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Here’s how to get started on a plant-based diet

Here’s how to get started on a plant-based diet

Maybe you’ve considered adopting a plant-based diet, but it just seems too overwhelming. This is especially true if meat has been a focus of your diet throughout your life.

But the idea of eating plant-based is not something to stress out about. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states these diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including infancy, childhood and athletes.

The key is in the planning.

Build up your comfort

Quitting all animal products cold turkey is tough, so I recommend patients start exploring plant-based foods for a few weeks to develop a sense of what they like in terms of flavor and texture. Plant-based eating is NOT just salads all day. Recognize that adequate nutrition is derived from not only fruits and vegetables, but also whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Experimenting with recipes using these ingredients, even if it is just once a week such as “Meatless Mondays,” is a great start. As your confidence and comfort level increases, meal prep days will be crucial. Let’s face it, chopping up vegetables and preparing whole grains and beans can take up a lot of time that no one has during the hectic work week.

Pair protein and fiber

Many people considering plant-based diets are concerned about protein. Remember that protein exists even in vegetables and whole grains. It is key to incorporate legumes, such as beans and lentils, that are low in saturated fat but can offer more than adequate amounts of protein. Recent trends have emphasized consuming more protein when the focus should be getting enough fiber. Meat such as chicken and even fish have absolutely no fiber at all, while legumes have significant amounts. Fiber can not only help lose weight, but can also decrease your risk for colon cancer.

Watch out for processed food

When trying to change to a plant-based diet, there can be some pitfalls. Plant-based foods can include fried goodies, such as fries, potato chips and vegan pastries. All of these can be heavily processed or contain sugars and oils that are extremely unhealthy. Meat substitutes, such as packaged plant-based burgers, can also have high amounts of sodium. The key is to emphasize whole foods that are minimally processed. Ask yourself what was done to a piece of food before you start to eat it.

Look, it can take some time to overhaul a meat and potato lifestyle typical of the standard American diet. You should consult with your doctor before making any big changes. However, even small changes like incorporating more plant-based foods can be beneficial. Just a few weeks of stepping back to look at how we eat can jumpstart lifestyle changes that last a lifetime.

Take a free online quiz to learn more about your healthy weight range here.

Dr. Desler Javier is an internal medicine physician at Advocate Health Care. He is also a certified diplomate of the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine.

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  1. Charles Crotteau
    Charles A. Crotteau May 20, 2020 at 12:45 pm · Reply

    Dr. Javier–nice article–thank you! Too bad we couldn’t see some of your pictures of your tasty food!

  2. I transitioned to a plant based lifestyle last year and have never felt better! My cholesterol is the lowest it’s ever been in my adult life, I have tons of energy, and I’ve lost weight. I highly recommend watching The Game Changers, Forks Over Knives and What the Health on Netflix. Eye opening and informative. I was hesitant at first because I had preconceived notions in my head about plant based eating. The more I learned about it, the more it made sense. Eating plant based is so satisfying. Some of my favorites are steel cut oats with cinnamon and raisins in my instapot, cranberry applesauce, bean burritos, lentil soup, potato pancakes, grain bowls (rice, quinoa, black beans, avocado), mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, and veggie stir fry. The foods I avoid are meat, eggs, dairy, oils, and added sugars. People think it’s difficult, but honestly it’s not. Eating less animal based products makes me feel more energized and less weighed down. Anyway…. watch the documentaries I referenced above. You may be surprised about what you learn. 🙂

    • Thank you for the Netflix recommendations. I have been seriously considering moving to a plant based diet…. are there certain websites or cookbooks you would recommend?
      I am not creative when it comes to cooking and prefer to start with a recipe.

  3. Great article, Des.

  4. Rudolph D. Smith May 20, 2020 at 8:53 pm · Reply

    Thank you! I was diagnosed with multiple Myeloma in March of this year. I’ve been a meat & potato man for 76 years. I need to lower my cholesterol & just lose some weight. I just might try it.

  5. I switched to a Whole Foods Plant Based diet with no/Sugar, Oil or Salt 2 years ago. I reversed my type 2 diabetes of 13 years, lowered my total cholesterol to 117, lowered my BP to 112/72, lost 83 lbs. and am off ALL (6) medications since 1/15/19.

    • Can you tell me what you use instead of butter, mayonnaise, and how do you get enough protein without beans. I can’t handle the gas.

  6. I have been whole food plant based for a while and love it. Never going back. I have been a vegetarian since I was 22 and now 56, but in the last few years really cleaned up my eating to no animal products, very little oil and whole foods. What I can’t believe is that people still ask me where I get my protein. My whole outlook on life has really changed- for the better.

  7. Great article Des. I have been a fan of Dr. Des Javier for many years but has adopted him as my coach for plant-base lifestyle for the past year. We went with baby steps in getting rid of some products in my diet. I was so concerned about managing my diabetes and BP. I was afraid that I wouldn’t get the nutrients I needed if I let all meet go. I haven’t had red meat in the past 5 years. but learning about the plant-base values for my healthy living made the transition to no meat effortless. I do eat fish (cod and salmon) but am finding myself slowly leaving those behind as well. It’s a process and as Des said we have to go at a comfortable pace. Just like AP (above) it is an awesome lifestyle, and it gets easier the more you explore recipes. I’m a plant-base lifer!!!! It feels good.

  8. Great article! It is possible to reverse obesity and chronic disease through a plant based lifestyle. We know this now. We are seeing firsthand the significant impact it can have on someone’s health and quality of life. It’s time to spread the word! Thankful to be part of a healthcare organization that is beginning to connect the dots.

  9. In addition to the proven health benefits, a vegan diet means that you no longer are contributing to the torture and slaughter of the billions of nonhuman animals who are killed for human consumption every year. A vegan diet also is much gentler on the environment than an animal-based diet is.

  10. Loved the article…great start! My wife and I have been Whole Food Plant-Based for 3 years…I have reversed my type2 diabetes (A1C from 12.5 down to 5.3) and have kept it under 5.7 for almost 2 years now. We both have gotten off ALL medications including BP, Cholesterol & Blood thinners among others! Not to mention a combined weight loss of 135 lbs!

  11. Jennifer Starin July 21, 2021 at 8:09 am · Reply

    I switched to a whole-foods, sugar-free pescatarian diet (minimal fish being the only animal source) about 2.5 years ago. If you’re afraid to take the total vegetarian/vegan leap all at once, this is a great way to start.

  12. I have considered making major changes in my health even at my age, 70+.
    I believe a plant based diet will make my body happier and healthier.
    Thank you for the article, documentaries to watch.
    Thank you everyone for you input.

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Dr. Desler Javier