The New Year strikes, and it’s like clockwork: we think about improving our health and ask how to start a plant based diet. But, before you get started, you might be wondering what a plant-based diet is and what the health benefits are. Well, I’m here to help.
You best know me as one of the co-founders of Salt & Wind Travel, but I also happen to be a certified integrative health coach practicing functional medicine at Mapped Wellness. So when it comes to healthy eating and travel and how to start a plant based diet, I have thoughts.
Traveling As A Plant Based Eater
As I have traveled the world, I have seen more and more countries jumping on the plant based trend and catering to healthy travelers. From Mexico to Italy, 100% plant based and vegan restaurants are popping up in major cities to satisfy travelers with healthy eating habits.
So it’s easier than ever to learn how to start a plant based diet, cook plant-based at home, and stick to it on the road.
What is A Plant-Based Diet?
Though we discussed it when we shared our more than 50 plant-based recipes, let’s define a plant-based diet again to ensure we’re on the same page as we discuss how to start a plant based diet.
A plant-based diet doesn’t have an official definition but, simply put, it is eating with an emphasis on whole and plant foods. If you’ve read books like Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules,” you know the gist: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Like other diets, adherents tend to personalize the diet to their health needs and preferences. Meaning that for some, it may be strictly vegan while others can have the occasional addition of a bit of dairy.
So what do they all have in common? Most plant-based diets are all free from animal meat and (primarily free from) eggs, but a few do have a drizzle of cream or a bit of butter.
And other people do a part-time plant-based diet by eating animal products only at dinner or a few times a week. So, if you’re intimidated with how to start a plant based diet and going 100% plant-based, ease into it instead!
What is the easiest way to start a plant-based diet?
Taking on a few healthy habits, like creating healthy plant-based inflight meals can set you up for a more energized vacation on the ground. But that’s just a start. Read on to learn more about how to start a plant based diet no matter where your travels take you.
Start By “Crowding Out Your Foods”
The easiest way to begin a plant-based diet is to “crowd out your foods” or adding more of the healthy things so there is less room for the things you’d like to remove.
Shop The Grocery Store Perimeter
Most all the fresh, whole foods is generally at the edges of the grocery store while many unhealthy snacks and other processed foods are on the shelves in the center. So, if you generally shop the store perimeter, you will, in turn steer clear of processed foods, which can cause unwanted inflammation.
Add Two New Vegetables Each Week
A great rule of thumb for how to start a plant based diet is to add two new vegetables each week to your diet that you don’t normally eat.
Some nutrient-dense vegetables worth adding to your shopping list include kale, squash, and sweet potatoes. And look for in-season produce as it will often pack the most nutrition punch. Bonus points are that adding in new ingredients also keeps your tastebuds excited.
Don’t Skimp On Herbs, Spices, And Sauces
Fresh herbs and spices amp up your food’s flavor while also adding health benefits so they’re a culinary win win. Turn to beneficial ingredients like ginger, turmeric, cayenne, sumac, and cinnamon, to name a few.
There are plenty of great plant-based meals to try, not to mention that the New Year is also the perfect great time to cook some healthy winter recipes.
Also, as we discussed in our tips for making Mexican vegetarian recipes that taste like classic meat dishes, certain vegetables do a great job (in texture and flavor) as stand-ins for meat (we’re looking at you, mushrooms and carrots)!
Pros Of A Plant-Based Diet
If you need motivation for how to start a plant based diet, take heart that there are many benefits, including:
It Reduces Inflammation
Eating a whole-food diet rich in low glycemic plant-based foods helps to fight inflammation in the body. There are creative meat substitutes too.
It Can Lead To Weight Loss
Obesity is an epidemic in America, and eating plant-based can help with this and associated issues like diabetes and high cholesterol.
It’s Better For The Planet
Eating plant-based cuts down on the impact on Mother Earth, since plants need fewer resources to be harvested than animal products. We have to raise the crops that feed the livestock, which requires a lot of water and land, and, as such, livestock produces higher greenhouse gas emissions.
It Means You Don’t Need To Count Calories
When you eat a balanced diet of food from the earth, you will get the nutrients your body needs, have fewer cravings for more food, and better satiety.
Conversely, eating processed, nutrient-depleted foods (ahem, most store-bought snacks), leaves our body craving more because it is trying to make up for lacking nutrients.
It Can Help Alleviate High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fruits like blueberries, for example, can help to lower elevated blood pressure.
Cons of a Plant-Based Diet
The biggest issue most people encounter when starting to eat a plant based diet is figuring out how to optimize their nutrition.
Supplements may be necessary for overall well-being since plant-based diets generally have less vitamin B12, zinc, and protein than an omnivore diet.
For example, while a plant-based diet has many positive benefits, the downside can be that you could have a more challenging time absorbing zinc. You see, copper and zinc essentially fight for the same space in the body.
And, since a vegan or vegetarian diet is often higher in copper, there’s a possibility that you could have some copper dominance. But we need zinc for tight junctions in the gut so it’s key to keep tabs on this.
What foods should I eat in a plant based diet?
There are a variety of nutritious foods that you can eat in a plant based diet that will benefit your overall health. Her are a few specific types of vegetables you’ll want to include:
Cruciferous Vegetables And Leafy Greens
Leafy greens like Swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach, and arugula make a salad, which can provide additional vitamins and minerals.
Low Glycemic Carbohydrates
You’ll want to include whole grains in your plant based diet, like quinoa, brown rice, or wild rice, and nourishing vegetables like sweet potatoes.
Legumes like lentils, beans and peas can help lower blood sugar which can, in turn, help lower blood pressure.
Regular intake of plant-based proteins, like tempeh, and clean organic sources of tofu, (we love the Hodo brand, FYI) lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, using nut-based dairy substitutes like Miyoko’s cultured butter will provide you with additional protein.
A rainbow of fruits and veggies
As Aida said in her book Keys To The Kitchen, aim to eat produce like the Skittles commercial and taste a rainbow of whole-food. This means when you get your plate together, it should be full of various colors of foods.
The more colorful your plate, the more nutrients you will put into your body. The more diversity in color, the more you diversify your gut microbiome, which we’ll discuss later in the article.
What happens to your body when you start a plant-based diet?
There are many health benefits to starting a plant-based diet, but you might be wondering, what will my body feel like while eating this way?
Increasing the amount of plant based foods in your diet can help reduce symptoms like brain fog and fatigue. And changing to a plant-based lifestyle can help you thrive in good long term health.
Can you heal your body with a plant-based diet?
Chronic disease often begins in the gut as the gut-brain axis is how communication is linked between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system. Since about 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, aka the happy hormone, the gut signals the brain via the vagus nerve.
That’s to say that gut health is wildly essential to healing your body. And eating a plant-based diet can help improve our overall health and feelings of happiness.
Two types of foods that many people have allergies or sensitivities to that can enhance intestinal permeability are gluten, like bread, and dairy, including eggs, some cheeses, and milk products. So, avoiding these ingredients if you have sensitivity can help with healing the gut.
At the end of the day, whether you’re on the road traveling, or staying at home for meals, there are many ways to keep a plant-based diet enjoyable.
Our Best Plant-Based Recipes
Ready to give a plant based diet a try? Here are just a few of our most popular plant-based recipes to get you started:
- Black Bean And Sweet Potato Chili Recipe
- Split Pea Veggie Wrap With Cilantro-Mint Chutney
- Green Herb Falafel Lettuce Wraps Recipe
- California-Style Crunchy Fried Avocado Taco Recipe
- Brown Rice Whole Grain Bowl With Cashew Lemon Dressing Recipe
- Cucumber Herb Mediterranean Brown Rice Salad
Need Help With Your Health Journey?
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re hoping for more guidance on your road to health. At Mapped Wellness, we help our clients achieve their wellness goals, from weight loss to reversing chronic disease and other symptoms like eczema, hormone imbalance, and IBS.
Use code SALTANDWIND100 for $100 off your first Health Discovery Virtual Session and start the journey back to your best self.
Other Healthy Eating Tips
Here are a few of our favorite other tips for eating healthy:
- How To Travel With Allergies And Still Eat Well
- Candice Kumai Shares Healthy Eating Tips
- How To Eat Healthy While Traveling
Have Us Plan Your Next Trip
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency specializing in vacation planning? If you’re looking to plan a trip, our trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Photo Credit: Person holding salad photo by Cavan-Images; Healthy Superfoods of vegetables and grains and beans by Trinette Reed; Woman Shops for Healthy Produce at Outdoor Market by Jayme Burrows