a plant-based diet does not make you vegan. It's pretty simple a plant-forward way of eating. Think of it this way: this type of eating simply calls for you to incorporate more plant products into your routine. If you confused this for a vegetarian diet, then you'll be surprised to know that some variations also include animal foods like fish, meat, and milk.
Besides eating healthy plants, you'll also find yourself eating more whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds. So a plant-based diet is essentially about consuming different nutrients in the right proportions while limiting processed foods from your diet.
Different types of plant-based diets
Now that you have an idea of what we mean by a plant-based diet, you will realize that it's a general term for eating healthy plants. In reality, a plant-based diet can refer to several different types of plant-based diets.
Whole food plant-based diet
A whole food plant-based diet has a more specific emphasis on an organic diet with minimally processed foods. You'll find yourself being much more cautious at the grocery store for this type of diet when you're buying stuff, making sure it hasn't been processed. Additionally, this type of diet will have you cutting down on refined goods as well, such as sugars and bread (Goodbye to the days of eating cake with tea). Animal foods are also off the table, for the most part. However, this is primarily referring to greasy bacon for breakfast and red meat like a steak dinner. Of course, you'll still be consuming poultry and dairy.
So what does being on a whole food plant-based diet look like? Your diet will include whole grain products like brown rice and beans. Whole grain legumes along with starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash are other popular options. A major criticism that whole food diets get is protein consumption. While your meat and dairy will be restricted, you'll be fulfilling your protein requirements with plant-based products like tofu tempeh and protein powders. You don't need red meat to fulfil your muscle building needs!
A Mediterranean diet isn't too different from a whole food plant-based diet because it also puts an emphasis on introducing healthy plants to your meal plan. What differentiates this type of diet is that it calls for animal foods like fish, meat, eggs and dairy products like milk and yoghurt, although the overall consumption will be less than what you usually have.
In a diet list about eating plant-based foods, how could we not include a vegetarian diet? While eating a plant-based diet is not vegan, this type of diet certainly is. Going vegan means saying no to all kinds of animal products, including meat, red meat, eggs and dairy. Additionally, the fact that you use it for cooking needs to come from plant-based sources such as olive oil. So no more butter and toast!
Beans lentils, along with healthy legumes nuts, will be your new breakfast and lunch.
Health benefits of a food plant-based diet
If you are used to eating animal foods every day, switching to eating healthy plants may not seem worth it. However, while we would argue that well-cooked sweet potatoes could be just as tasty as fried eggs and bacon for breakfast, there are certain health benefits of switching to plant-based diets.
While some argue that humans were built to eat animal products, there's reason to believe that eating more plants is good for your health. Firstly, it's widely mistaken that plant-based diets lack the nutrition value that is necessary for your daily need. The truth of the matter is that you can get a healthy amount of all nutrients -proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and most vitamins and minerals- by eating the right plants. The one area where a plant-based diet slightly lacks is providing enough vitamin B12. But this is easy to overcome by using vitamin B12 supplements.
Secondly, plants generally have a better proportion of different nutrients that your body needs. This is especially true for fiber and phytonutrients (abundant in whole grain legumes) that are necessary for good health.
So how can a diet rich in plant-based products help improve your health? Let's find out.
Boosts your immune system
One of the most significant benefits of eating healthy is that it helps lower the risk of developing certain cancers. It does so because healthy plants provide phytochemicals and antioxidants that your immune systems thrive off of. These are nutrients that a regular diet largely lacks. With a boosted immune system, your body is better equipped to fight out off infections.
The way eating plant-based foods helps reduce your risk for cancers is also similar. With a robust immune system, your body is better able to identify cells that are prone to becoming tumorous. This way, it can kill the tumour well before it starts spreading and becomes untreatable. Who knows, a healthy diet containing fruits and vegetable could be so effective!
Plant-based foods combat inflammation.
When your body needs to fight off an infection, one way the immune system works is by causing inflammation in the part of the body with the infectious cell. This is characterized by redness, swelling, heat, loss of function, and pain. These are all mechanisms that the body employs to kill infected cells and reduce the risk of developing a fatal infection.
Eating a healthy plant-based diet helps the immune system become more efficient at its job. Hence it reduces the need for inflammation. These are the same phytochemicals and antioxidants that prevent cancer growth that also improve healing and combat inflammation.
While inflammation is the sign of a healthy and functional immune system, prolonged exposure can lead to
High Fiber content
The main difference between plant cells and animal cells is that the former cannot fully be broken down by the human body. The undigested component of the plant food is what we call fiber or roughage. This might not have a direct nutritional health benefit, but the fiber in the diet is essential in keeping your intestinal tract healthy and functional.
There is a laundry list of other benefits you can acquire from plant fiber. Mainly, it keeps your gut functioning properly and enables it to absorb other digested nutrients more effectively. It also makes stool heavier and softens it thus, thus giving you healthy bowel movements.
Other benefits of following a plant-based diet for fiber include lower blood cholesterol and controlled blood sugar levels.
Assists in weight loss
People looking to lose weight could also benefit from a diet rich in plant products. A healthy weight also helps lower the risk of diseases and health conditions such as heart conditions, high blood sugar levels, and several types of cancers. Obesity is also associated with type 2 diabetes. The reason behind this correlation between illnesses and weight is simple: unhealthy weights are related to hormonal imbalance and inflammation. These combined lead to health conditions.
But how are brown rice and black beans going to help you lose weight? Quite simply, animal foods are responsible for weight gain because they are rich in cholesterol and other elements that lead to weight gain. So when you eat a plant-based diet, you naturally cut down on animal products.
How you'll be helping the environment
Being conscious of what you eat and limiting the animal products in your diet is not just good for you on an individual level but has benefits that extend to the environment as well. There's no denying the fact that people with primarily an animal-based diet have a larger carbon footprint than people on a plant-based one.
A significant contributor to carbon emissions on our planet is poultry and meat farming. Massive amounts of CO2 are released into the environment from animal farming factories every year. On the flipside, plant-based foods are significantly better for the environment because of the difference in carbon emissions. Over 60 credible studies have shown that diets like vegetarian, whole plant foods, or Mediterranean diets give several benefits to the environment.
But how much of a difference can changing food habits make? It turns out, if enough people switch to plant-based meals, it could go a long way. A shift in demand in favour of plant-based meals could lead to a whopping 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as well as land use. Additionally, we could conserve around 50% of the water we use today for food production.
Downsides of going plant-based
Before you empty out your fridge and pantry of red meat and dairy and replace it with any plant meal you can get your hands on, take a look at the other side of the debate.
Finding plant-based foods
While this issue is rapidly being resolved as the demand for plant-based products continues to grow, there's still a possibility that your favorite pizza spot might not have a whole wheat crust option. Even if you do, it's nearly impossible to replicate the exact same flavors in plant-based versions of traditionally animal-based dishes.
As we mentioned before, switching to a completely different diet can be tricky. While plant-based meals can be a source of nutrients that you can't find in animal dishes, the converse is also true. Because you are reducing dairy products like milk and yoghurt from your meals, you might end up with a Calcium and Iron deficiency.
Fulfilling your Protein requirements
When you think of protein and muscle buildup, you probably think of chicken and meat diets. For the most part, that is the truth. One of the main focuses of food companies producing vegetarian products has been to find ways to introduce protein substitutes through a vegetarian meal plan. While significant progress has been made, and products like protein powders and non-animal sources of proteins are great alternatives, the possibility that you might not get sufficient protein intake is still there.
Where to get started
The day you decide to commit to a plant-based diet, be it vegetarian, the Mediterranean, or whole food, you'll find yourself in a tough spot, thinking about what to eat. A plant-based diet is not just a matter of having black beans and brown rice for lunch. But instead, it is a lifestyle. Here a few things to help you settle into this new diet.
1. Salad Meals
You might have always known salads as sides to the main dish or an appetizer before the main course. But a big trend in the healthy diet culture is to have salad meals. Who said salads need to be a bunch of green leafy vegetables only? And why green ones at that? Add a pop of colour with red lettuce and pair it with beans, lentils, and nuts for a refreshing assortment.
2. Change your perception of meat.
Before switching to a plant-based diet, a lot of people find it challenging to leave meat meals. The struggle is real as people around you munch on fried chicken. But this part has a lot to do with the way you think about meat. Instead of looking at meat as the main course and highlight of the dish, think of it as a garnish or a side dish just to taste.
3. Whole-grain foods for breakfast
If you're an avid bacon lover, you might find it hard to leave the bacon for breakfast routine. But there are many delicious options you have for breakfast in the eating-healthy club. Every morning could be a fun little adventure as you play around with different combinations of vegetables, fruits, whole grain oatmeals, and nuts.
4. Choosing the suitable oils for fat
Fatty materials are a little harder to navigate around. This is because, within fats, there are healthy options as well as non-healthy ones. Therefore, choosing suitable fat alternatives is very important. Olive oil, fats from nuts like almond, and seed oils are great places to start with.
Great meal plan options to get into
Eating healthy is not as easy as you might think getting into it. When you change diets, you are essentially looking for alternatives to what you are already used to. The struggle seems like finding whole food products and limiting yourself to restaurants and food places with vegan options. But don't worry, there are quite a few sample meal plans you can find on the internet. Looking at a meal plan will not only give you a sense of direction for what to eat for every meal of the day but show you just how many options you have.
Here's an example of a meal plan you can start off your plant-based journey with:
Breakfast option: Tofu, tempeh, and a vegetable frittata. Make sure you garnish it with greens!
Lunch option: A delicious Greek salad meal: Toss crunchy green leafy vegetables with tomato, olives, virgin olive oil, and vinegar. Throw in some feta cheese pieces.
Dinner option: Vegetable kebabs with grilled tofu, tempeh, and a quinoa and spinach salad.
Changing to a plant-based diet can seem like too much, but there is no denying the health benefits that can come from a plant-based diet. This can help reduce your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. From a whole foods-based diet to a vegetarian one, you have countless exciting options for what to eat. So before you know it, you'll stop wanting to go back to your animal meat-based diet.
While the concerns against vegan and whole foods diet are legitimate, they can be overcome with advancements. Whether it's plant based protein shakes or vitamin B12 supplements, there are ways to make up for the shortcomings of a plant-based diet. At the end of the day, reducing the risk of developing life-threatening illnesses while preserving the environment are worthy causes.
Disclaimer: The LYFE Fuel blog is for informational purposes only. The information does not serve as a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment. We kindly ask you not to ignore professional medical advice because of any information you’ve read on https://lyfefuel.com/. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult a physician or appropriate health care expert.