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How to start a plant-based diet


Although plant-based diets are gaining popularity today, their roots trace back to ancient Greece. The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who reputedly enjoyed a diet of vegetables, bread, and honey, inspired an early form of this diet.

If you’re interested in joining this enduring trend, here are some tips to help you start and maintain a plant-based diet.

Key Ingredients of a Plant-Based Diet

The definition of a plant-based diet can vary. Some view it as strictly plant-only, while others see it as primarily plant-based with occasional animal products. What remains consistent is the emphasis on minimally processed vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Here are some common variations:

  • Vegan: Only plant foods, excluding all animal products.
  • Vegetarian: Plant foods plus dairy and/or eggs.
  • Flexitarian: Primarily vegetarian with occasional meat or fish.

Popular diets like the Mediterranean and DASH diets also fall under the plant-based umbrella.

Essential Plant-Based Foods

No matter which variation you choose, certain foods are staples in a plant-based diet:

  • Vegetables: The foundation of your diet, rich in fiber and nutrients.
  • Fruits: Important for nutrition; frozen fruit is a great option if fresh spoils too quickly.
  • Beans: A filling and nutritious option; choose low-sodium canned beans if needed.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Small but packed with healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Calcium Sources: Non-dairy options include tofu, tahini, and leafy greens.

Getting Enough Protein

Yes, you can get sufficient protein from a plant-based diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend around 50 grams of protein daily for adults. Here are some excellent plant-based protein sources:

  • Whole Grains: Quinoa is a great option.
  • Beans and Legumes: Lentils and chickpeas are versatile and nutritious.
  • Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Soy Products: Tofu and tempeh are rich in protein and adaptable to many dishes.

Tips for Success

To thrive on a plant-based diet, consider these strategies:

  1. Start with Vegetables: Make them the foundation of your meals.
  2. Incorporate Fruit: Don’t forget about the nutritional benefits of fruits.
  3. Use Beans and Legumes: These are great for feeling full and satisfied.
  4. Include Nuts and Seeds: They add essential nutrients.
  5. Seek Non-Dairy Calcium: Use alternatives like tofu and leafy greens.

Navigating Plant-Based Options

Today’s grocery stores offer a variety of plant-based products that mimic animal products, but be cautious with ultra-processed foods. Check labels for high sodium content and consider using these products sparingly.

Embrace Variety and Education

Explore plant-based recipes and educate yourself on the health benefits. A plant-based diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Focus on minimally processed foods like whole grains, whole fruits, and unrefined vegetable oils.

Recipe Ideas

  • Vegan: Black bean and corn salsa, cracked wheat chili.
  • Vegetarian: Pesto-stuffed mushrooms with Parmesan cheese.
  • Flexitarian: Southwest taco bowl with cheddar cheese and ground turkey.

Start Small and Build Up

Ease into a plant-based diet with gradual steps:

  • Meatless Mondays: Go meatless one day a week.
  • Plant-Based Breakfasts: Focus on whole grains like oatmeal.
  • Plant-Based Until Dinner: Eat plant-based meals until your evening meal.
  • Add Greens: Incorporate spinach or kale into your meals.
  • Swap Meat for Plants: Use black beans or tofu as meat substitutes.

Find Support and Plan Ahead

Having a support system can make a plant-based diet more enjoyable and sustainable. Invite family and friends to join you, and consider dining at restaurants with plant-based options.

If you need guidance, consult a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to create a balanced plan and ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs.


Adopting a plant-based diet involves some planning to ensure you get essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, B-12, iron, zinc, and iodine. Discuss your diet with a healthcare professional, ease into new eating habits, and find inspiration in cookbooks and online resources.

Start benefiting your body today by stocking up on a rainbow of plant-based foods and exploring the delicious and nutritious possibilities of a plant-based diet.