8 “Do's and Don't's” If You're Going Plant-Based for the First Time—A Beginner's Guide.
If you’re looking to switch to a whole foods plant-based diet for the first time, here are 8 "do’s and don’t's" from our Plantable coaches for you to consider.
1. DON’T Fall for vegan junk food!
Technically, Oreo’s are vegan… but that doesn’t make them a healthier alternative? Unfortunately, not so much! In fact, a number of “plant-based” snacks are packed with sugar, inflammatory oils and highly-processed refined grains. Large industrial food producers and manufacturers want to convince us that they are good for us - but beware of that false marketing! While you might think you're opting for a healthy alternative because it says plant-based or vegan on the wrapper, you’ll want to take a closer look at the ingredients.
Here are three simple guidelines:
- Pay attention to sugar content. “Zero added sugar” is the label you want to look for, but be mindful that products without added sugar can still contain naturally occurring sugar, sugar alcohol and artificial sweeteners.*
- Avoid highly processed oils like palm, canola, sunflower and safflower oil as these can cause inflammation in the body.
- Look for a short list of ingredients and *bonus points if you actually understand the names of each ingredient.
Follow these three guidelines, and you’ll be reaping the rewards of a whole food, plant-based diet, which is optimal for both your health and that of the planet
RELATED: Healthy Foods that Actually Aren’t
2. DO stick to familiar flavors and meal prep when making plant-based meals by substituting animal products for plants —DON’T eliminate them.
Plantable's 'Creamy Spinach Mac and Cheese' - (made with cashews)
If you’re struggling with too much change too quickly, an easy way to slow down the rate of change is to substitute plant foods for animal products. For instance, say you love pasta. That’s great—we also love pasta! Luckily, there are some amazing pasta variations out there that use legumes such chickpeas, black beans and red lentils in place of wheat flour and eggs. Not only do these alternatives taste great and are secretly packed with healthy proteins, more importantly they imitate almost perfect that true experience of eating a plate of pasta. That way, you get to keep your favourite pasta dish a part of your regular menu AND reap the benefits of healthy legume alternatives.
This can be done across the board as well. You like hot wings? Try this Forks Over Knives recipe for Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower Bites! Not sure what to make at the next BBQ? Check out our most recent blog post “6 healthy plant-based recipes for the 4th of July.” As you can imagine, the list goes on and on.
If you have any specific substitutes you’re struggling to replace with a plant-based alternative, drop us a line on email@example.com! One of our coaches will be standing by to hear from you!
3. DON’T forget to stay plenty hydrated.
If you’re new to a plant-based diet that’s filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and complex carbohydrates, be prepared for a healthy fiber overload! To make sure that digestive tract of yours keeps operating smoothly, you’ll want to stay hydrated while you’re making these lifestyle changes. Insoluble fiber acts as a sponge and has the potential to dehydrate you if you do not increase your normal water intake. You can also incorporate more fruits and vegetables with higher concentrations of water content while you’re adjusting to your new plant-based lifestyle.
Eventually, we won’t need hyper focus on your hydration as much as you fall into the swing of things, but since when has prioritizing healthy hydration ever been a bad thing? Healthy hydration keeps not only your digestive tract, but EVERYTHING operating smoothly—cognition, mood regulation, improved sleep quality, healthier skin, prevents the development of chronic diseases and infection, proper organ function, keeps your joints lubricated and your muscles operating, the list goes on and on. Aim for at least 64oz per day, and more if that is already what you are drinking.
4. DO consider taking natural supplements (in the beginning and beyond).
*DISCLAIMER: Always speak with your doctor or dietitian before beginning a supplementation protocol.*
Supplements do not replace a healthy diet! Studies show that supplements are not processed and absorbed in the same way as nutrients from whole foods. Consuming nutrients in their whole food form means you are getting the synergistic effect of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and macronutrients together. That being said, there are certain supplements that may be necessary when switching to a plant based diet for the long-term.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that vitamin B12 deficiency among vegans ranges from 48% to 86%. This deficiency is due to the fact that vitamin B12 is made by bacteria in the gut of animals and therefore is not commonly found in plant foods. Plant-based or not, the Institute of Medicine, (“IOM”) also recommends that adults 50 years and older take a B12 supplement because as we age, we become less efficient at absorbing B12 (thank you, aging process). A B12 deficiency can result in anemia and nervous system damage, which is likely to present in the form of depression, a tingling or numbness in extremities and a loss of motor skills.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
An omega-3 supplement is another you may want to consider when transitioning to a strict plant-based diet. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are two essential fatty acids that are most bioavailable in fish oils. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a precursor to EPA and DHA but the process of converting ALA to EPA or DHA is not efficient in our bodies. Conversion rates of ALA to EPA and DHA are reported to be less than 15%. Omega 3’s work to lower inflammation and triglyceride levels in the body, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, because DHA is an important part of cell membranes in the brain, DHA has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older adults.
5. DON’T keep counting calories!
Let’s start with this fundamental statement: Not all calories are created equal. How the body treats a calorie is dependent upon its source and the extent to which it has been processed.
Let us break this down for you. For example, whole foods that are high in fiber are not digested as easily, so they do not rapidly enter the bloodstream after being consumed. This fiber makes its way down into the gut to feed the good-for-you bacteria in the microbiome. The fiber then leaves our body through bowel movements. Healthy whole foods fiber keeps our insulin levels balanced, which means the body is not storing the energy in fiber. Calories in whole foods fiber therefore are not absorbed and stored in the same way as calories in, for example, a protein bar which is highly processed and refined. Furthermore, a fiber-heavy diet leaves us feeling full with a steady stream of energy (goodbye afternoon crash) and not continuously craving more food. As we adopt a nutrient-dense, whole foods, plant-based, diet we can stop counting calories and just start listening to our body. And there is a beautiful freedom in that.
6. DO make sure you’re getting enough plant-based protein.
Luckily, this won’t be that difficult to achieve.
We hear this question time and time again, “Will I be getting enough protein from a plant-based diet?” It seems that we are conditioned to believe meat is the only source of protein, but the truth is protein can be found in all plant foods. Whole grains, legumes, beans, peas and vegetables are excellent sources of protein and can easily provide sufficient quantities for satiety and muscle development. In fact, if we over consume protein, we can impose a metabolic burden on our organs, especially our kidneys.
So not to worry - you can get plenty of protein on a plant-based diet. The key is to switch up the plants, whole grains and legumes proteins you eat often so that you are getting all of the essential amino acids from the various sources. If you follow a particularly rigorous workout routine, consider supplementing with an unflavored and unsweetened pea protein and add this to your post-workout smoothie.
If you need some additional help or reassurance that you’re getting enough plant-based protein, order some cookbooks like “The No Meat Athlete Cookbook: Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes to Fuel Your Workouts—and the Rest of Your Life” or sign up for a plant-based meal program. Something like our signature program The Reboot, which is a 28-day health reset that comes with chef-prepared plant-based meals, unlimited SMS-coaching support and daily educational content about nutrition and healthy eating to accompany our clients on their food habits reset. The Reboot is designed to alleviate all of the stress and decision making around food and meal planning while you can simply focus on breaking up with food bad habits, easily transition towards a plant-based diet, and get a better understanding of your psychological relationship with food.
Which tee’s up for the next two points quite nicely.
7. DO start slowly changing the way you think about meat.
If you’re having trouble letting go of eating meat, slowly changing the way you think about meat can make your plant-based diet transition a whole lot easier. Consider the amazing positive health implications that come with a diet low in meat and the overall improvement in your environmental footprint. According to the University of British Columbia, “Modern agriculture is now the number one contributor to a variety of factors that impose hazards to the environment, including and not limited to, an increase in rates of methane and CO2, overconsumption of water, overuse of land resources, waste production, water and air quality degradation, deforestation, and species extinction.”
As you adopt your new, more plant-centric lifestyle, you’ll find that you don’t miss meat as much as you think you will. You will feel amazing AND also be clocking up good planetary Karma.
8. DO consider your overall relationship with food.
What we’ve learned over the years of coaching clients, is that the key to making sustainable, long lasting diet and habit changes starts with understanding your psychological relationship with food.
Food is complicated. It is essential to living and we make food decisions multiple times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Food is sustenance, it is cultural, it is pleasurable, it can be emotional and we might be dependent (aka addicted) to certain choices. Making a dietary shift can be complicated by all these factors because change can be uncomfortable.
For many of us, our eating habits have been formed and reinforced over a lifetime. The first step of change is understanding what is driving our current behavior, and acknowledging why we want to change. Maybe the motivation for change is to lose weight, or to reverse chronic inflammation, or to eat less meat for environmental reasons. When we keep in mind our motivation for change, it makes the process of change easier. Similarly, when we are in the process of changing our food habits, understanding why we are making each change through learning, studying and understanding nutrition makes the transition process so much easier.
Once we understand why certain foods are driving certain behavior - then it becomes easier to make a different decision.
That is why in our Reboot program, we’ve incorporated daily educational content along with personal one-on-one support. While our clients are eating chef-prepared plant based meals, they are supported and educated, facilitating successful change. Before they know it, those ‘new habits’ become ‘new lifelong habits’.
Everything we do at Plantable is to ensure our clients actually enjoy the process of change by making healthier eating easy, enjoyable and successful - with immediate results. The best news is that if you are ready to take the plant-based plunge, you will feel better and we are here to cheer you on, every step of the way!
Curious about what a plant-based lifestyle can do for you? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love the Plantable team