It seems like you can’t swing a stalk of kale these days without hitting someone singing the praises of a plant-based diet. Whether its a news report on its health benefits, or another ad for the Impossible Burger, plant-based diets are having a moment. They may sound daunting to some, but they don’t have to be. To help you make the leap, we put together 10 dietitian-approved tips to help you stick to a plant-based diet.
What should you do if you’re interested in starting (or staying on) a plant-focused diet? In short, plant-based eating doesn’t have to be complicated. Eating a healthful plant- based diet should be satisfying, tasty and energizing. Let’s break it all down.
Plant-Based Diet Tip #1: Stock up on Frozen and Canned Foods
Unless you want to go grocery shopping every day or two, start stocking up on frozen and canned foods. Frozen fruit and vegetables are great choices for their nutrition and shelf-life. Canned beans make it easy to toss together a filling meal or snack without a lot of prep work. These foods make healthy eating easy and accessible, even on your busiest days.
Plant-Based Diet Tip #2: Combat Low Iron by Pairing Foods
The age old remedy for low iron is to eat red meat. Now we know that you can improve and maintain iron levels with a plant based diet. Plants that are high in iron include beans, lentils, tofu, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and mushrooms among others.
Important Fact: Your body isn’t able to absorb iron from plants as well as it can from animal sources
To improve absorption, pair these high iron foods with foods high in vitamin C. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. This will not only help you stick to a plant-based diet, but get the most out of it as well.
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Plant-Based Diet Tip #3: Meal Plan each week
If you’re new to plant based eating, meal planning and prepping will be the key to success. Look around at blogs or cookbooks on the weekend and pick a few recipes that match your skills and time allowance. Make sure to have some quick and easy meals and snacks on hand for when you need a convenience meal as well.
Prepare for the week ahead of time to stay out of the drive through line on busy days. It’s not always possible to find plant based meals, let alone healthy meals, at a fast food joint. So get out your pen, paper, and computer or cookbooks. You’ll thank yourself when you’re enjoying a week of healthy and energizing meals and snacks.
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Plant-Based Diet Tip #4: Keep Your Eye on the Label
An animal product replacement food is not always comparable in protein or other nutrients. If you’re eating a variety of plant foods it really is easy to get enough protein. It’s important to know where that protein is coming from. Swapping dairy milk for almond milk can be a great choice, but know what’s on the label. Almond milk has 1g protein versus 8g per cup of cow’s milk, so you’ll need to make up for that protein somewhere else.
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Plant-Based Diet Tip #5: Drink Enough Water, Then Drink Some More
When you eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant based proteins you’re also eating a lot of fiber. Fiber is a nutrient that we can’t digest, but does a number of important things as it works its way through your body.
Why it’s important to drink enough water
Water helps fiber easily travel through your digestive system. Without enough water, you’ll likely experience symptoms like cramping, bloating, excessive gas, and stomach pains. Drinking 1.5-2 L of water daily with a high fiber diet significantly improves constipation. So keep a water bottle on hand and remember to drink up throughout the day!
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Plant-Based Diet Tip #6: Eat some protein with every meal and snack
Don’t believe the myth that you won’t get enough protein on a plant based diet. There is plenty of protein in plant foods. If you’re eating three meals a day with a snack or two in between, it’s easy to meet your needs. Just be sure to include protein sources with each one.
How much protein should you eat?
The recommendation is that 10-35% of your calories come from protein. A 150 lb person can easily meet these requirements with 55g of protein per day. You can meet your needs between 3 meals and snacks that contain a variety of whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. If you’re active and need more protein, look for plant based protein powders for an extra boost.
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Plant-Based Diet Tip #7: Include a variety of foods each week
It can be easy to fall into a pattern of eating the same foods day after day or week after week. Make sure to change things up to meet your nutrient needs. There’s no need to count micronutrients or even macros if you are including enough variety. Picking one new recipe each week that includes different foods than you usually eat is a great way to do this!
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Plant-Based Diet Tip #8: Don’t be afraid to eat more often
Plants have less calories, but often more fiber than animal products. Fiber helps fill you up, but your body still needs those calories. You also digest plant foods more quickly than meat or dairy. Chances are, you’ll be hungrier than usual throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to eat more often to keep your body fueled and hunger at bay.
Plant-Based Diet Tip #9: Make slow changes if you need to
It can be tempting to toss out everything in your kitchen when you start a plant based diet. Making too many changes at once can be overwhelming. Start small by swapping out one thing at a time. You can start including more plant foods and slowly decrease animal products at the same time.
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Plant-Based Diet Tip #10: Find Plant-based friends or a supportive online group
Don’t be surprised if your friends and family question why you are eating differently than before. Not everyone is on board with plant based eating, and that’s ok. Find friends who you can swap recipes and favorite products with. Don’t sweat it if you’re the only person in your family or the breakroom eating plant based. Finding a like-minded group in person or online will keep you focused and excited about your choices.
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Plant-based eating can be simple, healthy and (yes) just as flavorful as diets that include meat. They just take a little extra effort and organization when you’re getting started. We hope these plant-based diet tips help you get through the hurdles that go with starting any new nutrition regimen.
Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian, freelance writer, and plant focused food blogger. She’s passionate about making plant focused eating accessible, fun, and delicious. In addition to geeking out over nutrition science, Kelsey is an herbal enthusiast and loves to experiment with homemade and natural alternatives in the home and spending time with her two small kiddos and husband.