Creating A Healthy Plant-based Diet
My friend once put diesel fuel in her new boyfriend’s gasoline-powered truck. It was terrible. The engine died and so did their relationship. It turns out, the kind of fuel you choose matters.
Our bodies work the same way. Just like diesel can clog up your engine’s filter, junk food can clog up your arteries and wreak havoc on your health. The fuel you choose matters.
It can be hard to figure out how to best fuel your body. It seems everyone has a different opinion. One diet claims carbs are the enemy while another one says carbs are the solution. Who should you believe?
Even plant-based diets vary from one to another. Vegans eat no meat or animal-based products whatsoever. Vegetarians allow dairy and eggs in their diet. And flexitarians allow most things in moderation but put plants in the forefront.
Because there’s so much variation among plant-based eaters, there’s not one singular eating plan for plant-based diets. So there are slight variations among most plant-based and vegan food pyramids.
One thing they all agree on, though, is that you can get all of the proper nutrients of a healthy diet while avoiding meat and other animal foods.
The Loma Linda University School of Public Health promotes their vegetarian, plant-based food pyramid, which contains eggs and dairy—two food groups you won’t find on vegan food pyramids. But it’s a great guide to get you started on a path to a more plant-based diet.
You’ll notice there’s always a range when it comes to suggested servings for each of the food groups. It gives you something to shoot for.
Sure, some days you might eat a veggie omelette for breakfast, southwest salad for lunch, and veggie stir-fry for dinner. Without even trying, you got more than the suggested servings of veggies and leafy greens. But the very next day, not a single veggie ends up on your plate. Not a single one.
That’s okay. If you’re too rigid about the servings each day, you’re likely to get burnt out and frustrated. Give yourself some grace, and do the best you can.
You might not get it right everytime, but maybe just the fact that you’re aware of the recommendations for serving sizes will help you make better choices.
If you’ve already had 3 servings of nuts and seeds by the end of the day, and you’re hungry for a healthy snack, maybe you’ll grab some carrot sticks and hummus instead of another handful of trail mix. When you know better, you do better. The goal of the food pyramid is to help you do exactly that.
The Good News about Plant-based Eating
When you tell people you’re eating a plant-based diet, you might get some mixed reviews. People are weird about “new” eating habits. Despite the fact that plant-based diets have been around for literally thousands of years, people might think you’re jumping on some bandwagon for the latest trend. But it’s not a trend. It’s not a fad. It’s not something new.
Plant-based diets are some of the healthiest ways to eat. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Shouldn’t we all be eating more of those foods?
Let’s take a look. Spinach contains over 160% of the daily dose of vitamin A. Carrots boost heart health and fight high blood pressure . Quinoa is one of the most protein-packed plant foods on the planet. Almonds are great sources of protein and fiber—a combo that helps you shed pounds and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy, whole, plant-based diet focuses on the nutrition of these kinds of foods.
Meanwhile, our grocery stores are packed with foods that are seriously lacking in nutritional value. They’re pumped with sugar, fats, and additives to give flavor and cut corners on cost.
A whole food plant-based diet (WFPBD), however, focuses on healthy, whole foods that feed your body what it needs.
A plant-based diet can help you decrease your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Plant foods can help reduce inflammation in your body and support your immune system.
And the good news about plant-based diets extends beyond yourself. You are making the world a better place too.
By eating a plant-based diet, you can do your part to decrease global warming, improve soil quality, save the rainforests, protect our oceans, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
The future of our planet can sometimes seem sad and bleak. But do you know what’s amazing? YOU have the power to bring about change. Your choices matter. And choosing to eat a plant-based diet is more than just choosing a veggie burger over a beef patty at a backyard BBQ. You’re a change-maker. You’re a world-shifter.
Never underestimate the power of one person’s choices. You have the power to do something important for your own health and the health of the earth. You, my friend, are making the world a better place to live. And that’s good news!
Serving Sizes And Number of Servings
We all know it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. That’s the case with any diet, regardless of which one you choose to follow. For plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan food pyramids, there are serving sizes for a reason. Nutritionists take a myriad of things into consideration when forming their suggestions. Height, weight, and activity level are just some of the components.
Here are some suggestions for serving sizes and number of servings for a balanced diet, based on the recommendations by the Loma Linda School of Public Health’s vegetarian food pyramid.
Whole, Unrefined Grains:
1 serving equals ½ cup cooked grains, 1 slice of whole-grain bread, 1 cup dry cereal, or one 6-inch tortilla
Legumes and Soy:
1 serving equals ½ cup of cooked beans, peas, lentils, or soy, 1 cup fortified soy beverage, or ½ cup tofu
1 serving equals 1 medium fruit, 1 cup berries or fresh fruit, ¾ cup fruit juice, or ¼ cup dried fruit
1 serving equals 1 cup raw, leafy vegetables, ½ cup cooked vegetables, or ¾ cup vegetable juice
Nuts and Seeds:
1 serving equals 1 oz. nuts and seeds, ¼ cup nuts, or 2T nut butters
1 serving equals 1T plant oil, ¼ avocado, 23 olives, or 1T salad dressing
1 serving equals 1 cup non-fat or low-fat milk or yogurt, ½ cup low-fat cottage or ricotta cheese, or 1.5 oz low-fat fresh cheese
Limit or use sparingly
Getting to Know the Food Pyramid
Unrefined Whole Grains
Okay, let’s say this together: carbs are not the enemy. Unrefined, whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. Whole wheat or multigrain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Don’t skip the whole grains.
Try this recipe for a healthy dose of whole grains:
Neat Korean Rice Bowl (with Brown Rice)
If you want a healthy, premade meal with brown rice, check out the Loma Linda Greek Bowl.
Legumes are a great way to pack your diet with protein. They’re also full of fiber. You want to eat 1-3 servings per day. Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and hummus are all great options.
TheLoma Linda Chorizo Buddha Bowl is a tasty recipe, made with black beans.
A quick and easy, ready-to-go meal is Loma Linda’s
Fruits and Vegetables
To build something strong, you need a good foundation. That’s what you get with this plant-based food pyramid. Fruits and veggies form the foundation of the diet.
The USDA says half your plate should be filled with fruits and veggies. And Loma Linda University’s guidelines recommend that most people consume 3-4 servings of fruit and 6-9 servings of vegetables daily.
Here are some great recipes to boost your diet with fresh fruits and veggies:
- Kaffree Roma Smoothie Bowl
- Vegan Taco Stuffed Peppers /
- Whole Roasted Pumpkin with Neat Vegetable Stew
- Thai Green Curry Veggie Wraps
Nuts and Seeds
Milk isn’t the only thing that “does a body good.” Did you know poppy seeds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds are great sources of calcium too? Your body needs calcium to build healthy bones and teeth.
Some nuts and seeds are full of protein and fiber too. Try almond butter on your toast or this Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie with Kaffree Roma .
High-Fat Plant Foods + Vegetable Oils
Despite what your mom told you growing up, fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, fat is an important part of a healthy diet. Not all fats are the same, so do your best to choose fats from healthy plant foods like avocados, nuts, and seeds. And limit your intake of rich foods filled with saturated fat.
Avocados are full of heart-healthy fats that can also help reduce inflammation in the body. Try this Perfect Avocado Toast with Kaffree Roma Vinaigrette .
I have good news! If you’re following a vegetarian or flexitarian diet, you don’t have to give up dairy. You can include milk, cheese, and yogurt in moderation. Not only is dairy a great source of calcium, but it’s also high in Vitamin D, Vitamin A, potassium, and riboflavin, among other important nutrients.
Eggs might be off the table for vegans, but they’re an important part of a vegetarian and flexitarian diet. As you know, eggs are great sources of protein. But they’re also great sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B7, and choline. Harvard School of Medicine also says eggs contain nutrients that can help lower your risk of heart disease.
There is no shortage of processed foods filling the shelves of grocery markets and corner stores. Sure, they’re convenient, but try to limit your consumption to one serving or less each day. And instead, try to eat as many healthy, unprocessed foods as possible.
Plant-based diets are great. But there are some things you can’t get by eating plants alone. One of the things that’s often lacking, even in a healthy vegan diet is vitamin B12. The only natural sources of it are found in animal products.
But don’t fret. There are fortified foods and supplements to help you get the recommended values you need each day. Taking a Vitamin B12 supplement can keep you from developing a B12 deficiency while you’re sticking to a healthy vegan diet.
If you’re not consuming enough Omega-3s through your food, you may want to take an Omega-3 vitamin. Typically, Omega-3s are found in various types of fish, like salmon, mackerel, and trout. They’re also found in plant-based foods like chia seeds, algae, flaxseeds, and walnuts.
Trying it out
If you’re looking for an easy way to dip your toes into the plant-based lifestyle, start with Meatless Monday. It’s just one day a week. Choose plant-based meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and avoid all meat products.
It’s also a fun thing to do with friends. You can swap recipes, plan meals together, or check out your favorite restaurant’s plant-based food choices.
If you’re looking for new ways to incorporate healthy, whole foods into your diet, check out these delicious recipes for inspiration.
Disclaimer: As always, before you make changes to your diet, be sure to get professional, medical advice about your specific needs. This article should not be used as professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.