How to start a plant-based diet: facts, benefits, dos and don'ts
As Hippocrates exclaimed: let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.
Read everything you need to know about the plant-based diet (plus get the bonus grocery list and more).
Being your best self means managing the different themes in your life and sleep, exercise, and nutrition are the foundational pillars upon which every other area of life is built upon.
In terms of nutrition, the plant-based diet is consistently considered to be one of the most effective health regimens, and well worth incorporating into your overall self-care routine.
This comprehensive guide outlines the facts, rules and benefits of the plant-based diet.
Plant-based diet guide
This guide is divided into five parts to help you gain a clear view of the plant-based diet regimen.
Rationale — why you should consider the plant-based diet
Research — studies that prove the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet
Strategy — a simple way to integrate the plant-based diet into your life
Resources — books, articles, and websites that may be instrumental in your transition
Questions — a compilation of Q&As addressing some of the ups and downs of adopting the plant-based diet
Bonus grocery list to help you jumpstart the plant-based diet today.
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What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is one in which your food source is based on whole and fresh plants, fruits, legumes, seeds, and grains with very little or no animal products.
The phrase and definition is fairly straightforward with none of the stigma that comes with popular terms like “vegan” and “vegetarian”.
Some diet trends stress the elimination or reduction of animal products but don't necessarily encourage eating fruits and vegetables in their whole form or the restriction of refined, factory-produced foods.
When it comes to your personal health as well as the health of the overall environment, the plant-based diet is hands-down the best way of eating you can adopt.
Plant-based diet rationale
When it comes to health, many people seek fast and easy solutions: that one thing that can be done to solve any and all issues.
While there is no magic bullet, the plant-based diet is increasingly becoming known as one of the most effective health strategies.
More and more studies are showing how this diet helps prevent and possibly cure obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more.
Globally people are succumbing to these lifestyle diseases at staggering rates without realizing that what they consume is the culprit.
However, lifestyle diseases are preventable and perhaps even reversible with the right diet.
If you struggle with any of these conditions or if any of them run in your family, then it is worth at least considering how elevating what you eat can help.
Plant-based diet research
Scientific studies from reputable institutions provide overwhelming proof that eating too much meat (including fish and chicken), dairy, and processed foods contributes to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other top causes of death.
These studies also show that eating more fresh, whole, plant foods provides significant protection against these same diseases by substantially decreasing your risk.
Studies supporting a plant-based diet
This diet has also been shown to be a cost-effective, low-risk method of treating high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. — Southern California Permanente Medical Group
The best foods to eat are the most nutrient-dense foods that contain essential vitamins and minerals as well as naturally-occurring phytonutrients and other substances that protect against cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. In order of rank, the foods to emphasize in the diet are: vegetables, herbs and spices, fruit, mushrooms, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. — Nutrition Facts (summarized from various sources)
A plant-based diet has all the nutrients (protein, iron, calcium, and essential fatty acids) that humans need with the exception of vitamin B12 (which can be obtained via a supplement) and vitamin D (which can be obtained with adequate sunshine or a supplement). More than a half-century of creative marketing by the meat, dairy, egg, and fish industries has produced fears surrounding nonexistent deficiencies, which in clinical practice need no patient monitoring by physicians and dietitians. — Northwest Permanente (Portland, OR)
Nutrition (particularly essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids) plays a critical role in controlling and, to some extent, preventing, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorder, and other mental health issues. — Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, Mysore (India)
Studies supporting the elimination or reduction of animal intake
Red and processed meats classified as carcinogenic to humans and the greater the consumption, the greater the risk — World Health Organization
Red meat consumption increases risk of diabetes, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality — Harvard School of Public Health
Drinking milk increases the risk of bone fractures and doubles mortality rates — Uppsala University (Sweden)
Milk is not a necessary foodstuff as calcium and other nutrients are readily available in plants. Dairy consumption may lead to prostate and ovarian cancers, autoimmune diseases, some childhood ailments, and other chronic diseases — Department of Health and Wellness, University of North Carolina (Asheville)
A variety of toxic pollutants are in fish and seafood found across the world's oceans — Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
Environmental pollutants found in fish inhibit the human body’s natural abilityto expel harmful toxins and protect cells — Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
Total meat consumption significantly contributes to weight gain, and chicken causes more weight gain than any other meat — School for Oncology and Developmental Biology, Maastricht University (Netherlands)
Viruses found in chicken could be linked to obesity in humans — Department of Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome
What’s undeniable is that millions in the U.S. and around the world are dying from diseases that were rare and obscure just 70 years ago.
The correlation between the increased consumption of certain foods and higher rates of these lifestyle diseases is too obvious to ignore.
These facts shouldn't scare you but motivate you. Knowledge is power and with the facts you can make an informed decision, no matter if you choose to adopt the plant-based diet or not.
Plant-based diet strategy
We conducted a survey of a dozen readers, friends and experts who are plant-based diet enthusiasts in order to develop a simple strategy that would make transitioning easy.
The goal is not to turn the diet into doctrine. Aim to be as healthy as you can be without becoming a perfectionist or propagandist.
The primary focus is to be mindful of what you eat, how you prepare your food and where you source your food, if possible.
That being said, below is a simple 3-step plant-based diet plan:
Make 80% of your diet based on whole plants, seeds, nuts, and grains (access the bonus grocery list at the end of the guide)
Significantly limit animal products (including meat, chicken/eggs, fish, dairy) or processed and refined foods (such as white sugar and breads)
Buy local, organic, non-genetically modified (GMO) products whenever possible
It is important to mention two of the the biggest challenges you may face while transitioning to a plant-based diet:
feeling full and satisfied
getting enough nutrients
To assist with both of the above, you may consider taking a supplement.
This article does an excellent job at discussing what to think about before incorporating supplements into your diet.
It also provides a thorough review of Ora Organic, which produces carefully-sourced, USDA organic and plant-based vitamins and supplements.
If you don't feel good in your body or mind you simply cannot thrive (or survive, to be frank).
So take a cue from Hippocrates and "let food be thy medicine."
Plant-based diet resources
Read the Self-Care Challenge, a simple but robust health and wellness guide designed for busy individuals.
Watch the What the Health documentary for an entertaining and enlightening overview of the meat and dairy industries, and their contribution to dangerous but avoidable lifestyle diseases.
Browse Superdrinks for tons of resources and recipes on superfoods and superfood-based healthy drinks.
Explore Ora Organic’s collection of carefully-sourced, USDA organic and plant-based supplements.
Plant-based diet questions
We summarized survey responses to come up with answers to common questions about the plant-based diet.
Don't get too caught up in substitutes like vegan burgers and vegan pizzas, because you'll be disappointed.
It's really hard to trick your mind into believing that a portobello mushroom is a hamburger.
Instead, appreciate the diversity of the fruits and veggies you consume and explore or create dishes best suited to their unique flavor and texture.
Cheese seems to be a major struggle for many plant-based diet adopters.
Finding a tasty cheese replacement is difficult because cheese is addictive and the faux cheeses found in health food stores are not satisfying.
The best solution may be to just slowly let cheese go over time, then try to discover different ways of creating savory richness and creaminess using totally vegan foodstuffs.
Fish isn't always healthy, primarily because of the high saturated fat content and the amount of toxins they absorb.
You may wish to augment your diet with fish for the taste or to avoid having to take the Vitamin B12 supplement, but it should also be consumed in moderation.
Moreover, livestock surprisingly contributes more to global warming and environmental unfriendliness than the transportation industry.
So not eating meat is great for your health and the environment.
First, going to an organic grocery store and selecting all the beautiful fruits, veggies, and grains available is a rewarding experience.
Second, cooking more, having fun exploring recipes and engaging in meal preparation is a lot of fun as well as cost effective.
Most apparent changes to health include:
Easier to digest food
Ability to sleep better
Much more energy
Clarity in thinking and creativity, particularly less "brain fog" when it comes to solving business problems
Better recovery post workouts
Keep it simple and transition at your own pace. Some can go "cold-turkey" while others may need to gradually make the transition.
Use the 80/20 rule as a guide — 80% completely plant-based and 20% some flexibility.
This isn't a competition but a personal decision, so transition in a way that works for you.
Also, don't beat yourself up if you slip from time to time!
Bonus: plant-based diet grocery list
Ready to transition to the plant-based diet today? The only thing standing in your way is a quick run to the grocery store. Download our free plant-based diet shopping list for everything you need to get started.
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