It’s a new year, and after nearly 2 years of pandemic stress (and possibly, pandemic stress eating), it’s time to make our physical and mental health a priority.
Eating a more plant-based diet (which doesn’t have to be strictly vegetarian or vegan) is a boss way to help you meet your health goals while living a more sustainable lifestyle.
And if you’re stumped about why, where, when, and how to begin? We’ve got you covered.
Welcome to our 14-day plant-based beginner guide! In this article, we’ll cover:
There are two key benefits of plant-based diets: health benefits and environmental benefits. Let’s dive a little deeper into each one, shall we?
Vegetarian diets offer several health benefits over a more conventional Western-style diet, especially when they’re composed of mostly whole, minimally processed foods.
For example, veg diets may be linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
They’re also super rich in good-for-you antioxidants, fiber, and certain vitamins and minerals.
All those veggies are also excellent for your gut health. The fiber provides a food source for the beneficial bacteria in your large intestine, so they can function optimally — and in turn promote improved cognitive function, immune health, blood sugar control, digestive ease, and more.
Vegetarian diets may also be a better choice for the environment, especially compared to diets consisting of conventionally farmed meats.
One 2016 review of studies actually found that the widespread adoption of more plant-based dietary patterns could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent and water use by up to 50 percent.
Additionally, adopting a plant-based diet may be a must-do for you if you’re concerned about animal welfare or animal rights. While more humane farming methods are becoming more mainstream, conventional farming is still a huge problem re: the welfare and treatment of the animals at these farms.
And if you want to avoid contributing to any harm, exploitation, or killing of animals, then a stricter vegan diet is a natural choice.
Like omnivorous diets, plant-based diets can be as healthful or as junky as you want. You’re unlikely to see health benefits from ANY change in the way you eat if you’re depending on a lot of highly processed or sugary foods.
However, a high quality plant-based diet may be just the right fit if your goals are improving your overall health, losing weight, or leading a more sustainable lifestyle.
Additionally, plant based doesn’t necessarily HAVE to mean that you’re a strict vegan or vegetarian. You can still have meat or dairy occasionally on a primarily plant-based diet, while enjoying the health benefits of eating mostly plants. (Psst, choosing humanely-raised, grass-fed, or pastured meats when you do eat meat offers a more sustainable option than conventionally farmed meats, as well.)
How you’ll feel after starting a plant-based diet depends on a lot of things, and a big one is how you were eating before.
If you were already eating a plant-rich, whole food diet, you may not notice any major differences right away after cutting back on meat. However, many people experience skin improvements after cutting out dairy.
If you’re starting a whole food plant-based diet fresh from a pretty processed diet (heavy in things like fast food or highly processed snacks, for example), you may go through a bit of an adjustment period where you’re a little grumpier than normal. These foods can have some addictive properties that you may need to “detox” from.
Once you’re over the hump, though, you’ll probably find yourself feeling fantastic. Oh, and using the bathroom will be a joy ? thanks to all that regularity-inducing fiber.
Another thing to be aware of when you begin is that you may not have as many dining out options, so you’ll probably have to put in more effort in the kitchen. If you’re not confident in your cooking skills, don’t worry — you will be soon!
Finally, you’ll have some changes in the macro- and micronutrient content of your diet. Most plant-based diets are lower in protein than omnivore diets (which is why it’s really important to have a protein source with each meal). You’ll also want to supplement with some key nutrients that may be lacking in a plant-based diet, which we’ll discuss more below.
Making a big change to your diet can seem really intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be. There really are just three basic steps to getting through your first two weeks of eating plant-based:
Already have a well-stocked kitchen from your pre-plant based days? You should be all set.
If swapping to plant-based this year will also be your first foray into cooking at home, here’s some essential gear you’ll need to be successful:
Slow cookers, Instant Pots, food processors, rice cookers, and air fryers can also be really helpful and time-saving, but they’re not essential.
So, it’s pretty obvious that you’ll be swapping out the meat for plant-based alternatives, but what about all the other animal-based products that you reach for on the reg?
Here are some easy swaps for those.
Getting enough protein is super important for a successful plant-based life. (And fortunately, it’s super easy too).
You can get plant-based protein from nuts, seeds, soy products, beans, meat alternatives, and plant-based protein powders (additionally, from eggs and dairy products if you’re not going strict vegan).
However, unlike animal proteins, plant proteins individually don’t provide enough of the essential amino acids to meet your needs. The solution to getting enough of these essential AAs is to simply eat a variety of plant-based proteins throughout your day and week.
Make sure to include a variety of nuts, seeds, beans, and meat alternatives — and you’ll have no problems getting those AAs in.
Here’s our simple meal-prep formula that works for ANYONE and ANY MEAL (plant-based or not). This is a great way to figure out your lunches and dinners for the week if you like to batch cook on the weekends.
First, pick your protein. For this example, let’s go with tofu.
Next, add a grain. Rice seems like a natural choice, but we could also go with barley, noodles, tortillas, etc.
Finally, pick a veg. Let’s do bok choy.
Tofu, rice, and bok choy… that sounds like a great stir fry! Season with soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, rice vinegar, ginger, red pepper flake, and garlic, and garnish it with sesame seeds and green onions.
Need to save some time? Here are some of our favorite hacks to make plant-based eating a little bit easier:
Need something quick and easy? We got you, veg fam. Here are a few 5-minutes-or-less, no-cooking-required, throw-it-together meals for when you just CAN’T.
Plant-based diets can come up short on certain nutrients (unless they are extremely well planned), so — especially as a beginner — it’s important to include certain supplements to make sure all of your bases are covered. Here are the nutrients you may fall short on while eating a plant-based diet:
A good multi should cover you for the most part, but be sure it includes at least 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin B12, as well as a vegetarian source of omega-3s. (Also, snack on seaweed! It’s full of iodine.)
Here’s a 14-day sample meal plan to help you get started. For the sake of variety, we’ve included 14 different breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks or desserts for a grand total of 56 unique meal and snack ideas. However, we encourage you to tweak this to make it your own!
Most people, for instance, don’t mind eating the same breakfast over and over again. So we recommend picking the tastiest sounding breakfast option (or two or three) and running with it for these first 2 weeks. This will help you save some time in the mornings, too. The same goes for snacks and lunches, or even dinners if you’re willing to sacrifice some variety for more convenience.
Also — feel free to round out any of these meals with a side salad or some steamed or sauteed veggies that you have on hand.
This shopping list is your guide to fully stocking a plant-based pantry. With the exception of fresh produce and dairy alts, nearly all of these items are totally shelf stable and can be stored for a while.
To build out your pantry for super easy plant-based cooking and meal planning, we recommend purchasing two or three items off of this list each week as you do your regular grocery shopping.
Need some more plant-based inspo? Here are a few links to some of our favorite veg forward recipes:
Last medically reviewed on February 2, 2022
Going vegan? Make sure you take this list with you when you head to the grocery store to turn your pantry into an animal-free utopia.
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