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 and the start of a journey that will lead you to not only feeling and looking amazing, but full of energy, with higher protection against disease and sickness in general. I’m happy for you as I’ve been there myself, and through my own experiences and pitfalls I aim to help make your transition to amazing plant foods as easy as possible with this plant based diet for beginners how to guide.
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, and I was one of them once upon a time. But In my 2 years of eating pretty much all plant based foods I have seen my energy levels soar and my general health go to new heights. It did come with some pitfalls at first, and it took me months of learning exactly what my body needed in terms of protein and nutrient requirements before I came to this level health, and this is exactly why I began this blog – to take the hard work out of it for you.
It’s important to remember that we are all different in terms of the macronutrients we require as it depends on body size, fitness and exercise levels. I do a LOT of exercise, such as weight lifting, swimming and power walking, nothing too over the top but much more than the average person, so therefore my body needs more nutrients and amino acids to keep up with the constant demand being put upon it.
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 lose some muscle mass when I first transitioned to eating plants, and I put this down to eating way less bio-available protein than I did when I was eating animal products. This, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t putting together complete meals in terms of amino acid profiles.
And I guess the extra stress on my body through my exercise regime again amplified the effects of not getting enough good quality protein. This by no means has to happen, but it can if you’re not vigilant. Even with my background studying nutrition I wasn’t prepared for exactly what this way of eating meant until I tried it for myself and got first hand experience.
How to Put Together a ‘Nutritionally Complete’ Plant Based Meal
It’s absolutely vital that before entering into this new way of eating that you know the basics of food combining and putting together a complete meal. This means understanding complete plant amino acids, low GI carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
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 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 restaurants that don’t have plant based options. Yay!
In the beginning you’ll find eating out, or family dinners can be one of the hardest things about this lifestyle, but fortunately now that veganism has exploded and become much more popular most restaurants and even fast food chains are keeping up with the trend and putting lots of delicious plant based meal options on their menu’s.
Starting Out on the Plant Based Diet
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 – more on that later) has changed my life and transformed my health more than I ever though possible, and once you’ve been to this pace of elevated health and vitality – trust me, you will never want to go back.
It did take me about 3 attempts at this way of eating before I stopped craving meat and dairy, and it was only on my third attempt that something just ‘clicked’ and I knew it was 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. Weird!
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 your poor self. That’s probably my number one rule that I also impose upon myself because if you try to be perfect you will surely fail. I find sticking to a 90/10 rule works fine: 90% good stuff and 10% leeway for the things you enjoy and don’t want to give up.
Plant Based Diet Benefits
Here are some of the truly amazing things I have noticed about my body and health that have changed since eating a plant based 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. Uggh!
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 never have 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, which includes writing this blog which helps others see how simple it is to live out the life of their dreams too.
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 so soft now it’s actually like a baby’s bum, and my eyes are definitely clearer and brighter, so much so that people comment on it- a lot!
You may say that this is due to naturally eating a lot more fruits and vegetables on a plant based diet, 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.
3. BETTER SLEEP
You will sleep better when you have good nutrients in your body, and you will get those naturally through the eating of lots of fruits and veggies. Also on a healthy plant based diet you will automatically be cutting down on sugar and refined carbohydrates, and that in itself will help to keep your blood sugar more stable, which in turn seems to have the benefit of much deeper and better quality sleep. And this will obviously has a huge and positive impact on your health and whole life experience.
4. 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 (attractive I know), but now I can see the difference, and others can too so it’s definitely not my imagination. I’ve also noticed the same in some of my friends who after seeing what it did for me, have followed suit with a plant based diet for themselves. Oh the satisfaction.
5. FEWER ACHES AND PAINS
As animal products can contribute to chronic inflammation you may very well notice that you have fewer aches and pains than before, especially arthritic type pains which can be caused by chronic inflammation.
Though research is still being done, it is thought that this kind of chronic inflammation could be one of the root causes of certain diseases; therefore we should all be trying to eat more plant based foods for this reason alone.
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 I 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, and this has ONLY been the case since my change of diet. Of course, this super quick recovery time is 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 2 years so I’m presuming there must be a connection. Sometimes I may feel something trying to ‘get to me’, but it is always seems to be gone the next day, which means my immune system must be stronger than ever and fighting infections off before they even get a grip.
7. LESS, OR NO PMS
I suffered chronic PMS symptoms before my plant based diet, but now I get barely any problems. In fact, I don’t even know when my period is going to come these days as I get barely any mood swings or pain, where as 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. LESS DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
If you know me, or have read my bio, you’ll know that I’ve always suffered from depression; 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 haven’t actually had true depression for years as I’ve always controlled it by eating healthily and exercising (in my opinion this is the ONLY viable long term solution for anxiety and depression, but that’s just my opinion), and since changing to a plant based diet my happiness levels have soared even higher. Although I also put this down to the fact that I still take omega 3 fish oils which aren’t strictly plant based, but something that I know need for my brain and mood.
A fit and healthy body will make you feel Happier:-
Depression is a strange beast, you always feel it’s there underlying and waiting to come back to bite you on the butt again. Keeping your body as fit and healthy as possible, and keeping blood sugar stable with a low GI diet, gives YOU back the control over it.
I’m not going to lie, I may still have times when I feel it could be rearing it’s ugly head again, but I know it cannot get a proper grip on me anymore as my body is strong and healthy. Depression can be a life long chronic illness which is why it is crucial you learn to manage it by consulting with your doctor first and foremost. This way you can discuss any other options or medications you may need alongside your healthy diet and exercise plan.
Cleaning the junk out of your body will also clear the junk out of your head much like a detoxification, making you feel much calmer and happier. You’ll also feel your stress levels dropping, thus giving you much more control over your life. In fact, you will 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, 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 a 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 things I have noticed so far; who knows what the future holds as my body heals further.
And can you also imagine what this could mean for long term health and the staving off the top 10 major diseases that afflict 4 out of 5 people as they age – the worst of which are diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, degenerative disease and depression. The natural anti inflammatory foods on the plant based diet may help protect you to an extent from these nasty life threatening diseases.
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 foods on the list as much as possible as 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 as you find a milk that suits you best, and also that you like 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, but you can buy barista blend plant milks specifically for coffee lovers that are very close to tasting and acting like milk.
- You will want to check labels scrupulously as a lot of these milks are sweetened with refined sugars or concentrated fruit juices, and ideally you should go for the unsweetened versions to keep your sugar intake down.
- Swap your ordinary dairy products for the vegan versions which can easily be found 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. However, they may stand in as a good substitute while you’re finding your plant based feet.
- To keep sugars down, you should shy away from most shop bought cereals, and instead go for porridge oats, oat bran, or homemade protein rich granola and muesli.
- Swap meat for tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa or pulses as all of these can be added to stir-fries, curries, chillis, or pretty much any dish that you would ordinarily use meat for.
THINGS TO ADD IN
It’s always important to keep your meals balanced with proteins, low GI carbohydrates and healthy fats. Below are lists of each category so you can start to get a picture of how to combine them together.
I have only listed healthy foods here, as that is the whole point of going plant based. There are of course, lots of vegan junk foods such as crisps, fried food, chips, sweets, all refined carbs and free sugars, and confectionery, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend these too often if you want to feel the true benefits of a plant based diet. 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 oil, and extra virgin olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Avocado oil, and whole avocado’s
- Flax oil
- Virgin Coconut Oil
- 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.
- Protein powders such as hemp, potato, rice, pumpkin, sunflower and pea protein. You can buy soy protein powders but I would not recommend consuming too much isolated soy (especially in a protein powder form) as it is high in plant estrogens, and there is some evidence that they can mess with human hormones. But you don’t need to be too concerned about this if you aren’t using soy every day; plus it is a great nutritionally compete food if organic and in moderation.
- 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, beetroot 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, anti cancer, and disease fighting phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Take a shot of one of these powerful green superfood powders every day as it really pushes 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 as they all contain other nutrients and detoxifying elements that you may not find elsewhere. Turmeric coriander, parsley cinnamon, cardamon, and ginger are among the best.
Plant Based Diet Meal Plan Examples
- For breakfast you can make green smoothies from 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 coconut oil, peanut butter, chia seeds or avocado.
You can add frozen fruits straight into your smoothie for convenience, plus they will also give you that cold, frothy milkshake texture that is so darn 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!
- Either smashed avocado and tahini, or sugar free peanut butter on sourdough toast is the perfect low GI, filling breakfast.
- Add berries, nuts and seeds to porridge or granola with a sliced banana on top.
- Having a low carbohydrate protein powder shake in the morning will help keep you full AND keep your body in fat burning mode after fasting through the night. It’s also a great idea to do this if you want to burn fat and build muscle.
LUNCHES AND DINNERS
- Make soups and stews from a mixture of root veg, green veg, a protein such as lentils or another legume, herbs, spices and a splash of olive oil. You can literally make endless combinations of soups and stews using this basic recipe alone.
- Make huge salads with lots of greens, grated carrot, chunks of avocado, sweetcorn, and sprinkle with some toasted nuts and seeds.
- Bean and chocolate chili – sounds weird (I am 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. Just try it and see, it really is a thing.
- Roasted root veg such as parsnips, beetroot, squash, onions and carrots on a bed of highly nutritious quinoa with some steamed broccoli.
- 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.
- Low carb snack ideas
Be sure to get your Protein!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again! You’ll need to be doubly sure of this if you are not eating your usual high protein animal products, even more so if you are doing lots of exercise OR are trying to lose excess weight. When I first started on my plant based diet I made this mistake, and on top of my usual exercise regime I started to LOSE muscle mass – I wasn’t happy! I just wasn’t getting enough protein for my needs which I have now rectified of course, but that didn’t have to happen if I had understood plant based protein correctly.
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 1-2 grams of protein per 1 kg of body weight depending on your specific needs. If you’re doing lots of training or are trying to lose weight, 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; check out this list of the different amounts of proteins in plant foods for you to refer to.
If you do need higher amounts then you may find this hard to attain just eating plants alone, but you can easily supplement with a good quality protein powder to boost your intake. This made all the difference to me when I finally realised that I wasn’t getting enough, and now I just add a protein shake to my diet on the days I exercise and this covers my needs.
The Plant Based Diet and Weight Gain
Many start a 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 it without the understanding required to put a complete meals together, or maybe at first you will throw your macronutrient intake out of whack by eating too many carbohydrates and fats.
These things can easily happen when you are unused to having to think about your protein intake. This is natural; you’ve been eating super high, bio-available amino acids in the form of animal products your whole life and so you’ve never had to think twice about protein. This means newbies to this lifestyle often skip the meat and dairy and replace it with EXTRA carbs in the form of potatoes, pasta, bread and fries which will of course all make you pile on the pounds.
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 and should be eaten every day. These are:-
Too many fats
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 then 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, and it still needs to be burnt of as energy if you’re to avoid gaining weight.
Stick to single portions only, and all 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 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 meal 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 on this healthful lifestyle.
A long-term plant based or vegan diet will usually require some kind of nutritional supplementation 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. As vitamin D from food comes mostly from fish, seafood and eggs it is very hard for the body to obtain enough on a plant based diet unless you live in a very sunny climate and are in the sun unexposed 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, mood, lowering of inflammation. 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% making a specialised vegan supplement essential. If you are not fully vegan then you can use omega 3 fish oil for this.
- VITAMIN B12 – Needed for anemia prevention, mood, brain health, central nervous system health, energy, hair, skin and nails. Very few plant foods contain vitamin B12. the few that do are chlorella, spirulina, certain mushrooms, fortified nutritional yeast and other fortified foods (even then, you probably won’t be getting enough even if you do eat them). This is why a B12 supplement is vital, even if you only take it every other day.
Thank you for reading this post and supporting zestforever and the plant based movement. I hope you now have a greater understanding of the plant based diet, and 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 🙂