Are You New To Plant-Based Eating?
When you’re new to plant-based eating, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with questions. How much should I be eating every day? Will I get enough protein? How do I know if I am getting the right nutrients? This post will help you address some of those basic questions that crop up when you start to integrate more plant-based meals into your diet. Here are a few rules of the road that I’ve learned along the way. Of course, all caveats apply here. I am not a physician, and what you see here is certainly not intended to replace medical advice.
Balance Your Nutrition
First and foremost, balance your nutrition for your own unique body. As a point of reference, review the USDA’s perspective on what makes for a healthy vegetarian eating pattern. You’ll also see an appendix that details the estimated calorie needs by age, sex and physical activity level. Take a look at the chart on this page to understand your own specific caloric requirements. If you have any other needs based on your own unique physiology or medical conditions, consult your physician.
According to the USDA’s official recommendations, a vegetarian eating pattern “can be vegan if all dairy choices are comprised of fortified soy beverages (soymilk) or other plant-based dairy substitutes.” Note that the USDA recommends fortified plant-based dairy substitutes. Most non-dairy milk options bought off the shelf are fortified with calcium along with vitamins A, D, E and B12 to help ensure your basic nutritional needs are met. If you choose to go fully plant-based with your own diet and opt to make your own non-dairy substitutes, be sure to supplement these same nutrients elsewhere.
Eat Your Colors
Next, balance your intake. Believe me, I learned this lesson the hard way when I was new to plant-based eating. As I cut animal products from my diet, I replaced them with pasta, breads and processed foods. Carbs, carbs, starch, carbs! Before I knew it, I flipped my way into a “carbotarian” diet. Who knew that was even a thing? I had no balance in my diet. I felt run down and sore all of the time.
When it comes to plant-based eating, variety is the spice of life! If you’re looking at your plate right now and it is all the same color, you’re doing it wrong. A beautiful plate is a colorful plate, and you’ll want to be sure that’s what you’re seeing in front of you most of the time.
Run A Baseline
If you haven’t seen your physician in a while, you may want to head that way before you start down this path. Talk to your doctor about the approach you’re considering and grab a baseline your own nutritional profile. By running a baseline blood test, you will have a measurable point of reference as you make adjustments. You’ll see where you’re improving over time as well as where you need to make tweaks for optimum health.
While cholesterol, blood sugar and triglyceride measures are important, you may want to go beyond these. Through a nutritional profile, you’ll see how you’re faring with respect to vitamin D, vitamin B12 with folate, ferritin and your total iron binding capacity. For what it’s worth, I did this myself before I began. When I ran my baseline, I learned that I tend to be critically low on vitamin D. So, I now take a daily supplement to meet my own unique needs.
Commit To Yourself
When you get up in the morning, take a moment to think about the day ahead. Be grateful for the life you have right now, and reflect on those lifestyle changes you seek to make. Consider how you performed against your own dietary goals yesterday, and realize that today is a new day and a new opportunity to continue your progress. If you need to do anything different today to meet your own goals, commit to doing so.
Then, you have to do the work because there are no shortcuts. Fortunately for all of us, bringing more plant-based meals into your life can be downright fun. Once you get the hang of it, cooking in the kitchen can feel a lot like play as you learn new combinations and techniques. By being mindful about your eating habits, you’ll learn to say yes to all of those things that align well with your own values and no those foods that hold you back. Not only that, but you’ll just feel better all the way around.
All the best,