So you’ve heard about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Perhaps you’ve seen one of the compelling documentaries out there or read one of the compelling books. More likely than not, you’ve known someone who has done well by their own health by improving their nutrition. And now you want to learn how you too can be healthier by eating a more whole food, plant-based diet?
Upfront, we need to tell you that you shouldn’t dramatically change your diet without consulting your physician, particularly if you are on medication or have significant medical issues. Changing your nutrition can change your body so quickly that some medication (particularly diabetes medications) needs to be monitored and adjusted within a short period of time. Be smart about changing your diet and seek professional consultation for whatever your personal situation may be!
It’s pretty simple: whole, unrefined plants.
That’s it. But let’s break it down into what can and can’t be on your plate.
|Leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, etc…|
|Potatoes (all kinds – sweet potatoes are best), legumes (all kinds of beans and lentils), whole corn, root vegetables, quinoa|
|All whole fruits, as found in nature (not dried, juiced, etc…)|
|100% whole wheat, oats, brown rice, etc… *|
|Water, unsweetened plant “milks,” decaffeinated coffee and tea, green tea|
|Omega 3 sources|
|Chia seeds, ground flax seed|
|* Choose whole, cooked grains and pastas rather than bread or crackers for weight loss|
|Fish, poultry, seafood, red meat, processed meat|
|Yogurt, milk, cheese, half and half, cream, buttermilk|
|Liquid oils, coconut oil, margarine, butter|
|Vegan replacement foods|
|Vegan “cheese” and “meats” containing any oil|
|All wheat flours that are not 100% whole wheat|
|Predominantly “added sugar” foods|
|Candy bars, many types of snack/energy bars, cookies, cakes, pastries|
|Soda, fruit juice (even 100% pure fruit juice), sports drinks, energy drinks, blended coffee and tea drinks (Frappuccino, chai tea, and similar sweetened drinks)|
|Peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts|
|Seeds (except omega-3 sources)|
|Sesame, sunflower, pumpkin|
|Maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, added sugars (including natural sugars)|
| Caffeinated coffee and tea
Occasional alcoholic beverage
|Refined soy protein and wheat protein|
|Soy protein isolate, seitan (wheat gluten protein), tofu|
The good news: you can eat when you’re hungry and eat until you’re full. Let us repeat that in a different way: there’s no portion control, calorie counting or carb counting. Simply choose from the right food categories, and you can eat until you’re full. Now are there going to be exceptions and tweaks to this rule? Of course there are exceptions and tweaks to everything for particular individuals.
Many of the foods in the “sparingly” list are healthy foods. Lots of evidence suggests nuts are healthy, for example, and avocados and seeds have many valuable nutrients. But there’s a unique circumstance with people used to the standard American diet who suddenly are trying to avoid added fats, cheeses, and rich cuts of meat. They still crave rich, fatty meals, and if they realize they can put a ½ cup of cashews in every meal, or a ½ of an avocado on everything, then they can “follow the rules” and still love the taste of their food. And guess what? They won’t lose as much weight as they want or necessarily get the maximal benefit. We want you to change your tastes and change your habits to change your health forever. Get used to - and then enjoy - meals that aren’t loaded with fat and now you’re getting somewhere.
Coffee… well, that’s a different topic. Let’s just say that if you drink coffee, approved additions include unsweetened plant milks. Don’t add dairy or added sweeteners or artificial sweeteners and flavors.
If you want to lose maximal weight, consider abstaining from these ‘maybe foods’ until you’re at a healthier weight. If you are at a low weight and want to put on weight, by all means, add lots of nuts, natural nut butters, seeds, and avocado to your diet to minimize weight loss!
If you have a strong craving for sugar that smells a bit like an addiction, and LOTS of people fall into this category, then sometimes it’s easier to avoid added sweeteners than to keep it around you and dabble now and then. And don’t be fooled. Sugar is sugar is sugar is sugar. Whether it is agave syrup, maple syrup, honey, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or organic, free trade, sustainably-farmed, ancient grain, brown rice syrup - it’s ALL sugar. It’s all basically just glucose and fructose.
Well, you may need to go to the “natural,” or “health” section of the grocery store for a few items. But a lot of the products in the “health” section of a supermarket are mostly processed junk marketed as trendy superfoods. You don’t need those things. Processed, vegan, organic, frozen waffles are way more expensive than the typical frozen waffle, but they probably aren’t that much healthier. Skip both, buy some oatmeal, and save a gob of money.
Check out our Plant-Based Shopping Guide
Excerpt from the Plant Based Nutrition Certificate
Looking for a plant-based sample menu? The Center for Nutrition Studies has put together some tasty recipes for you to explore on our website.
Only after diagnosis did I begin learning how certain foods can help prevent, fight, and even reverse various cancers. Beyond Cancer introduces the reader to the whats, whys, and hows of plant-based eating.
Not sure how to take eggs, meat or dairy out of recipes to make them healthier? There are plenty of delicious plant-based options.
Dining out while eating plant-based can be wholesome and enjoyable. While many restaurants now offer vegan options, it’s important to choose whole food, plant-based options (minimize oil and processed foods). Realize that the more you go out, the worse you’ll do. There’s no sugarcoating that fact. But when you do go out, you can make much healthier choices. Here’s some suggestions:
You now have enough information to think about starting a whole food, plant-based diet. Realize that this effort you’re making is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are one of the majority of Americans with chronic health problems, you certainly didn’t get yourself into poor health overnight. It can take a good long while to untangle yourself from the habits and patterns you’ve had your whole life. We do suggest that you make the biggest improvements in your nutrition as quickly as you possibly can, because you won’t really change your habits until you change the rules. Take into account the inevitable bumps and hurdles along the way. However, as you find foods you like, and you’ve found the efficiencies of new habits in shopping and cooking, this will just be a new lifestyle. The sense of deprivation rapidly melts away and the sense of enjoyment rapidly increases. And if you have health problems, you may find that some of them improve as you improve your nutrition, and that can be a wonderful reinforcement.
Good luck on your whole food, plant-based journey.
Is eating a whole food, plant-based diet more expensive?
Plant-Based Food Guide: How to Eat Well on a Budget
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12 Questions Answered Regarding Vitamin B12
What about Vitamin D?
Shining a Light on Vitamin D
How do I get calcium without eating dairy?
How to Get Calcium Without Dairy
Will I get enough protein?
The Mystique of Protein and Its Implications
My parents (both in their 80’s) moved in and began a whole food, plant-based diet. The outcome? It’s never too late to overcome serious health issues!
Amanda, a critical care nurse with swollen feet, PCOS and hypothyroidism turned her life around after reading The China Study & watching Forks Over Knives.
My wife and I stumbled across a life altering movie which changed our minds about how we eat. I lost weight, spend less time in the gym and am more energetic.
Check out our online Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate in partnership with eCornell. As the most comprehensive plant-based nutrition program we offer: