How to get started on a plant-based diet

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’s 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. 🙂

  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. After being hospitalized with pancreatitis twice and realizing I had NAFL, I found the plant-based diet worked the best for me. After having an ERCP that cleaned out my bile duct, things have been fine. I don’t drink any alcohol and I have never smoked. For those of you thinking it is hard – go to – this will help. I have to watch the fatty food, but overall, it has been the answer for me. I think those who are also having other health issues should consider the plant-based diet. It is amazing how it solves a lot of ailments. there are so many processed foods out there and we have to fight back. There are also apps out there called Yuka, Bobby, and Fooducate – these help you choose healthier foods and let you know what might look healthy, really isn’t! I have also started my own organic vegetable garden – trying to save money (since everything is going up in cost) by growing my own. Trying to share from what I have learned. Good luck everyone!

  6. Teri Kidd, DVM May 21, 2024 at 9:33 pm · Reply

    It’s also much better for the animals and the environment.

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Dr. Desler Javier