Eating a More Plant-Based Diet for Health and Fitness

You may have heard of the many benefits of eating a more plant-based diet. Doing so will give you a beneficial increase in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals. 

This can help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, stroke and some cancers. 

It can help you lose weight (reduce BMI) and increase your energy, which can help improve your workouts, both cardio and weightlifting. 

If you are eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, you can often eat larger portions of food without the need to restrict as much as you would with animal-based products. This is because these foods are more dense in nutrients but lighter in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol.

How can you do this? Most people do best by changing one meal at a time (breakfast, lunch or dinner), or finding a substitute for each animal-based product, one at a time. This gives your body time to adjust to a new way of eating so that it’s sustainable. 

You can begin with the animal-based foods you don’t like as much. There is a plant-based substitute for everything, and even though processed foods are less healthy, you can use them temporarily or occasionally while you are making the switch. 

You will want to eat a wide variety of whole (unprocessed) plant foods to give you plenty of healthy fats and proteins as well as carbohydrates, which are found in most plant foods. 

Here are great basics to start with. Of course, avoid any foods you are allergic to:

• Fruits and veggies in their whole form (not juice), including avocados

• Beans, lentils, legumes, whole grains and oatmeal

• Healthy oils like olive oil (in moderation)

• Nuts, seeds (flax, chia, hemp), nut butters and tahini (sesame seed butter)

• Tofu, tempeh, seitan or other meat substitutes. Most grocery stores have a well-stocked vegan/vegetarian section.

• Plant milks: soy, almond and oat. Try several to find what you like.

To ensure you are getting all your nutrients when you first begin, you may find it helpful to track not just your protein, but all nutrients through a website or app such as cronometer.com.

Other excellent and helpful websites are theveganrd.com, vegannutrition.org and vegan.com, which have great information and recipes by plant-based Registered Dieticians.

Other advice for a sustainable plant-based diet: 

• Make sure you are eating enough calories.

• Remember that plant foods are more nutrient dense, but less calorically dense. If you’re hungry all the time or low on energy, you may not be eating enough.

• Eat a wide variety of plant foods throughout the week.

• Try everything once. You can then figure out what you enjoy the most. Don’t feel like you have to eat something you dislike.

• Check out the many vegan recipes online, or invest in a plant-based cookbook (or several).

• Write down a few simple go-to meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner you can make quickly and easily when short on time.

• Cook in advance any bulk foods like beans, rice or pasta. They will keep in your refrigerator for several days, and it will make putting meals together easier.

• Meal prep in advance and bring healthy snacks if you work or will be gone from home so you won’t get too hungry.

• Allow your gut bacteria to get used to the increased fiber intake by transitioning slowly. This can reduce problems with gas and bloating.

• Have an addictive food such as bacon or cheese you can’t give up? There is always the option to leave these things in your diet (in moderation) or slowly reduce them.

Research as you go along. There are countless YouTube channels and social media accounts dedicated to demonstrating how to make healthy plant-based recipes. There are also great documentaries you can check out, including “The Game Changers” and “Forks Over Knives.” 

What about taste? Again, try everything. Through trial and error and over time, you will find plant foods you love, and love you back. 

Happy eating!

Lori Vance

Body Image Fitness, LLC

503.351.6476

Eating a More Plant-Based Diet for Health and Fitness

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