A plant based whole food diet means eating minimally processed foods made from fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains, with small (optional) portions of animal products like meat and dairy and avoiding refined grains and processed foods.
Following these steps can make enjoying a healthy plant-based diet easy.
- Plan ahead to eat at least a fruit or vegetable at each meal. Cut fruit and veggies up and keep them in the front part of the refrigerator so you remember to eat them.
- Have a big salad for one meal a day. Enjoy it with a dressing made with olive oil, avocado, or tahini, and don’t worry about the fat.
- Eat roasted nuts or seeds in place of chips or crackers.
- Substitute whole-grain bread, pasta, and oatmeal for white bread, regular pasta, and processed cereal and granola bars. Eat small portions of grains. A portion should be small enough to fit in your cupped hand.
- Avoid sweets, sweet drinks, and artificial sweeteners. They can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in your colon. It’s hard to cut these addictive foods out all at once. Start by cutting the amount you eat in half and give your body and mind a few weeks to get used to it. (You will get used to it, trust me!)
- Substitute beans, lentils, tofu, nuts or nut butter, or mushrooms for some or all of the meat in your diet. (Imitation meat substitutes like veggie burgers are processed but may help you ease into a more plant-based diet.)
- Substitute non-GMO soy milk or pea milk for dairy milk (be sure to shake the carton each time so you get the calcium that sinks to the bottom.) Nut and grain milks usually have less protein so they’re not as good a substitute for milk. Better yet, don’t drink milk unless you’re a toddler. Get calcium from other foods.
- Substitute olive oil, canola oil, or nut butter for butter.
- If you eat meat, eggs, or cheese, have small portions. Don’t eat processed meat like cold cuts, bacon, and sausage. (They have cancer-causing ingredients)
- If you eat cheese, eat small amounts of real cheese, not processed cheese food.
- Soup, salads, dips like hummus, roasted vegetables, veggie noodles, and vegetable sauces like red sauce are great ways to eat more vegetables.
- Avoid packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients. Added vitamins and citric acid (vitamin C) and tocopherol (vitamin E) are OK.
- If you decide to avoid all animal foods including eggs and dairy, it’s a good idea to consult a registered dietician to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins, minerals, and protein you need.
When you look at your plate, at least half of it should be fruit and vegetables. Click here for more details, recipes, and a 5-day meal plan.
Can you eat meat, eggs, or cheese on a plant-based diet? Small amounts of meat, seafood, eggs, and cheese can be a part of a plant-based diet, but diets high in animal products are linked to higher risk of early death–yours, not just the animals’.
Can you drink alcohol on a plant-based diet? It is better not to drink alcohol. If you’re of legal drinking age, and you choose to drink, drink no more than one drink a day and no more than 5 drinks a week. Any consumption of alcohol is linked to an earlier death. (for drinkers and their drunk driving victims) Never drink and drive.
Are veggie chips, corn chips, french fries, fruit juice, fruit leathers and energy bars part of a healthy plant-based diet? No. Try to avoid these processed foods.
Does a healthy plant-based diet need to be low fat? No. Add enough healthy fat like olive oil to make your food taste good, but avoid fried foods.
Can you drink tea and coffee? Yes, as long as you don’t add anything to sweeten it. Tea and coffee are healthy plant-based foods as long as you don’t drink enough for the caffeine to make you jittery, raise your blood pressure or interfere with your sleep. If you must have a sweetener, try a small amount of Stevia.
Check out my book, Savvy Eating for the Whole Family, Whole Foods, Whole Family, Whole Life, for more information, recipes, and a 30-day meal plan, and this article for great plant-based recipes.
If you’re just getting started adding more plants to your diet or if you have people in your life who give you a hard time about changing your diet for the better, check out this video. If you are considering becoming vegan or would like some tips, check this video out.