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How to start a plant-based diet: 6 easy tips for beginners

  • To start a plant-based diet, it’s important to stock up on essentials like beans, whole-grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. 
  • If you’re just beginning, it may be helpful to start small — try doing a plant-based breakfast or adopting meatless Mondays, for example. 
  • It’s also key to remember your motivation for going plant-based, whether it’s to improve your health, reduce your carbon footprint, or practice ethical living. 
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

A plant-based diet can be better for your health and for the planet. Here’s what you need to know before starting a plant-based diet and tips to stick with it. 

What is a plant-based diet? 

A plant-based diet means you consume mostly plant sources of food, including fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oils. However, you might still occasionally eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians all fit under the plant-based umbrella.

“A plant-based diet can mean anything from 100% plant-based to mostly plants with small amounts of animal products, so it’s less defined than being a vegetarian or vegan,” says Angela Wortley, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor. 

Also, a plant-based diet can be less intimidating and more flexible than a strict vegetarian diet. Here are some tips on how to start eating plant-based.

1. Find your motivation 

There are a few motivating factors for going plant-based: health, environmental, or ethical.  

“When things feel difficult, you can focus on your ‘why’ for going plant-based. Is it to improve your heart health? Reduce your environmental impact? Reduce the number of animals used for food?” Wortley says. “Making choices based on your personal values rather than trends tends to be more sustainable.”

A 2013 medical review found vegans and vegetarians had lower rates of obesity,

heart disease
, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It also found those on a vegetarian diet consumed more essential nutrients like magnesium, potassium, iron, and folate compared to their meat-eating counterparts. 

“Based on long-term, very large human studies, there are clear health benefits to vegetarian and vegan diets,” says Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian nutritionist, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and owner of ChampagneNutrition.

People eat plant-based diets for environmental and ethical reasons as well. Producing meat creates significant greenhouse gas emissions. And awareness about animal rights and the ethical issues surrounding factory farming has grown, Hultin says.

2. Educate yourself 

If you are minimizing animal-based products, you need to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrients. Not eating animal products can reduce your intake of:  

“People can experience pitfalls and setbacks when transitioning to a plant-based diet if they don’t have a basic understanding of nutrition and what foods/supplements are important to include for a balanced diet,” Wortley says. “There’s a lot of incorrect and often conflicting information on the internet, which can be very confusing for people.”

To gain a better understanding of what you need for a balanced plant-based diet, Hultin recommends the resources available through the Vegetarian Nutrition practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Vegetarian Resource Group, and the Meatless Monday campaign. Many books focus on plant-based diets, and those written by registered dietitians are based on evidence, she says. 

 3. Enlist some support

When you’re first getting started, it’s hard to go plant-based if others in your household aren’t, so Hultin recommends talking to friends and family members and saying something like, ‘This is important to me. Would you also eat meatless Monday with me?’

Additionally, you might want some professional help. “I recommend that anyone looking to change their diet consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in plant-based nutrition,” Wortley says. 

A dietitian nutritionist can help you figure out whether you should take any supplements and what foods you can incorporate more of to ensure that you get enough protein, for example.

 4. Stock your pantry 

If you’re going plant-based, you might not be used to shopping for a plant-based diet. Along with fresh fruit and vegetables, here are some foods that should become staples in your pantry.

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Nuts or nut butter and seeds
  • Whole grains, like quinoa, millet, and oatmeal, which contain some protein
  • Herbs and spices

If you have the ingredients you need to create plant-based meals that you like, you may be less likely to default to familiar more animal-based products or less healthy choices. 

Also, don’t neglect snacks: Have some healthy, plant-based snack options available, so you are less likely to reach for junk food. Victoria Yunez Behm, a licensed dietitian nutritionist and manager of nutrition science for the American Nutrition Association, says she advocates for a diet based on whole foods that stays away from highly processed foods with minimal nutritional value. In that case, you might make your own trail mix, for example, she says.

5.  Meal prep

Meal prepping involves preparing food ahead of time, such as chopping and roasting ingredients and putting them away so they’re ready to cook later, and cooking in batches so that you can save some of what you make. Some examples:

  • Cooking rice in large batches and keeping it in the refrigerator or freezer, ready to add to a meal
  • Wash and chop up fruits and vegetables when you first bring them home, so they are ready to eat, be packed into lunches, or added to meals
  • Making double for dinner so you can eat leftovers for lunch 

Because meal prepping can make cooking more convenient, it can help you stick to a plant-based diet. “We’re all creatures of convenience, especially when we’re hungry. And having something that’s either ready to cook or ready to eat can be really, really helpful,” Behm says. 

6.   Start with a plant-based breakfast 

Some people may have no problem replacing animal-based foods with plant-based ones, either gradually or fairly quickly. 

But if that seems daunting, an easy way to start is to transition one meal a day, like breakfast. Some examples of a plant-based breakfast include overnight oats, avocado toast, and tofu veggie scrambles, Hultin says. 

Insider’s takeaway 

Shifting to a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t have to mean giving up meat and dairy. Rather, you can still enjoy the occasional steak or bowl of ice cream. Some easy ways to eat fewer animal products include stocking your pantry with the staples you need, meal prepping, and making sure you have some support. 

The key to transitioning to more plant-based meals is to strive for progress, not perfection. “Remember that any steps you take towards eating more plants is progress,” Wortley says. “You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone else, and there’s no perfect way to eat. Guilt or shame isn’t productive in helping to make positive changes.”