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 and with higher protection against disease and sickness in general.
I’m happy for you – 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 my plant based diet for beginners in-depth 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 almost 3 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, and it did take me a few of 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 exactly why I began this blog; 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, as it depends on body size, fitness and 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, so therefore 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, and 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 guess 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.
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 because if you are still in any doubt about this lifestyle, then rest assured, after watching this mind blowing program you won’t be.
In this program the makers have researched many athletes of all kinds eating plant foods and 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 guys 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 guy who ran over 2,000 miles in 40 odd days ALL ON PLANTS!
Yes, perceptions are changing FAST, and plant based diet foods are being served absolutely everywhere as the world demands them more and more, so exciting times are ahead.
How to put together a Nutritionally Complete Plant Based 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.
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 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 now that veganism has exploded and become much more popular worldwide it means most restaurants, and even fast food chains are keeping up with the demand and putting out new and exciting plant based menu’s.
The whole foods plant based diet
A lot of people are asking me the difference between what is a plant based diet and a “whole foods” plant based diet and it’s pretty simple really. 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; plus, many of the meat-free burgers, sausages, hams, cheeses, and myco-protein products are often out of bounds.
My advice, if you’re starting out this may become over-whelming for you, so 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 EVERYWHERE online 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, I would definitely stay away from ALL refined sugars as much as possible if you want to get super healthy FAST!
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, of which i’ll speak more of later) has changed my life and transformed my health more in ways I never though possible, and once you’ve been to this pace of elevated health and vitality, then trust me, you will never want to go back.
It did take me about 3 attempts of plant based before I stopped craving meat and dairy, and 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. Strange, but true!
The 90/10 Rule
The key is to NOT beat yourself up if you give in at times, and 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 the number one rule that I also impose upon myself too, because if you try to be perfect straight off the bat 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?
10 Awesome Plant Based Diet Benefits
Here are some of the truly amazing things I have noticed about my body and health that I have noticed 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. Uggh! Seriously, why would I?
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, which includes writing this blog to help others to 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 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, and 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 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 and tried this amazing diet for themselves. Oh the satisfaction!
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. 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 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, especially 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, therefore we should all be trying to eat more plants for this reason 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; and 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, so 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, which 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 guess we all have our cross to bear, and that’s just mine that I help control through my diet.
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 my 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
Although, 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 as this is what works specifically on mood.
Most omega 3’s from nuts and seeds does not 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
Depression is a strange beast, you always feel it’s there underlying and waiting to come back to make you feel rubbish 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’m not going to lie, I 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 just stronger and healthier than ever, therefore my MIND is stronger and healthier too (I made this connection a long time ago).
So, cleaning the junk out of your body will also clear the junk out of your head much like a detoxification, thus 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 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 (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 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 some of these.
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, 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 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 milk’s 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 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. And, 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. FYI – 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, chillis, 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.
In the below plant based diet food 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.
- 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, usually only in women. 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 you buy organic and use in moderation. Again, protein powders aren’t considered whole foods plant based, but I feel the need to use them myself.
- 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 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 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, plus they 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!
- 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.
- Having a low carbohydrate protein powder shake in the morning will help keep you full, AND 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.
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.
- Make huge salads with lots of greens, grated carrot, chunks of avocado, sweetcorn etc, and sprinkle with some toasted nuts and seeds.
- Bean and chocolate chili – sounds weird I know, 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.
- 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.
- These other 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 getting enough protein 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. Some say you shouldn’t get obsessed with protein and they are right to an extent, but you do need to learn your plant based diet protein sources to be sure you are adding them in enough.
When I first started out I made this mistake, which meant on top of my usual exercise regime I started to LOSE muscle mass – I wasn’t happy as you can imagine! 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 macronutrients properly.
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, depending on your specific needs, 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, 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 need higher amounts, then you may find this hard to attain just eating plants alone; however, you can easily supplement with a good quality protein powder to boost your intake if you feel you need to. This made all the difference to me when I finally realised that I wasn’t getting enough, so now I just add a protein shake to my diet on the days I exercise and this covers my needs.
Possible Weight Gain
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 it without the understanding required to put a complete meals together that actually fill you up; or maybe at first you will just plain be eating too many carbohydrates and fats.
These things can easily happen when you are unused to having to think about your amino acid intake. This is only natural – you’ve been eating super high, bio-available amino acids in the form of animal products your whole life, and therefore 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 fats and carbs in the form of potatoes, pasta, bread, fries, refined flours and oils, 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 that should ideally be eaten every day (though not necessarily at every meal). These are:-
Fats and weight gain
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, and it still needs to be burnt of as energy if you’re to avoid gaining weight.
Plant based diet and weigh gain is a real thing! 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 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 also 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 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; and it is very hard 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%, making 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; and 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 even if you do 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 like I do.
Thank you for reading this post and supporting Zestforever and the plant based movement. I hope you now have a greater understanding of this amazing, planet friendly way of living, 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.
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