Plant-based diet For Beginners: what to expect?

Changing a diet can be overwhelming, to say the least. We all have dietary habits we have been implementing consciously or subconsciously over a span of years or even decades. Making a change, therefore, can create a wave of new, sometimes unexpected, challenges and outcomes. 

Where to start

Some find it easier to go cold-turkey (leave all animal products out of the diet and the fridge all at once), others prefer gradual transition (where they slowly incorporate new plant-based products to the menu while removing animal products). There is no right way; the best approach is the one that works out for you.

Take a look at your most frequent meals. What’s your favorite breakfast? What do you frequently make for lunches and dinners? What do you recharge with as a snack in between meals? 

They say, on average, we rotate around nine meals. What are your top-9? Take a moment to analyze those. Are any of those already vegan or need a slight adjustment to become vegan?

Maybe you are used to milk-based oatmeal for breakfast. You can replace dairy milk to your favorite plant-based milk (choose a calcium-fortified option for a start). Do you enjoy creamy spaghetti for dinner? You can as well replace that dairy cream to a plant-based version (oat, rice, or soy work the best, in our opinion). Love chili con carne? Replace that meat with an extra portion of beans – easy as that.
 
After such a review, how many meals are you still missing? You can explore some new recipes to fill in the gap: replicate the available or get inspired for your creation (you can check out our recipe collection here).
 
Pumpkin Curry with Red Lentils & Coconut Cream
Pumpkin Curry with Red Lentils

What's the whole food plant-based diet?

As you progress naturally into the plant-based diet, understand that the ideal diet is based on the whole foods. Moke meats and other highly processed alternatives to animal products should be consumed instead on rare occasions. 
 
What is a whole food that we are talking about here? It is defined as food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances. A whole-food plant-based diet is focused on consuming mainly vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. 
 
Let’s take a look into those categories:
  • Vegetables & fruits: leafy greens, cruciferous & other vegetables, fruits & berries;
  • Legumes: chickpeas, beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, etc.;
  • Whole grains: buckwheat, quinoa, millet, oats, barley, cornmeal, etc.;
  • Nuts: hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nut, pistachio, macadamia nuts, pecan nuts, etc.
  • Seeds: sesame, sunflower, flax, pumpkin and other seeds.
Benefits of Fiber
Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

Possible side-effects from changing to plant-based diet and how to deal with them

Changing the way you eat can cause some effects on your body. It is entirely natural. After following the same dietary habits for years on end, our digestive system gets used to digesting, and absorption of the products it receives, the microbiota in the gut is formed in a way to make the best of the nutrients it gets. No surprise that once those products entering the digestive tract change drastically, the body may react in unusual ways. Let’s see what some of the common effects people face when becoming vegan and how to deal with them are:

  • Bloating from increased fiber intake
    Fiber intake in the United States averages 15 grams per day, whereas it’s recommended daily amount should be at least 25g. For comparison, vegans eat way more fiber, tripling the average intake. A sudden increase in dietary fiber intake may result in temporary side effects, e.g., bloating and indigestion. To help prevent such unwelcomed symptoms and allow time for your body to adjust, dieticians suggest increasing fiber intake gradually, around 5g per week.
Taking supplementary digestive enzymes (like these) in the beginning can be of great help, too. 
 
  • Hormone withdrawal symptoms
    Consuming dairy and certain types of meat can elevate estrogen hormones in the human body. Cutting off all animal products from the diet may lead to temporary symptoms like headaches, sleep disturbances, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, etc. These symptoms should pass away as your body detoxifies itself naturally.
 
  • Emotional attachment to certain animal foods
We all have some favorite foods that remind us of specific good experiences. Those may be some childhood memories, like getting an ice-cream every Friday from your parents. Or maybe it’s a habit of grabbing a cookie every time you get bored, or upset. 
Since such foods may be of animal origin, it’s essential to think of sustainable substitutions upfront. If you find yourself craving ice-creams often, you can batch-prep this banana ice-cream.

On the sunny side

Vegan Chocolate Chickpea & Peanut Butter Truffles
Chickpea Chocolate Bliss Balls

As you could see, some temporary side effects may occur when changing to a plant-based diet. On the other hand, there are plenty of long-lasting positive changes that may happen to your body after ditching all animal products:

Vegans consume, on average more vegetables, grains, and legumes that are excellent sources of dietary fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, many phytochemicals, and unsaturated fat.

Vegans tend to be thinner than omnivores. This may be partially attributed to the increased amount of propionate (a short-chain fatty acid that is a result of breaking down the fiber by the microbes in the gut) that helps signal the brain about satiation and preventing consuming excess calories.

The vegan diet has shown to help prevent many lifestyle diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke. It is attributed, among others, to higher consumption of fiber and other essential nutrients, a decrease in the intake of saturated and trans-fats.

  • Help clear up your skin

Dairy products have been associated with promoting skin acne. Ditching the dairy has helped many people to clear up their skin from acne.

  • Boost the mood
Following a compassionate lifestyle that avoids harming animals is linked to a clearer conscience. Vegans are also less likely to be affected by depression, as this study shows. 
Creamy Golden Cornmeal Porridge with Turmeric
Creamy Golden Cornmeal Porridge with Turmeric

How to Get the Most of the Plant-Based Diet?

Since the new diet is a bit of an unknown area, we do advise to track the meals in the beginning. This way you will get accustomed to the nutritional values of new food combinations. Also, you can make sure the nutrients are balancing at the end of the day (not literally, that’s fine if things balance over the days) and that you get enough calories. 
 
So how does an ideal plate on plant-based diet looks like? As per science, it is based on vegetables and fruits, protein sources (mostly legumes) and whole grains, along with sources of healthy fat (avocado, seeds, and nuts) and other essentials (water, vitamin D, B12, calcium).
This method is aligned with suggestions of major health institutions, e.g., Harvard School of Public Health.
 
Dr. Michael Greger (American physician, author of books “How Not to Die, How Not to Die: Cookbook, How Not to Diet) takes these recommendations further and challenges us to follow a daily dozen checklist to maximize benefits of plant-based lifestyle (also availble as an app for mobiles):
 

These guidelines are there to give you an idea of what to strive for. Remember, it is not about perfectly following all pieces of health advice. It’s way more important to listen to your body, understand your emotional and physical food cravings, and doing your best to keep yourself well-nourished. And if that means having occasional comfort food, like some chocolate or a plant-based burger, that’s absolutely fine!

  

 

To get help with building strong, healthy dietary habits, check out our guide here.

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