Every year, researchers are finding more and more benefits to following a plant-based diet. Some benefits of plant-based diets include lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol, preventing heart disease and high blood pressure, helping to control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, and improved body weight.
If you are suffering from chronic pain from whatever source, choosing to follow plant-based diet could help you cope with your pain, and you may even feel significant relief. Research demonstrates that plant-based diets may be a treatment option for people with diabetic neuropathy pain and even osteoarthritis.
As you can see, the benefits of plant-based diets are many. However, for many people, starting a plant-based diet means making significant lifestyle and food choice changes. Even for people who are aware of the many benefits of a plant-based diet, they may still be at the contemplation stage.
If you are one of those people, you may be seriously considering making the change, but you not know how to start. Here, we offer you a quick guide on how to start leading a plant-based diet.
You might be surprised at how easy it is to start!
But first, a little background.
What Defines a Plant-Based Diet?
People usually use the term “diet” when they refer to restricting their food choices in some way, often to lose weight or to meet some other health goal. In the nutrition world, a diet is defined as a pattern of eating. In other words, your diet is what you normally eat on a daily, weekly, and even monthly basis. Over time, certain patterns form, and it is these regular choices that affect our health, rather than short-term changes we make.
For example, drinking a green smoothie one day will not prevent illness, even if it is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Drinking a natural fruit and vegetable smoothie most days over several months and years, however, in addition to other healthy food choices on a daily basis, can help to prevent a range of illnesses because more fruits and vegetables now form part of your diet pattern.
We’ve picked apart the word “diet”, but what about the “plant-based” part of the phrase? You might equate a plant-based diet with “vegan” or “vegetarian” diets. While this might be true for some specialist, plant-based diets might be defined slightly differently by different people.
The Association of UK Dieticians summarizes the different forms of plant-based diets very well. They include:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarianism: A diet that avoids meat, poultry, and seafood, but includes eggs and dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarianism: Same as above, but also avoids dairy products.
- Pescatarians: Eat fish and shellfish, but not poultry or beef.
- Flexitarians: occasionally eat meat and/or poultry but eat mostly plant-based foods.
- Veganism: avoids all animal products, including eggs, dairy, and honey.
Plant-based foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, tubers, nuts, and seeds. Well-balanced plant. Based diets are low in saturated fat, include complete proteins, and have plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
The principle of the different variations of plant-based diets is the same: make plant foods the center of your diet. Make sure that plant foods make up most of what you eat. Your principal source of energy, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat should come from plant foods, not from animal foods – whether that means cutting animal foods out completely or eating them occasionally.
Tips for Adopting a Plant-Based Diet
Here are three tips that will help you lead a plant-based diet.
- Focus on Your Motivation
If you are reading this, you are likely looking to lead a plant-based diet to improve your health. However, there are dozens of other benefits to you and to the planet when you lead a plant-based diet. Whether it is to alleviate your arthritis pain or to live out your love for animals and their rights, keep that at the front of your mind.
To get even more motivated, inform yourself. Read books and articles, watch documentaries, and follow plant-based blogs and pages. These will give you the fuel you need to keep your focus on why you have chosen to lead a plant-based diet.
- Ease into it
Most people can’t go cold turkey when changing their diet, especially if they were voracious carnivores at one point in their life. If you feel like making the change overnight will be too hard for you, take it slow. Every week eliminate an animal food from your diet. The first week you might be a pescatarian, then an ovo-lacto vegetarian, then an ovo-vegetarian, and so on, until you reach your ideal point.
Remember that if you slip, don’t beat yourself up. If you find that it is too hard for you to cut out meat, try some substitutes. There are several brands that make meat and dairy substitutes that might make it easier for you.
- Have some fun!
Plant-based diets shouldn’t mean depriving yourself of yummy meals and snacks. In fact, you might rediscover food altogether when you allow yourself to truly enjoy whole plant foods. Experiment with new recipes, visit that vegetarian restaurant you’ve been hearing about, and try new vegan brands at your local grocery store. They key is to never get bored and truly enjoy every part of your meals!
If you have made the decision to start a plant-based diet, congratulations! The evidence is on your side. If you inform and motivate yourself to eat a balanced plant-based diet, your health with surely thank you!