How to Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet

Whether you are trying to simply improve your health or lose weight, a plant based diet can be a great way to achieve your health goals. While it can seem overwhelming to give up animal products at first, your body will thank you in the long run! The great news is you do not have to do this alone, the Wholesome app can assist with this transition by allowing you to make the best food choices while meeting your vitamin and nutrient needs. Wholesome was created to help those on a plant-based diet spot nutrition gaps and ensure they are getting all the micronutrients their body needs. The app tracks over 90 nutrients including antioxidants and omega3s. You can set your own customized nutrition goals or rely on what the USDA recommends for you. And if you're pregnant the app will adjust your targets for the needs of eating for two.

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What is a plant based diet? There are varying definitions of a plant-based diet, but it is commonly understood to be an eating pattern that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds [1]. The most popular plant-based diets are vegetarianism and veganism, although there are many others out there to explore and it is important to find the one that works for you. Plant based diets are hugely popular to reduce our impact on the environment and as a way to improve overall health. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, following a vegan or vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, several types of cancer, and so much more [2]. Below are tips on how to make the most of transitioning to this style of eating:

 

1. Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

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It may go without saying, but in order to truly follow a plant-based diet, you have to eat plants. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals while being naturally low in calories, making them the cornerstone of any healthy diet. Not only is it important to eat at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables each day, but it is also important to eat an assortment of different varieties and colors.  Color is associated with active compounds in our fruits and vegetables which have been suggested to provide healthful properties, so it is important to eat many different colors. The key to getting the most out of healthy eating is variety. 

 

2. Read Labels

Sadly, not everything that is vegan or vegetarian is healthy. This means it is more important than ever to start reading labels and making educated food decisions. The fact that something does not contain animal products, such as dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, or seafood, does not mean it isn’t full of sugar, fat, and added salt. For example, Oreos are vegan because the “cream” is oil and the cookie was made without milk or eggs- but no one would argue an Oreo is good for us. Read labels and compare which products are least processed and contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Remember, the Wholesome App can assist with tracking and making better food choices. 

 

3. Get Your Whole Grains

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Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but the truth is many foods associated with being higher in carbohydrates, such as whole grains, contain important B vitamins, iron, fiber, and so much more. The “Whole” in whole grains means that the seed of the plant is intact and less processed than other foods. Not only are they part of a balanced diet, but dried grains often store well in the pantry, making them a must-have to keep around. There are so many ways to eat whole grains other than just whole wheat bread or pasta. Barley is great in soups and stews, quinoa makes a great cold salad, and of course there is nothing like a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Brown rice, couscous, popcorn, amaranth, rye, farro, and so many other whole grains are just waiting for you to try them.

 

4. Try New Things

As I have stated, variety is such an important part of any diet, but especially when going plant-based. Challenge yourself to try new things every time you go to the grocery store in order to explore all the different fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes that make up a plant-based diet. Often the foods we don’t like are because we had those foods poorly prepared years ago and have never tried them again. This is your chance to give those foods and even more a chance! Not only will trying new things benefit your health, but it may benefit your wallet. Trying foods in season often means they cost less. As an example, the fresh strawberries you usually buy may be over $5.00 a carton in the winter, but pomegranate is in season and 2 for $5. Of course the availability and exact prices vary by geographic region, but there will always be something new.

 

5. Beans Are Your Friend

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Often times, before beginning a plant based diet the most experience anyone has with beans is the canned baked beans at summer bar-b-ques. Beans, which are a legume, are high in plant based protein, as well as fiber. Depending on the type, beans can also be excellent sources of folate, B Vitamins, copper, iron, manganese, and magnesium. There are a wide variety of beans all with different flavors and uses available to add protein and nutrients to any meal.

Changing your diet can be overwhelming, but use these tips to make the transition a little less daunting. By switching to a plant-based diet you are already making valuable steps to improve your overall health, and with the Wholesome App you can search recipes, tips, and view your personalized nutrient needs to make the process less challenging.  

 

1-     Tuso, P. J., Ismail, M. H., Ha, B. P., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. Perm J, 17(2), 61-66. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085

2-     Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(12), 1970-1980. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025