Beginner’s Guide to a Plant Based Diet

6.15.2021

A plant based diet doesn’t need to be bland, boring, or break the bank. A whole food plant based diet is the foundation of a healthy life.

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).

whole food plant based diet explained

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 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:

eat more plants and be healthy

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!

FAQs

Can you eat eggs on a plant based diet?

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.

What are the negatives of a plant based diet?

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.

Can you eat bread on a plant based diet?

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!

What is the best plant based diet?

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

  1. 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 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. 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 and Zoodles and Candied Brussels Sprouts. You’ll be craving these simple recipes and surprisingly, won’t find yourself missing the meat.
  3. 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.
plant based diet plan

 

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 than 1 cup of cow’s milk.

fueling your passions through food

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 the back of 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.

eating your way towards the good life

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 StrokeHeart 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!

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About Jen Hansard

Mom of 2, ran across the Grand Canyon and lover of smoothies, coffee & tacos. I transformed my family's health with a plant-based diet. I also found myself again along the way.

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  1. Jackie says:

    Thank you!
    Thank you!
    Thank you!
    For all the simple information and facts about smoothies and plant-based meal options. The information that you shared helped me to pick the healthy balanced delicious lifestyle that I have control over. I have had my kids joined me (only in a few smoothie & healthy options) as well as I shared wisdom for my friends in need of healthy eating options.
    Again, endless blessings, and thanks!
    Jackie
    PS: I am looking forward to getting your protein product but recovering from recent hip surgery and being out of work plus COVID in NYC has many of us hard.

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      Hi Jackie! So glad our recipes + information have been so helpful to you. Covid-19 has been very devastating to many of us all over but we will get through this. Well wishes for a speedy recovery from your surgery! 🙂

  2. 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.

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      You’re very welcome, Rashida! Having more energy is such a great feeling. 😀

  3. 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

  4. 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! 🙂

  5. 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.

  6. Jameela says:

    After finding this website I feel that my knowledge about plant based diets have grown tremendously and appreciate those who put in the time, dedication, research and so much more.

  7. Sharron says:

    I have been doing meatless Mondays for three months. I usually extend it more days during the week. I’m loving this lifestyle change

    • SGS Rawkstar Carissa says:

      That is amazing!!!! Goof for you and so happy that you are enjoying your plant based lifestyle 🙂

  8. Hydraulic Power Pack says:

    Just want to say your article is as surprising. The clarity in your post is just spectacular and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject.
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    Thanks a million and please continue the enjoyable work.

  9. Twaki says:

    I want to try the diet

  10. Anne Woelkers says:

    You are preaching to the choir on this one. I had three babies, 8,9, and 10 pounds (no gestational diabetes either) while being lacto-ova vegetarian. Baby number 1, I learned I was lactose intolerant so there went the milk. I found many other sources. Many people have told me I must be healthier because I eat vegetarian. I tell them not necessarily because you can drink coke and eat potato chips and be vegetarian but it isn’t healthy. lol
    I love your recipes as I like to change up my choices. I did the simple 7 and felt wonderful. Last Sat. I kept thinking to myself I should be tired as we did a garage sale but I never felt like it. Thanks for the yummy recipes.

  11. Sooz says:

    Thank you for a most informative and insightful read! Wow! Totally inspired! I refer to myself as a ‘Flexitarian’ where I just listen to my body, what am I craving. If it’s not healthy, potato chips, I try to think of a healthy swap: make my own or have some air popped popcorn. My body was obviously craving something ‘savory’, salty. Heck, even celery is a salty substitute sometimes. And as far as meat goes, if I’m going to have some, which is rare, I will make sure it’s quality, grass fed, organic. I just try to be mindful in my choices. 🙂

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Love your outlook, Sooz! We’re all about fueling your body right + doing what works for you + your wellness!

  12. Janice says:

    The best thing in plant-based diet is to go VEGAN, which you will be having a whole food plant-based diet that makes you healthier in all possibilities! #BelieveThePowerOfPlant #PlantPower #VeganGains #WholeFoodPlantBased

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Janice,

      We love the power of plants!! We understand everyone is on a different place in their health + wellness journey. That’s why we’re sharing different ways to add plants to your diet – and living your best life possible!

    • Janice says:

      Is that cilantro or parsley in the first picture? I can’t differentiate between cilantro and parsley, thanks haha.

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Janice,

      I’m pretty sure it’s flat-leaf Italian parsley. But I also have trouble telling them apart. Usually in the grocery store I’m the weirdo smelling the fresh herbs to tell them apart!

  13. Janice says:

    Dear JEN HANSARD from SIMPLE GREEN SMOOTHIES,
    This is well written and I’m so glad that you are embracing plant-based diet on this website! I have always loved your green smoothies guide and certainly looking foward to your next article. 🙂
    Love, Janice Lim from Malaysia

  14. MHoke says:

    We have been reducing the amount of meat in our diet gradually. Most meat consumed, though, is wild game (venison, elk, wild turkey). I appreciate the research and guidance in this article, you give an outline for beginners to follow.

  15. Mason says:

    I find this article incredibly misleading and confusing. In my WFPB lifestyle, I eat all the plants, period. I fear the conflation of a plant-centric diet and a plant-based diet leads the uninitiated down a certain path in hopes of curing an ailment and surprise!…those scrambled eggs (or any other animal product) you eat every morning on your “plant-based” diet leave you at serious risk for disease. Please don’t misunderstand me, I think the mission of SGS is great, I just seriously hope that we, as plant-based promoters, can speak with clarity and based on science (science, that of course proves that a diet comprised truly of plants is THE way!).

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Mason,

      Thanks for reaching out + sharing your love of a whole foods + plant-based diet! We’re right there with you!! But we understand that everyone is on different places in their journey. Our goal is to share ways to add more plants to your diet + reach the best life possible! 🙂

  16. Julie says:

    This is a great article! Dispels a lot of myths, and talks about plant-based eating in a non-threatening way. The only thing I would note is that you said that fruit does not contain protein, when it definitely does! Some more than others, sure… but it shouldn’t be discounted. Thanks for being awesome!

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Julie,

      You’re right. Avocados, dried figs, melon, and nectarines can be sources of fruit-based protein.

  17. Lynn says:

    Just starting a plant based diet. So looking forward to more articles. Love the smoothies in summer but I would rather have warm drinks in winter! Any feed back would be appreciated?
    Lynn

  18. Stephanie Dixon says:

    I’ve been wanting to start a plant based diet. I am not sure which one will ultimately work for me, but a green smoothie a day and meatless Mondays is the perfect start. Thanks for sharing!!

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      That does sound like a great start! I was definitely raised in a meat and potatoes household + using those same techniques now follow a vegetarian diet + feel great plant-based!!

  19. Jen:

    Thank you for this article. It is thorough and thoughtful. Have a great day, lady!

  20. Terry says:

    I’ve been on a WFPB diet/lifestyle since March 2012 and will never go back. I’m feeling better all the time while fighting diverticulitis, CRPS, and Lupus. I wouldn’t be here if not for the change in my diet. Now I just purchased a Vitamix and I’m looking for an added nutrient boost from green smoothies. This is the place to learn about that by the looks. Thanks for what you do!
    Terry

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Terry,

      YAY!! Love that you’re feeling better + excited that you’re looking to add green smoothies to your diet. If you’re new to green smoothies, make sure + take a peek at our Beginner’s Luck recipe! It’s a great place to start…

      https://simplegreensmoothies.com/recipes/best-green-smoothie

    • Dann B says:

      Terry

      Can I ask how the plant based or WFPB diet helped with CRPS? Were you able to come off all your meds?

      Thanks
      Danny

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