Consuming a plant-based diet – rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains – provides an array of health benefits, says Kimberly Schreyer, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Newton Medical Center in Newton, New Jersey. That’s part of the Atlantic Health System.
- Reduced inflammation.
- Decreased risk of developing chronic diseases.
- Increased energy.
“As a clinical dietitian, most of my patients have at least one, if not multiple, chronic diseases,” Schreyer says. “Educating them on the benefits of including more plants in their diets is a big part of their care plan.”
- The fear of never feeling sated.
- Worries about not getting enough protein.
- Eating foods that lack flavor or variety.
- The cost of produce.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to make the transition to a plant-based diet as seamless as possible.
Here are seven tips for adjusting to a plant-based diet:
- Start with one meatless meal per day.
- Eat beans.
- Consume lentils.
- Give tofu a chance.
- Plan your meals around vegetables.
- Emphasize whole and minimally processed foods.
- Don’t fret about getting enough protein.
1. Start with one meatless meal per day. Having one meat-free meal a day is a good way to shift to a plant-based diet, says Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian based in Arlington, Virginia. “Breakfast is a great opportunity,” for a meatless meal. You can have warm oatmeal with fruit and milk or plant-based milk. Whole-grain toast with avocado is another healthy breakfast option. “The high fiber content of oats and whole grains, as well as the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat in avocado, helps fill you up,” Gloede says. You can also have a meatless lunch of minestrone lentil or back bean soup with whole wheat pita and a piece of fruit. “Dinner can be black bean burgers, peach salsa, baked sweet potato fries and a green salad, or some whole wheat pasta with beyond meat sauce and roasted asparagus on the side,” she says.
2. Eat beans. As a major part of a meal or for a snack, beans are healthy, tasty and versatile. “Consider chickpeas on your salad, edamame for a snack, black beans and rice or chili with kidney or pinto beans,” she says. Beans are a good source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, great for your blood pressure and an excellent source of magnesium and potassium.
3. Consume lentils. Like beans, lentils are versatile and nutritious, and they taste good. You don’t have to be a great cook to prepare them. “Places such as Trader Joe’s sell red, green and yellow lentils perfect for recreating homemade Indian lentil dishes,” Gloede says. “Recipes are often on the back (of the package), and the spice aisle is just a few feet from the lentils. How about lentil soup or a Mediterranean lentil salad? If you like Sloppy Joes, how about Lentil Joes? The possibilities are endless.”
4. Give tofu a chance. “I know, just the mention of tofu and you think ‘bland and tasteless,'” Gloede says. In fact, tofu – which is made from whole soybeans – can be very tasty. “The beauty of tofu is that it will take on the flavor of what you are cooking,” she says. “Preparing stir-fry with black bean and ginger sauce? Throw in some cubed tofu. How about sweet chili sauce? Cook some tofu in it and watch it flavor up. Do you have peanut sauce or curry sauce in your cabinet? Tofu will absorb those flavors well in the pan.” Use extra-firm tofu packed in water, which is typically found in the produce section. Squeeze the blocks of tofu to get the water out before cooking.
5. Plan your meals around vegetables. Rather than planning your meals around meat, poultry or fish, make vegetables the centerpiece. Riced cauliflower or grilled asparagus can take the center of the plate with a smaller piece of chicken on the side, Gloede suggests. Or, try roasted eggplant with fire-roasted tomatoes, surrounded by goat cheese and a piece of crusty bread.
6. Emphasize whole and minimally processed foods. While french fries and dairy-free frozen desserts may be “plant-based” foods, they can still be highly processed with added fats and sugar, Schreyer says. “Always read the nutrition facts label to make the smartest food choices,” she says.
7. Don’t fret about getting enough protein. Protein deficiency is not a top health concern for most Americans, since there’s protein in beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and dairy foods, plus small amounts in whole grains and vegetables. Keep in mind that plant-based doesn’t mean strict vegan or even vegetarian. “It simply means that a greater proportion of the foods you eat come from plant sources rather than animal sources,” Schreyer says. “A high-quality animal protein may still grace your plate from time to time, but consider it a side dish rather than the star of the meal. A slow transition to a plant-based diet may be easier to tackle.” For some people, that may mean reducing their intake of animal protein to once per day. For other people, it could mean consuming an animal protein – like lean meat, chicken or fish – only once a week.