So, you’ve decided to try something new and exciting? Something that will pay off a hundred fold in terms of your health and well-being?
This is fantastic news! It’s the start of a journey that will lead you to not only feeling and looking amazing, but full of energy and with higher protection against disease and sickness in general.
We’re happy for you, and aim to help make your transition to amazing plant foods as easy as possible with my plant based diet for beginners in-depth how to guide for 2022.
Plant Based Diet Benefits and Pitfalls
Do you get cheesed off with feeling pretty rubbish the majority of the time? It’s the plight of many on the typical Western diet. I was one of them once upon a time, but in the almost 5 years of eating pretty much ALL plant foods I have seen my energy levels soar and my general health go to heights I have never before experienced.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some plant based diet pros and cons of course. It took me some learning through trial and error exactly what my body needed in terms of protein and nutrient requirements. But, I got there in the end, and this is why I’m writing this article – to take the hard work out of it for you so you can get to higher level of health in a faster time.
It’s important to remember that we are all different in terms of the macronutrients we require. It depends on body size, fitness and general exercise levels. I do a LOT of exercises, such as weight lifting, swimming and power walking. Nothing too over the top, but much more than the average person. Therefore I find my body needs more nutrients and amino acids to keep up with the constant demand being put upon it.
Nutritional Requirements of Exercisers
This is something I learned the hard way in the beginning, and was one of those pitfalls I was talking about. I found I stared to actually lose some muscle mass when I first transitioned to eating just plants. I can only put this down to eating way less protein than when I was eating animal based foods.
This, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t putting together complete meals in terms of amino acid profiles could have been the culprit
Plus, I the extra stress on my body through my exercise regime again amplified the effects of me not getting enough good quality protein. This by no means has to happen, but it can if you’re not vigilant and take time the time to learn the important basics fist.
Even with my background in nutrition, I wasn’t prepared for exactly what this way of eating meant until I tried it for myself and got first hand experience.
I would like to reiterate at this point that if you are not an avid exerciser, then most of this information about protein won’t apply to you if you are eating a whole foods diet.
Plant based diet for athletes
After recently watching the plant based diet documentary “The Game Changers” on Netflix, it has totally changed my perception to another level again about the plant based diet.
If you haven’t seen it, then do your best to as soon as you can. If you are still in any doubt about this lifestyle, then rest assured, after watching this mind blowing program you won’t be. Other good documentaries to watch are ‘what the Health’ and ‘Seaspiracy’.
In the ‘Game Changers’ the makers have researched many athletes of all kinds eating plant foods. They have discovered that plant eating athletes are not only getting their best times ever with this diet, but some are also doing it at an age when previously it was thought impossible.
You’ve got one of the strongest Men in the world who looks like an ox and has the strength of an ox; an Olympic cycling athlete who won medals at the ripe old age of 39, and a person who ran over 2,000 miles in forty days ALL ON PLANTS!
Yes, perceptions are changing FAST! Plant based diet foods are being served absolutely everywhere as the world demands them more and more. Exciting times are ahead.
How to put together a Nutritionally Complete Meal
It’s absolutely vital that before entering into this healthful lifestyle, you know the basics of food combining and putting together a complete meal. This means understanding the value of complete plant based amino acids, low GI carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
For instance, you will keep yourself much more sustained and full if you make sure you have protein, complex carbohydrates and a little healthy fats with all your meals and snacks. Eating in this way will help to keep your blood sugar levels more stable which will result in less snacking and bad food cravings.
Remember, this is a journey…
You’ll find that you will learn as you go along. It’s a journey, and by the time you’re a year down the line you’ll be a plant pro, whipping up healthy meals at a moments notice from bits and bobs left in the cupboard. And, you’ll know exactly how to order in the restaurants that don’t have plant based options.
In the beginning you may find eating out or family dinners can be one of the hardest things about plant based eating. But, fortunately veganism has exploded and become much more popular worldwide. This means most restaurants, and even fast food chains are keeping up with the demand and putting out new and exciting plant based menus.
The Whole Foods Plant Based Diet
A lot of people are asking the difference between a plant based diet and a whole foods plant based diet. “Whole foods” by definition means anything that hasn’t been extracted from it’s original and natural source.
This means plant foods such as isolated protein powders, oils, sweeteners and sugars including syrups such as maple, agave and brown rice syrup are out of bounds. This also includes many of the meat-free burgers, sausages, hams, cheeses and myco-protein products are often out of bounds.
Beginning your whole foods diet
If you’re just starting out, this may become over-whelming for you. To make things easier, you may wish to take advantage of these easy and fast products whilst you are learning to find healthier versions. It’s better to do it this way than to give up quickly due to lack of knowing what else to eat.
If you do wish to go straight in with the whole foods diet then I applaud you, and you will find recipes on our blog to help you accomplish this.
But, you may want to go somewhere in the middle, like I do, and eat mostly whole foods with a little bit of oil such as coconut or olive here or there to make life easier.
But, it’s definitely a must to stay away from ALL refined sugars as much as possible if you want to get super healthy fast. Please check out these easy one pot and store cupboard staple recipes that I use a lot. They are cheap, easy, family friendly and delicious.
Starting Your Plant Based Journey
It’s been a couple of years on this journey for me, and what started out as a bit of a detox type experiment has led me on a path that I will never look back from. Why? Because cutting out inflammation promoting animal products and eating whole plant foods (not vegan junk foods) has changed my life and transformed my health more in ways I never though possible. And, once you’ve been to this pLace of elevated health and vitality then, trust me, you will never want to go back.
It did take me about 3 attempts of eating plant based before I stopped craving meat and dairy. It was only on my third attempt that something just ‘clicked’ and I knew I had changed something inside of me for good. I can still remember that ‘clicking’ now, strangely enough. Almost like my body was talking to me and telling me what it did and didn’t want anymore.
The 90/10 Rule
The key is to NOT beat yourself up if you give in at times. Just keep going at it! After all, you’re trying to change a lifetime of conditioned and habitual thinking patterns around food. Patterns that your mind isn’t going to give up without a fight, so just go easy on yourself.
That’s probably the number one rule that I also imposed upon myself too. If you try to be perfect straight off then you will more than likely fail. I find sticking to a 90/10 rule works fine. 90% good stuff, and 10% leeway for those things you really enjoy and don’t want to give up, and why should you? To be clear, I’m only talking plant based food here. I never cheat with animal products.
10 Plant Based Diet Possible Benefits
Here are some of the truly amazing things I have noticed about my body and health since eating a mostly whole foods diet. These benefits will help you understand exactly why I’m sticking with it for good. And, why I will never go back to feeling sluggish, lethargic and bloated.
1. MORE ENERGY
Yes, I definitely have more energy than EVER! This did take a little trial and error at first, but these days I rarely get that mid-afternoon slump or feel like I can’t be bothered to exercise.
In fact, I now have the energy and impetus to do all the things I wish to do in my life without even thinking it will be a chore.
2. CLEAR SKIN AND SPARKLING EYES
This is one of the major things you will notice very quickly. Big changes in your skin tone and texture. My skin is soft now and my eyes are definitely clearer and brighter – so much so that people comment on it.
You may say that this is due to eating a lot more antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables which comes naturally with the plant based lifestyle. But, it really isn’t just that as I ate the same amount of veggies when I was still eating animal products. It was when I stopped eating animal products that the real magic began to happen. If you do watch ‘The Game Changers’ you will see the exact science behind this.
3. FEELING LESS BLOATED AND PUFFY
And I mean less bloated, all over! In fact, I didn’t even realise that I was always slightly bloated until suddenly I wasn’t. But, now I can see the difference and others can se it too! I’ve also noticed the same in some of my friends who, after seeing what it did for me, have followed suit and tried this amazing diet for themselves.
4. BETTER SLEEP
You will sleep better when you have adequate nutrients in your body. And, you will get those nutrients with ease through the eating of lots of fruits and veggies.
You’ll also find that on a healthy plant based diet you will automatically be cutting down on sugar and refined carbohydrates. That in itself will help to keep your blood sugar more stable which studies show can have the benefit of much deeper and better quality sleep. And this one benefit alone will obviously have a huge and positive impact on your health and whole life experience.
5. FEWER ACHES AND PAINS
As animal products can contribute to inflammation, you may very well notice that you have fewer aches and pains than before This is especially so with arthritic type pains which can be caused by chronic inflammation.
Though research is still being done, it is thought that chronic inflammation may well be one of the root causes of certain diseases. Another reason we should all be trying to eat more plants too!
I personally notice the anti inflammatory effects of a plant based diet mostly after a hard workout when I think I’m going to be aching like hell the next day but in fact don’t.
I would even go so far to say that I hardly ever feel a thing these days, no matter how hard I workout. Or, if I do it passes quickly. This has ONLY been the case since my change of diet. Of course, this super quick recovery time is also great in terms of, not only being able to exercise a lot more, but also in being more productive in general with every other aspect of my life.
6. LESS SICKNESS
I’m talking coughs, colds and viruses mostly. Put it this way, I haven’t really been sick in the last 3 years. I’m presuming there must be a connection to what I am putting in my body as it’s the only thing that makes sense.
Sometimes I may feel a bug or something trying to get a grip on me, but it always seems to be gone the next day. This means my immune system must be stronger than ever and fighting infections off before they even take proper hold.
7. LESS, OR NO PMS
I suffered chronic PMS symptoms before changing my diet, but they are SO much better. And I never though anything could change that!
In fact, I don’t even know when my period is going to come these days as I get barely the mood swings or pain I was used to. Whereas before I needed a whole box of pain killers just to get me through this time of month. Again, I’m certain this is more than likely down to my anti inflammatory plant based diet.
8. FEELING HAPPIER IN GENERAL
If you know me (or have read my bio) you’ll know that depression is a demon I have always struggled with, ever since I was a teenager in fact. So severe it was, and so passionate I have been about alleviating it, that it has been the catalyst for my whole life’s journey and study into food and exercise. I control this through my diet and exercise.
I haven’t actually had true depression for years as I’ve always kept it at bay as much as possible by eating healthily and exercising. For me this has been the ONLY viable long term solution for anxiety and depression.
But, that’s just my experience, and you would need to check with your doctor before self-diagnosing this serious illness. But, it’s still true that since changing my diet my happiness levels have soared even higher.
Omega 3 oils
I also put my mood down to the fact that I still take high strength omega 3 oils with both the EPA and DHA that are derived from the same plankton that the fish feed from. It is vitally important that you get the supplements that contain the DHA because that is what works specifically on mood.
Most omega 3’s from nuts and seeds only contain this in negligible amounts to have an effect on mood (I’ve tried and tested it more than once), so make sure you get the algae derived DHA.
Health, Fitness and Mood
I find depression is a strange beast, you always feel it’s there underlying and waiting to come back again. Keeping your body as fit and healthy as possible, plus keeping blood sugar stable with a low GI diet may give YOU back some control over it.
I still have times when I feel it could be rearing it’s ugly head again. But, nowadays I know it cannot get a proper grip on me anymore as my body is stronger and healthier than ever. Therefore my MIND is stronger and healthier too (I made this connection between body and mind a long time ago).
Cleaning the junk out of your body will also clear the junk out of your head much like a detoxification, making you feel calmer and happier. You’ll also feel your stress levels dropping, giving you much more control over your life.
In fact, you may find it harder to get stressed out no matter what happens when your mood is stable through blood sugar control and low GI eating. It really can be that simple.
9. BETTER MEMORY
Again, I put this down to having less inflammation (and studies show the same), evened out blood sugar and a more detoxified body in general.
I find that my memory is like a sponge now, whereas before my brain fog meant I could forget something as soon as it went in )which was often quite embarrassing). I now am able to learn new things more quickly than ever, so this was yet another MAJOR PLUS of this super healthy lifestyle for me.
10. LONG TERM HEALTH
You can now see just how many valid reasons there are to try the plant based diet for yourself. And, these are just the benefits I have noticed so far! Who knows what the future holds as my body heals further.
Can you also imagine what this could mean for long term health and fitness? The future definitely looks better when you look after your body in this manner.
Make small changes one step at a time
Here is a list of the things you can easily start changing today. You do not need to do everything at once, but instead incrementally make small changes every day, week and month until they become habits. It is vital you consume ALL the foods on this list as much as possible. You will need all of these food groups to ensure a well balanced diet that contains enough nutrients.
- Swap your regular milk for almond, hemp, oat, rice, coconut or soy. You can use these for anything you would ordinarily use cow’s milk for. This will take some trial and error before you find a milk that suits you best and also one that you prefer the taste of. For instance, I like almond milk in my tea and coffee and coconut milk in my delicious green fat burning smoothies as the texture is just better like that, but I guess it’s personal opinion. Sometimes plant milks will curdle in certain coffee brands and not others. You can buy barista blend plant milks specifically for coffee lovers that are very close to tasting and acting like cow’s milk.
- You will want to check labels scrupulously as a lot of these milks are sweetened with refined sugars or concentrated fruit juices. Ideally you should go for the unsweetened versions to keep your sugar intake down.
- Swap your ordinary dairy products for the vegan versions that can easily be found in abundance in most supermarkets these days. There are also a good deal of soy and coconut based versions of cheeses, yogurts, butters and ice creams, so you need never go without. Buying imitation dairy and other animal products is one thing on the list that you don’t actually need to do as many of them do not offer much in terms of nutritional benefits. Plus, they are not strictly ‘whole food’ plant based. However, they may stand in as a good substitute while you’re finding your feet.
- To keep sugars down,= you should shy away from most shop bought cereals, and instead go for porridge oats, oat bran or a wholesome homemade protein rich muesli.
- Swap meat for tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa or pulses, as all of these can be added to stir-fries, curries, chilis, or pretty much any dish that you would ordinarily use meat for.
- Try to buy and eat foods in their whole form as much possible rather than fake meats, mycoproteins and all the other newfangled vegan products on the market. They are great when you’re starting out. or when you’re really busy, but ultimately you want to be heading towards a whole plant food eating plan as much as possible.
THINGS TO ADD IN
It’s always important to keep your meals balanced with proteins, low GI carbohydrates and healthy fats, as they will fill you up for longer this way. Below are lists of each category to help you get a picture of how to combine them together.
Below list I have only bothered mentioning the healthy stuff, as eating junk won’t give you the results I have been raving about in this post and I don’t want it to look like I’m telling fibs. There are, of course, lots of vegan junk foods such as crisps, fried food, chips, sweets, all refined carbs, free sugars and confectionery. But, I definitely wouldn’t recommend these too often if you want to feel the true benefits of whole plant foods. Remember the 90/10 rule!
Just to clarify, some of the foods on this list contain fats, carbs and protein all together in the same food and this is the reason they may be written in more than one section.
- Olive, coconut, flax, sesame and avocado oil (not technically ‘whole foods’)
- Whole coconuts
- Soya, and soy beans
- Legumes such as baked beans, chick peas, lentils, sweetcorn, green peas, pinto, cannellini, kidney, butter, borlotti and black beans.
- Wholegrains such as granary bread, buckwheat, spelt, brown pasta, brown rice, millet, amaranth, and quinoa (these are both proteins and carbohydrates in one, but ideally should have another protein source from the list with them to get adequate amounts).
- Nutritional yeast
- Some vegetables are higher in proteins, such as broccoli and avocado.
- Wholegrains such as granary bread, buckwheat, spelt, sweetcorn, brown pasta, brown rice, millet, amaranth, lentils, pulses and quinoa.
- White, red, purple, new, and sweet potatoes
- Pumpkin and squashes
- Vegetables such as parsnips, yams, beetroots and carrots
- High sugar fruits such as bananas, pineapple, mango, grapes and papaya
- Fat burning dried fruits
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
- Every day eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, especially nutritionally superior leafy green veg. These should make up a big bulk of your diet as they are full of anti aging and disease fighting phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Take a shot of one of these powerful green superfood powders every day as they really push your health to another level (I’m talking extremely ‘glowy’ skin level). And, if you can’t (or won’t) get enough greens down you, then this is the perfect way to make up for it.
- Don’t forget to add lots of herbs and spices to your food. They all contain other nutrients and detoxifying elements that you may not find elsewhere. Turmeric, coriander, parsley cinnamon, cardamon and ginger are among the healthiest.
Plant Based Diet Meal Plan Examples
- For breakfast, you can make green smoothies with avocado, banana, spinach and nut milk. Or any other combination of fruits and vegetables. Just be sure to add a little healthy fat such as sugar-free peanut butter, chia seeds or avocado for smoothness and nutrient absorption.
You can add frozen fruits straight into your smoothie for convenience. Doing this will also give you that cold, frothy milkshake texture that is so delicious. Sliced, pre-frozen, really ripe banana works just great for this as it tastes like ice cream and has a sticky, gooey texture. Heaven!
- You can also make an amazing Nice-Cream Bowl!
- Either smashed avocado and tahini on toast, or sugar free peanut butter on sourdough is the perfect low GI, filling breakfast.
- Add berries, nuts, and seeds to porridge or granola, with a sliced banana on top.
- Make your own oil free granola.
- Having a low carbohydrate protein powder shake in the morning will help keep you full. It will also keep your body in fat burning mode after fasting through the night. It’s also a great idea to do this if you wish to burn fat and build muscle at an accelerated rate.
- Make these WFPB waffles.
- Hummus and rainbow salad sandwich. Make extra hummus so you can eat it more than once and this is a healthy lunch.
- If you want something raw, try this raw carrot cake. It will last up to 7 days in your fridge because of all the spices in it.
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LUNCHES AND DINNERS
- Make soups and stews from a mixture of root veg, greens, a protein such as lentils (or another legume), plus herbs and spices. You can literally make endless combinations of soups and stews using this basic recipe alone. Try this amazing, yellow split pea soup and Authentic Minestrone.
- Make huge salads with lots of greens, grated carrot, chunks of avocado, sweetcorn etc. Sprinkle with some toasted nuts and seeds.
- Bean, cinnamon and chocolate chili – sounds weird, but I make this every week and it lasts me days. It’s a chili made of mixed beans such as kidney, chickpea and butter beans, with a few chunks of dark chocolate added. This really makes a difference to the depth of flavour and is a good replacement for meaty stock cubes. If not better. Just try it and see!
- Roasted root veg such as parsnips, beetroot, squash, onions and carrots, on a bed of highly nutritious quinoa with some steamed broccoli on the side. My favorite way to roast veggies is in a little coconut oil and balsamic vinegar for sweetness, then tossed with herbs and spices such as vegetables bouillon, paprika, garlic, rosemary, thyme and sage. Here’s my full recipe.
- If you miss Caribbean style chicken, then I have made the perfect plant based version for you.
Check out some of my other EASY and SIMPLE lunch ideas.
- Hummus and/or sliced avocado on oatcakes
- Hummus and vegetable sticks
- Coconut yogurt with chopped fruit and nuts
- Dried fruit and a handful of nuts and seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Fruit, especially bananas
- Raw deserts
- Vegetable juices and green superfood powder shots
- Healthy Snickers stuffed dates
- These other low carb snack ideas
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How much protein do I need?
Don’t panic about it, just be sure to add foods from the above protein list with every meal or snack. You want to aim for about 0.8-1.5 grams of protein per 1 kg of body weight. This will also depend on your specific needs, your age and how much exercise you do, but don’t get hung up on this if you’re not in intense training or a vegan athlete.
BUT, if you are doing lots of training, or even if you’re trying to lose weight or cut fat or build muscle, then you may need to go for the higher end of the protein spectrum. Some plant foods are much higher than others, so please check out this list of the different amounts of proteins in plant foods.
If you do require higher amounts of protein, then you can easily supplement with a good quality protein powder to boost your intake.
Possible Weight Gain on the Plant Based Diet
Many start the plant based diet thinking they will naturally lose all their unwanted weight and miraculously obtain the body of their dreams, but often this isn’t the case.
You will more than likely go into this lifestyle without the understanding required to put a meal together that actually fill you up. Or, maybe at first you will just plain be eating too many refined carbohydrates and fats. You need to focus your meals around complex carbs and proteins for satiety.
Stay away from refined carbs
These things can easily happen when you are unused to having to think about your food. New people to this lifestyle often skip the meat and dairy and replace it with EXTRA fats and carbs in the form of potatoes, white pasta, bread, fries and refined flours and oils. All of which will make you pile on the pounds and throw your blood sugar out of whack.
This is why adding lots of fully rounded plant proteins to your meals will make all the difference. There are 5 plant foods that contain a good mix of all the essential amino acids that should ideally be eaten every day (though not necessarily at every meal). These are:-
But, other great protein sources are:-
- Nut butters
- Wholegrains such as corn, barley, amaranth, spelt, brown breads, wholemeal sourdough
- Pulses and other legumes
Fats and Weight Gain
Don’t be under the illusion that you can eat ANYTHING you like now you’re vegan and lose weight!
If I had a penny for every time somebody asked why they have gained weight after they went vegan or plant based in the groups, I’d be a stinking rich woman. Jokes 🙂
However, you may also find yourself chomping down on lots of nuts, seeds and other ‘healthy’ fats in the belief that because they are plant based they must be fine to eat in abundance. They are, to an extent, but a calorie is still a calorie no matter where you obtain it from It still needs to be burnt of as energy if you’re to avoid gaining weight.
Plant based diet and weight gain is a real thing! I se it being said constantly in the plant based groups I Admin in.
Stick to single portions only in moderation. For example, a small handful is a portion in the nut and seed world due to the fact that they contain such high amounts of fat and calories. And, you should always eat them as part of a proper meal or snack and not as an added extra on top.
To get more of a feel for portion sizes and putting complete meals together please try out my one week plan. This will point you in the right direction and help you to get used to the kind of foods you should be eating to obtain all the nutrition you need.
According to Patrick Holford, a long-term plant based or vegan diet will usually require some kind of nutritional supplementation. This is due to the fact that you may become deficient in certain nutrients no matter how healthily you try to eat. These include:-
- VITAMIN D – To keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Vitamin D derived from food comes mostly from fish, seafood and eggs. It is harder for the body to obtain enough on a plant based diet unless you live in a very sunny climate where you are exposed to the sun for at least half an hour a day (sometimes not practical or healthy, due to cancer risk).
- LONG CHAIN OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS – For brain health and mood. Even though many plant foods contain omega 3’s, studies show that the conversion rate of plant based ALA into essential DHA and EPA is between 0-5%. This makes a specialised vegan supplement essential, ESPECIALLY if you suffer from mood disorders.
- VITAMIN B12 – Needed for anemia prevention, mood, brain health, central nervous system health, energy; plus your hair, skin and nails will all benefit from this essential vitamin. Very few plant foods contain vitamin B12. The few that do are chlorella, spirulina, certain mushrooms, fortified nutritional yeast, and other specially fortified foods (even then, you probably won’t be getting enough unless you eat them daily). This is why a B12 supplement is sometimes vital, even if you only take it every other day or a couple of times a week.
Thank you for reading this post and supporting ZestForever and the plant based and Vegan movement.
I hope you now have a greater understanding of this amazing, planet friendly way of living. If you implement any of my strategies then I would love to hear how you get on, so please be nice and drop me a comment below.
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