Changing up your diet to include more whole plant-foods can be a little daunting. Below I offer some tips to help you get started.
1. Treat veggies and fruits like the stars they are!
We have got to change our perception about fruits and veggies place on our plate. Veggies are not side-dishes or garnishes! Make them the star.
The USDA recommends getting at least 5 servings of veg a day (that’s 2.5 cups) and 4 servings of fruit (that’s 2 cups). That means to achieve this, we’ve got to put more of a focus on them.
If weight is a concern for you, take heart. By consuming more veggies and fruits, you are automatically lowering the number of calories you consume in a day since they have a lower calorie density than foods such as meat, dairy, and processed foods. This means you can eat a large volume of plant foods and maintain or lose weight quite easily. These foods are also packed full of phyto-nutrients, fiber, micro-nutrients, and protein (yes, for real). These nutrients promote health, vitality, and longevity. Meat, dairy, and processed foods cannot make that claim.
2. Stop buying processed foods.
This may sound tough but it’s worth it.
When it comes to food, eat the whole thing. Minimally processed is great if nothing bad has been added and nothing good has been taken away. Example of a minimally processed food is almond butter with no added oil or sugar.
Processing or refining a food (example turning whole wheat berries into white flour) involves separating components of the food, treating it with chemicals, and altering its structure among other things. The end product is a food-like substance that has lost or had its nutritional value greatly reduced making it much less useful, even harmful, to our bodies.
When it comes to consuming soy it’s best to opt for tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and edamame as these are all whole or minimally processed foods. Soy cheese, soy burgers, and other fake meats are not awesome because they are made up of soy components such as soy oil and soy protein isolate.
Whole grain brown rice is better than rice crackers or flour. Same goes for any other grain. The whole version has all the fiber and nutrients still intact. The whole grain is going to give us a steady stream of energy whereas a flour product (such as crackers, pasta, or bread) will be absorbed much faster since the fiber is missing. This can cause spikes and drops in blood sugar. A lack of fiber is bad news for our gut bacteria that need that fiber to live. Our gut bacteria also use that fiber to create beneficial nutrients that benefit us such as short-chain fatty acids.
The same applies to eating whole apples and carrots vs. their juice.
And when it comes to fats, the better option is the whole foods that are rich in beneficial fats vs. their extracted oils. Nuts like almonds and walnuts have proven health benefits. Avocados are rich in vitamins and fiber. Coconuts are rich in fiber and B-vitamins. The oils of all of these foods are lacking in these benefits. Choose the whole food instead. The oil extracted from these foods have actually been found to damage our endothelial cells which line our blood vessels which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
We are made to eat whole plant-foods. Eat food, not the components of food!
3. Don’t keep sugary treats or processed foods at your house.
This is some more tough love for you but if you want results you have to make changes. When we keep sugary treats and processed foods around in the freezer or the pantry, it’s that much easier to consume them when we have a bad day or have a craving. Instead, fill your kitchen with delicious sweet fruits and other healthy snacks. This way, if you want a cookie, you have to make it or go out and buy it. Homemade cookies are generally going to be better than store-bought anyway. And, if you have to go out to the store and buy something when a craving strikes you will likely end up not going out or you will do so only once in a while.
4. Make a meal plan before you grocery shop
Having a plan of what healthy plant-based meals you will be cooking for the week can save you time and money. I like to plan out our dinners and then buy some staples like oatmeal and fruit that we can use for breakfast. Lunches are often leftovers or salads of sorts.
We’ve all had these nights. You get home from work a bit late and look in your fridge, wondering what to make for dinner. It may feel easier to just order takeout. But if you have already meal planned and shopped for the ingredients, you will be more likely to make that home-cooked meal for which you planned. You’ve already spent the money on the ingredients and you would hate for it to go to waste. It will take about the same amount of time for you to cook a healthy meal as it will for the restaurant to cook your meal and deliver it to you. But the home-cooked meal will save you money and nourish you.
Meal-planning isn’t a guarantee that you will always eat healthy food, but it sure makes it a lot more likely.
5. Learn to eat when you are truly hungry
Eating when we are not truly hungry can lead to over-consumption of energy and have a negative effect on our digestion.
Did you know true hunger is felt in the mouth and the throat? Many of us mistake symptoms we feel in our head and stomach such as stomach grumblings, headaches, shakiness, and light-headedness as signs of hunger. Really these can be signs of withdrawal from unhealthy foods. For a more thorough explanation on true hunger vs. toxic hunger check out this article by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Here is an excerpt from it:
“When digestion is complete, the body begins to mobilize and eliminate waste products, causing uncomfortable symptoms. If we allow waste metabolites to build up by eating unhealthy foods, we will feel discomfort when the body attempts to mobilize and remove these wastes. I propose that these sensations are actually symptoms of detoxification and withdrawal from an unhealthy diet, lacking in crucial micronutrients. I call this Toxic Hunger. Scientists now know that unhealthy food has effects on the brain similar to those of addictive drugs. Healthy food does not produce withdrawal symptoms — when the body is given vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, there is nothing to detoxify.”
When you consume a nutrient-dense plant-based diet, it is easier to go several hours without food without any negative issues.
6. Make your meals mean something.
Whether you are cooking for yourself or cooking for your family, put some love into it. Recognize the fact that preparing a nutritious and delicious meal is an act of love for those you care about. I’ve had a few people say to me, “But it’s just me. It’s not worth it to cook a big healthy meal if I’m just cooking for me.” Guess what? You count! If you’re cooking for one, it’s one of the best forms of self-love. It’s an investment in your health and your family’s health when also cooking for others.
You don’t have to cook a gourmet meal. Keeping it simple is perfect, too. Just do it with care and try to make mealtime a distraction-free time.
You can do this. I believe in you!