Want to leave unhealthy eating habits in 2020 and gear up for a whole food plant-based 2021? Eating better was the top New Year’s resolution last year (and most likely this year, too) so you’re hardly alone. That said, making a lifestyle change can be scary! The good news is: it doesn’t have to be. We’re here to help you understand the plant-based diet for beginners, so you can get on your way with a healthier, happier you in the new year.
How do you start a plant-based diet?
1. What is a plant-based diet anyway?
First thing’s first: understand what a whole food plant-based diet really is. A whole food plant-based diet, like a vegan diet, does not include meat, dairy, eggs, or other animal products. However, it also steers clear from refined and processed foods (including foods that contain refined sugar or white flour).
Nutrition science shows us that the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet are plenty: prevention and reversal of chronic disease like diabetes and heart disease, better sleep, clearer skin, healthy weight loss, boosted brain health.
Worried you’ll feel restricted eating this way? We’re here to bust that myth. This isn’t a diet so much as a lifestyle -- and at MamaSezz we don’t like to focus on what you “can’t” have, but rather celebrate all the delicious and colorful foods you’re now adding to your plate.
The best way to get started eating this way is to stock your pantry and fridge with healthy whole food plant-based foods.
Get your questions answered in this compact, popular Ultimate (little) Guide To Plant-Based Eating
What foods can you eat on a plant-based diet?
Whole fruits (fresh and dried) - berries, apples, bananas, pineapple, mango, papaya, dates, oranges, grapefruit, avocado (sparingly if you have heart disease)
100% Whole grains - Barley, Brown rice, Bulgur, Millet, Oats, Quinoa, Wild rice
Legumes - Black beans, Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), Pinto beans, Navy beans (also called Great Northern Beans), Red Lentils, Green Lentils, Mung Beans
Vegetables (both starchy and non starchy) - Leafy greens (swiss chard, spinach, kale), bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, onions, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, sweet potatoes, white potatoes
Raw nuts and seeds - cashews, almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
Spices - Black Pepper, Cayenne, Cinnamon, Chili Powder, Garlic Powder *** (MamaSezz Chef Caroline says garlic powder is a new plant-based eater's best friend), Italian Seasoning, Mrs. Dash or another salt-free all-purpose seasoning, Red Chili Pepper Flakes, Smoked Paprika, Turmeric (Bonus: here are some tips for seasoning without salt.)
Grab our whole food plant-based shopping list here.
2. Simple recipes to get you started on your plant-based diet
Now that your pantry is stocked, you may be wondering just what the heck to do with all your new plant-based food. First, brush up on these plant-based cooking hacks. Then, get to it! We’ve included some of our favorite plant-based diet recipes for beginners below.
Two-Minute Oatmeal Bowl - A budget-friendly and hearty breakfast that takes just 2 minutes and 5 ingredients - perfect for any plant-based beginner.
Green Mountain Power Smoothie - A MamaSezz staff favorite, this green smoothie is sure to become a staple in your newly plant-based household.
Sweet Potato Toast - Sweet potatoes have been deemed one of “the world’s healthiest foods” because they are jam packed with active nutrients! Some of the longest living populations on the planet sustain themselves on a diet heavy with sweet potatoes. This sweet potato toast is perfect for breakfast, snack time, and even dessert!
Portobello Plant-Based “BLT” Sandwich - Skip the bacon and mayo for a plant-based version of this diner classic. Bonus points for being kid-friendly.
Lemon Lentil Soup - Leftover soup makes a great and easy lunch! This plant-based lemon lentil soup recipe is refreshing, hearty, and flavorful. Plus it’s packed with healthy, healing ingredients like garlic, lemon and turmeric. Enjoy this plant-based recipe hot with crushed black pepper, or pour it over a baked sweet potato.
Black Beans and Greens over Rice - Beans and rice are a staple of the plant-based diet for a reason - they’re easy and delicious! This oil-free take can be enjoyed as is or dressed up with your favorite toppings (avocado, hot sauce, fresh cilantro).
Vegan Sushi Power Bowl - Yes, you can still enjoy sushi when you’re plant-based. Better yet, it’s easier to make at home now that you’re thriving on veggies. We love this recipe because it’s super versatile and you can often use what’s already in your fridge and pantry.
Creamy Plant-Based Avocado Pasta - An easy weeknight dinner if there ever was one, this creamy vegan pasta dish is ready in 20 minutes and serves the whole family (or provides enough for lunch leftovers). Pair with your favorite salad and one of these oil-free dressings.
Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream - Rejoice! You don’t have to give up your favorite dessert when you go plant-based! In fact, you can make it at home with a few frozen bananas and a blender. Seriously! See for yourself with this easy recipe.
Pumpkin Spice Shake - Pumpkin spice crazy? You’re going to want make this quick and easy dairy-free shake.
Dates with peanut butter - Pick up some dates at the grocery store (in the produce section) and pit them slice almost in half, leaving the bottom in tact, then fill up with peanut butter for a decadent all-natural dessert!
Check out our favorite 15 easy whole food plant-based snacks here.
3. How do you get protein on a plant-based diet?
Worried you won’t get enough protein when you’re eating plant-based foods? This is a common concern but the truth is, you don’t need to stress over this. Plant-based eaters get plenty of protein (and other essential nutrients!).
Actually, plant-based eaters enjoy a more complete nutrient profile overall than those who consume a standard American diet. And it’s pretty difficult to become protein deficient. It’s much more common for Americans eating the Standard American Diet to be lacking in fiber than vegans lacking in protein. For more on the protein question, check out our blog post outlining HOW and WHY you’ll meet all your protein needs with plants here.
4. Learn how to read nutrition labels
When you start eating plant-based foods, you’ll become pretty well acquainted with the produce section. That said, there will be times when you pick up something packaged at the grocery store (like organic tempeh or oil-free brown rice crackers). In these cases, you’re going to want to know how to accurately read nutrition labels to assess whether something fits with your new lifestyle or not.
No worries! We’ve put together a quick and easy guide to get you up to speed in no time. Discover our tricks for reading nutrition labels here.
5. Do I need to take supplements on a plant-based diet? Yes, get your B12
Due to the rich nutrient profile of plant-based foods, you don’t need to worry about supplementation, except for in the case of Vitamin B12. B12 is found predominantly in animal products.
Why? It’s made by bacteria that’s commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. But don’t worry, you can absolutely meet your B12 requirements on a whole food plant-based diet through supplements and fortified foods (like nutritional yeast, your new favorite addition to your spice rack.) Learn more about the best sources of vegan B12 here.
6. Strive for progress, not perfection!
Not ready to jump in cold turkey? That’s ok! Rome wasn’t built in a day and a lifestyle change doesn’t always happen overnight. Take measured steps toward your goal if you’re worried going “all in” will set you up for failure. Here are some of our tips for gradually moving toward a whole food plant-based life:
- Make plant-based swaps, like:
- Start with Meatless Monday then add more and more meatless days to your rotation until you’re going meat-free all 7 days!
- Learn how to dine out on a whole food plant-based diet with this restaurant ordering guide
- Understand how to reset your tastebuds (and what happens when you do)
- Chip away at your junk food addiction by doing this
7. Get Help
Not sure you want to do this alone? You don’t have to. With our MamaSezz 2-Week Plant-Based Challenge you can get healthy and stay healthy in 2 weeks. Get support from our plant-based experts and 500+ plant-based challenge community members along the way. Plus, 2 week’s of ready-made meals, delivered to your door, so you can focus on getting healthy, not meal prepping. Learn more here.
8. Get Educated with these Plant-Based Resources
The more you arm yourself with knowledge, the easier eating this will become. Some of our favorite plant-based resources are included below.
Websites - Nutrition Science + Articles
John A. McDougall, MD - drmcdougall.com
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD — dresselstyn.com
Forks Over Knives — forksoverknives.com
Colin Campbell, PhD — nutritionstudies.org
Jeff Novick, MS, RD — jeffnovick.com
Rip Esselstyn — engine2diet.com
Neal D. Barnard, MD and the Physician’s Committe for Responsible Medicine —pcrm.org
Michael Greger, MD — nutritionfacts.org
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. — drfuhrman.com
Dean Ornish, M.D. — ornishspectrum.com
Nutriciously - https://nutriciously.com/
The China Study Family Cookbook
Straight Up Food
Engine 2 Cookbook by Rip and Jane Esselstyn
The PlantPure Kitchen by Kim Campbell
Plant-Powered Families by Dreena Burton
Plant Strong by Rip and Jane Esselstyn
The How NOT to Die Cookbook by Michael Greger, MD
The China Study - Revised and Expanded Edition
The Forks Over Knives Plan
The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss - Chef AJ
Unprocessed: How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight - Chef AJ
The Plant Power Way by Rich Roll
How NOT to Die by Michael Greger MD
Proteinaholic by Garth Davis MD
The Healthiest Diet on the Planet by Michael McDougall MD
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn MD
Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman
Cheese Trap by Neal Barnard MD
Reversing Diabetes by Neal Barnard MD
9. Enjoy yourself!
This whole lifestyle change is about being the best, healthiest, happiest, least cranky version of you. So have some fun! Try new things, eat lots of delicious plant-based foods, invite supportive friends to join you for a healthy meal, laugh a lot. You’ve got this.