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The Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-based Diet

11.16.2017


A plant-based diet is all about celebrating and enjoying the foods that naturally fuel our bodies and are minimally processed.  At Simple Green Smoothies, we consume a lot of fruit and vegetable recipes, and I thought it was time we shared the “why” behind this. To me, eating more plants is what gives me the energy and strength to thrive. I used to be so exhausted and felt trapped in a body that didn’t allow me to do the things I wanted to— but that’s all in the past because of a plant-based diet. Yet I don’t use the term in a confined way– it’s really the foundation I build my diet upon to make sure I’m getting enough nutrients to thrive.

Plant-based di•et:: (noun) A way of eating that is built upon the basic principle that we should embrace plants, such as fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains; and limit the amount of meat, dairy, eggs and nutrient-poor foods (like bleached flour and refined sugar).

 

If your foundation is plants and you’re building on top of that— you’re embracing a plant-based lifestyle in my book.

It’s that simple and I like to keep things that way. Yet not every plant-based diet is the same. You have the opportunity to make it your lifestyle and adjust it as you see fit. The bottom line is— make plants the foundation and a huge part of what you eat every single day.

I’m sure you’ve heard of vegetarians and vegans, but do lacto-ovo vegetarians or pescotarians sound familiar? I didn’t recognize them. The fact is, everybody’s body is a little different. Finding what works for you and what makes you feel the healthiest is more important than sticking to a label.

You should feel energized because of the foods you eat, never lethargic or drained. Our bodies are incredible machines and the foods we eat are what help maintain and protect our awesomeness. That is what the plant-based lifestyle is all about.

If you’re new to the edible plant world, here’s the breakdown of the varying levels of plant-based diets:

Examples of a plant-based diet | Simple Green Smoothies

How you can create a plant-based diet to work for you

Clean Eating: Unprocessed whole foods like organic meat, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Pescatarian: Avoid meat but may eat fish.
Pollo-vegetarian: Avoid meat but may eat chicken.
Ovo Vegetarians: Avoid meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products but do eat eggs.
Lacto Vegetarians: Avoid meat, poultry, fish, and eggs but consume dairy products.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians: do not eat meat, poultry, fish, but will eat eggs and dairy.
Vegans: Avoid meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, gelatin, and any products derived from an animal based on moral principles.

I’m sure you noticed what was missing from the diets of vegetarians and vegans, things that seem essential for your body to operate properly. Meat, dairy, and eggs have been primarily associated with nutrients like calcium and protein and eliminating them may seem scary at first. Can consuming a large portion of your diet with plant-based foods to fill in these gaps? Absolutely!

Our diets ebb and flow as we live, age and travel— and we shouldn’t feel restricted by a label we gave ourselves when we were 16 or 22 or 35. I think it’s important to understand these titles so you can see what feels best for you at this time. The foundation of a plant-based diet is built on plants— beyond that, make it work for you!

 

Create a plant-based diet that works best for you.

We’ll help you get back to the basics, eating more greens and raw vegetables than you may be eating now. We want to help you achieve a healthier lifestyle easily and find what is best for you at the place you are now, whether that’s blending pre-workout smoothies, a hangover cure, or trying a meal replacement recipe.

3 Things you can do now to start embracing a plant-based diet

  1. Drink a green smoothie once a day. For me, green smoothies were the gateway drug to a healthier life. It leads to lots of energy and cravings for healthier foods. One simple green smoothie a day inspired me to make healthy eating a lifestyle. If you’re interested in learning more about our smoothies join our Simple 7 Squad and blend a week’s worth of smoothies for free.
  2. Start Meatless Mondays. You don’t have to jump into this new lifestyle both feet first. In fact, I encourage you to take your time and make it count. This isn’t a race; it’s your life. So wade in, pace yourself, and try swapping meat for an extra heap of veggies for just one day a week. This will get you familiar with vegetarian recipes and inspire you to try them more often. Some favorites of mine that are perfect for beginners are Almond Butter and Zoodles, Candied Brussels Sprouts, and Veggie Enchilada Stacks. You’ll be craving these simple recipes and surprisingly, won’t find yourself missing the meat.
  3. Swap dairy milk for unsweetened almond milk. Replacing dairy milk for almond milk is the simplest way to make a change in your diet. Seriously, the easiest way. Instead of reaching for that 2% in the grocery store, grab a carton of almond milk. I suggest trying the brand Califia Farms, it’s my favorite. If you’re worried about missing out on any calcium you think you’re getting from milk, keep on readin’. I’m about to get into all that.

 

 

5 Common Myths of a Plant-based diet

I’ve run into a few major myths about plant-based diets. Some believe it can be too limiting and may create vitamin deficiencies. But, it is important to understand that a plant-based diet can provide all the necessary nutrients you need, and even include some not available in meat.

When I first started, I did a ton of research on the pros and cons of a plant-based diet, discovering what was true and what wasn’t. There’s no need for you to do the homework. I’ve compiled them here to give you all you’ll need to know to decide for yourself.

Myth #1: The only way to get enough calcium to maintain strong bones is to drink milk.

We can’t overstate the importance of calcium.  Not only does it strengthen bones, it is also necessary for proper nerve and muscle function and blood clotting. 1  Milk isn’t your only option for a calcium course. There are non-dairy alternatives that provide enough calcium to keep you strong and healthy.

The most common sources of calcium in a plant-based diet are dark green vegetables, tofu, fortified nut milk, and oranges. Other options include soybeans, bok choy, broccoli, collards, chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, and okra. 2  Remember to check the labels on anything you buy. They will tell you how much calcium each veggie has. I think you’ll find that it is just as easy to get calcium from veggies as it was from milk. For example, there is just as much calcium in 4 oz of tofu or ¾ cups of collard greens than 1 cup of cow’s milk.

Myth #2: Meat is the chief source of protein.

Protein can be found in so many things other than meat. Literally so. many. things. All foods except fruits and fats contain some protein. As long as you are eating a wide variety of food, you can be confident in the amount of protein you’re getting.3

Dark green leaves such as collards, kale, and spinach are especially high in protein. You’ll find these ingredients are used abundantly in our recipes. Dark greens are chock full of phytonutrients, vitamins, antioxidants…and yes, protein.

There is also something you need to be aware of when you begin to eat more greens- its called alkaloid buildup. All leafy greens contain small levels of toxins that can build up overtime.  Rotating your greens is an easy way to avoid alkaloid buildup.

Other sources of protein include legumes, soy products, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.4  These plant-based sources of protein carry more fiber and less saturated fat than animal sources.5  With so many sources of protein, you’ll probably never be protein deficient. That’s just a Protein Myth.

 

Myth #3: It’s too expensive to eat healthy and plant-based.

I hear this one a lot. I believed it myself for years. But it’s not true. You are going to spend money grocery shopping anyway, so it’s better to buy things that are going to help you thrive.

Planning your meals in advance and sticking to your shopping list will help you stick to your budget. Also, don’t be afraid to try off-brand products. Most of the time they are just as good as name-brands. For fruits and vegetables, purchase what you can frozen and in bulk. Don’t miss out on lower prices that your local farmers market can offer. Check out localharvest.org to find a fresh produce supplier near you.

When shopping for your fruits and vegetables, you should be familiar with the Dirty Dozen. Some fruits and veggies are high in pesticides and should be bought organic to avoid the chemicals. These are: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, domestic blueberries, potatoes, green beans, and kale.

Other fruits and vegetables that are low in pesticides are not as important to buy organic. These are: onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, domestic cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, mushrooms, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, and kiwi. We call these the Clean 15.

 

Myth #4: Vegetarian diets are not for pregnant women, children or athletes.

A plant-based diet can provide enough nutrients for a child to grow healthy and strong, an athlete to bulk up and give her competitors a run for their money, and even enough for a woman to grow a new life while still supporting herself. The plant-based lifestyle can provide what a person needs to carry them through life. And these diets often eliminate many unhealthy side-effects of meat and dairy. For example, there are a number of vegan professional athletes (my favorite is Scott Jurek, seriously SUCH an inspiration), children, teens, and expectant mothers.

When you’re pregnant, it is important that your body is getting plenty of nutrients, for you and your baby. We’ve got something that can help. Check out the best green smoothies for expectant mothers to ensure you and your baby are getting the essential vitamins and nutrients.

Remember, you are never stuck with a diet you chose years ago. As you change and face new life circumstances, your diet will adapt as well. It is always your choice. If you believe that something is missing from your diet, go ahead and eat it. Just know that plants can get you through any of life’s phases.

 

Myth #5: If the label says “vegetarian” it’s healthy.

The point of a plant-based diet is to shy away from processed foods, so it’s important to read the back of all labels. Many vegetarian snacks such as granola bars often include heavy doses of added sugars and oils.6  While these foods may be tasty, they are not the plant-based pure foods that this sorta diet encourages you to eat. Look for low levels of saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium when reading the labels. Stick to raw ingredients that you know are pure. That’s the basics of being rawsome.

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How I’ve stuck with a plant-based diet for six years (and have remained happy and healthy)

When I first started taking my health seriously and wanted to eat more plant-based, it was a challenge not to swing through the drive-thru or snack on a bag of potato chips. But two key words kept me focused. These keywords are:

#1. Embrace: No apologies or regrets— you’re doing the best you can.

When you feel yourself falling back into old habits and eating foods that weigh you down:

  • Give yourself permission for a reset and press on. What you’re doing takes courage, don’t give up on yourself.
  • Remember why you started. A good way of staying motivated is to choose a powerful “why” and write it down, hang it up where you will see it often. Here are some examples to get the wheels turning: A plant-based diet gives me the energy to chase after my kids, get off high blood pressure medications, fit back into my pre-baby jeans, encourage my husband and kids to eat better, stop getting sick… the list goes on.

 

#2. Limit: As you embrace new habits, don’t be afraid to drop others.

Limiting bad habits is just as important as beginning new ones. As you begin your plant-based lifestyle journey, I encourage you to limit:

  • Negative self-talk and body shaming. What you are doing takes courage, don’t allow yourself to compare your journey to anyone else’s and don’t be afraid to be your own biggest fan.
  • Foods that weigh you down. Anything that makes you tired or bloated should be limited. You deserve better!

 

The Health Benefits of the Plant-Based Diet

Now that you know a plant-based diet won’t deprive your body check out all the benefits and ways it helps protect your body. The plant-based diet helps you with your goals to lose weight, improve your health, prevent disease, nourish your family, feel happier, get fit, start over or all of the above. Consuming plants gives you increased energy, glowing skin, increased clarity and focus, strengthens your immune system, and regulates bowel movements. I know, it’s a long list. And not only does this lifestyle kickstart those immediate health effects, it also comes with long-term ones as well- like treating and preventing a number of diseases. #kaleyeah

 

Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the US, even though the disease is preventable.7 A healthy plant-based diet greatly reduces the risk of heart disease by knocking out three of its main contributing factors: obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure.8

Plants manage to do all this by lowering BMI, which in turn lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. Fruit and vegetables are rich in fiber, folic acid, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. A high consumption of these lowers cholesterol levels considerably. Don’t forget the whole grains, soy, and nuts that actively protect your heart against heart disease.9  You definitely want them on your side.

 

Cancer

Cancer comes in many shapes and sizes. A plant-based lifestyle helps prevent some types more than others. Fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals that interfere with the spread of cancer on a cellular level. On the defensive side, they have been proven to stop cancer cells from multiplying, keep them from hijacking DNA, and stop enzymes that turn cells cancerous. They are also working on the offensive by killing any abnormal cells.10

All this may sound like medical mumbo jumbo, but it comes down to this: the plant-based lifestyle was what your body was made to consume. It helps combat what your body was not made to handle.

Studies have shown that fruit and vegetables lower the risk of lung, mouth, esophagus, and stomach cancers. Legumes and foods rich in lycopene, such as tomatoes, decrease the risk of stomach and prostate cancer.11 The plant-based diet helps in avoiding other cancers as well by eliminating certain foods such as red meat, which can lead to colon cancer, and eggs, which increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.

 

Bone Health

A plant-based diet can provide all the calcium you need, provided you maintain a well-balanced diet. And though we can’t downplay the importance of calcium, it is not the only thing needed to support strong bones.

Here’s the good news: a plant-based diet contains these essential nutrients in abundance. These nutrients are vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium.12  Foods that support healthy bones are soy products, fruits, and vegetables. All are common in the plant-based diet.

 

The plant-based lifestyle is about living the best life you can.

It fights exhaustion and common ailments so that nothing holds you back from the awesome things you’re doing in your life. Our bodies are incredible machines, but they need to be taken care of properly. Establishing plants as the foundations of your diet gives your body what it needs to keep growing strong, today and in the future. The best part is- it doesn’t have too difficult, stressful, or expensive! One habit at a time can lead you to your healthiest self. There is no end to what you can accomplish. Plants are only the beginning.

 

SHARE: What kind of plant-based diet works best for you?

I’d love to hear where you are on the spectrum and how you feel. Feel free to share any tips or advice that has helped you along the way. I’m sure there are many people who will appreciate hearing your journey!

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  1. Rashida Fogel says:

    This time with the 10-day smoothies, I’ve not lost as much weight as I’ve done in the past. However, I’m feeling more energetic and the little bit of weight loss of 4 lbs gas encouraged me to drink more smoothies and eat less sweets. Thank you Jen and team for the great info you always provide us with.

  2. Shelley Coleman says:

    For years I always wanted to increase my fruits and vegetables. I would start out making commitments that would last all of 2 weeks. When I first read your email about the 10 day green smoothie challenge I was already 4 days into it. I must sayi stuck with it and at the end of the 10 days I didn’t feel as sluggish and run down. I am 59 yrs old and I plan on continuing my daily green smoothies plus decreasing my consumption of meats and increasing fruits and vegetables in my diet.
    Thanks for the motivation

  3. Joy says:

    So much great information! You explain things so well and most importantly suggest it’s a day to day growing and learning.
    I always thought if a person went vegetarian it was an all out overnight progress. Complete change in eating habit. I love the way this helps a person to gradually move into a plant based style of living.
    This smoothie challenge has helped my husband to consume foods he would never have touched normally, spinach, Almond Milk and most fruits. We have both enjoyed the challenge and sad to see it’s coming to an end!
    Thank you for all your great advice!

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      So glad this has helped you, Joy! We love to celebrate progress over perfection and no, it’s most definitely NOT an overnight change. Wherever you are on the plant-based-eating spectrum, we want to both help you and cheer you on in your journey! 🙂

  4. Tania says:

    Thank you for all that information. It is very helpful. I also thank you by encouraging so many people to live a healthier life style including me. It helps to have groups like this challenges with people that are trying to achieve same goal. I feel great ! I was suffering from depression for a long time and this challenge has been helping me to switch to a more driven and energized individual.

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