Let's talk about this buzz phrase 'plant based diet.' What is a plant based diet, how do I participate and how will it help me fuel my passions? I'm answering all these questions and more in this ultimate guide to a whole food plant based diet.
You've heard the phrase plant based diet thrown around in recent years, as well as the confusion surrounding it. I'm here to talk about what it means to eat a whole food plant based diet, and why it allows for freedom over restriction, and health that will not only leave you feeling great, but also help you chase (and achieve!) your passions.
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).
What does plant based mean?
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.
Vegan vs Plant based
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. While a whole food plant based diet is rooted in fruits and vegetables, it can also include meat (if that's what you're in to!).
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's 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:
How to make a plant based diet 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!
Yes! Eggs are a great source of protein + fat, yet make sure they help you feel good. Eggs can give people acne, so test how your body reacts to consumption.
If you make sure you are getting a balanced amount of a variety of foods, then you are winning! Definitely check with your doctor before changing your diet to make sure you do exactly what's right for you.
Yes! But learn if bread fills you with energy or slows you down. A lot of gluten leaves me feeling achy and tired, so I limit it. But you better believe I fully participate in Friday night pizza with my family!
My best advice, listen to your body, and fill it with as many whole foods as you can. I recommend starting a plant based diet with a cleanse, to really tune-in to how your body reacts to certain foods. When you start reintroducing a wider variety, you'll know what energizes you vs what makes you feel slow and lethargic.
3 ways to embrace a whole food plant based diet
- Drink a green smoothie once a day. For me, green smoothies were the gateway drug to a healthier life. They lead to lots of energy as well as 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 smoothies then join the Smoothie Challenge and blend a week’s worth of smoothies for free.
- 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. Wade in, pace yourself, and then 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 Zoodles and Candied Brussels Sprouts. You’ll be craving these simple recipes and surprisingly, won’t find yourself missing the meat.
- Swap dairy milk for non-dairy milk. Replacing dairy milk for a nut or seed 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 or oat milk. Feeling creative? Make your own! I've got great (and easy) recipes for almond, oat, coconut... really any non-dairy milk you could want.
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 whole food 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 going plant based, 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.
I 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. 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. Remember to check the labels on anything you buy. I think you’ll find that it's 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 as in 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.
Dark green leaves such as collards, kale, and spinach are especially high in protein. Leafy greens dominate my 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. These plant-based sources of protein carry more fiber and less saturated fat than animal sources. 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 whole food 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.
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 all labels. Many vegetarian snacks such as granola bars often include heavy doses of added sugars and oils.
While these foods may be tasty, they are not the whole food that this sorta diet encourages you to eat. Look for low levels of added sugars and sodium when reading the labels. Stick to raw ingredients that you know are pure. That’s the basics of being #rawesome.
Health Benefits of the Plant Based Diet
The whole food 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. 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.
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 the defensive side, they've been proven to stop cancer cells from multiplying, keep them from hijacking DNA, and stop enzymes that turn cells cancerous. It boils down to this: the whole food plant based lifestyle was what your body was made to consume. It combats what your body was not made to handle.
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. Foods that support healthy bones are soy products, fruits, and vegetables.
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!