There is a lot of hype around transitioning to a plant-based diet. Instagram and Facebook are flooded with popular vegan recipes and vegan influencers that make the lifestyle look easy! Documentaries like ‘Game Changers’ have really shed light on the performance and environmental benefits of becoming plant-based. I’m all for it! But, I see too many people head to the frozen food section of their grocery store and purchase highly processed ‘vegan’ burgers, cheese and other meat substitutes. If this is your plan to become plant-based, please educate yourself on the risks associated with eating highly processed foods, and most importantly, educate yourself on how to go plant-based the right way.
VEGAN JUNK FOOD
Too many of us decide to eat Plant-Based and lean into the processed ‘fake’ meats, cheeses and ‘vegan junk food’. Although these are extremely tasty! They have to be in order to draw us away from their animal based counterparts! In order to become palatable, they are also loaded with sugar, sodium and other chemicals. Having a Beyond Burger here and there isn’t so bad…but we need to think about our calories coming from a diversified diet of WHOLE FOODS, fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. If you decide to transition to a plant-based diet, please pay attention to what you’re selecting at the grocery store and what you’re eating so that you do not fall into the trap of eating poorly. Eating highly processed vegan junk food will not give your body the vitamins, minerals, and fiber it needs! This could be detrimental to your cardiac health, your digestive health and your overall weight.
Before I tell you how GREAT a plant-based diet can be…. there are some extremely important vitamins and minerals that you will just simply not get from a plant-based diet. Make sure you supplement the 3 following vitamins/minerals. If you’re doing this, you’re getting every nutrient you need!
1) Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is necessary for proper red blood cell production, nerve function and metabolism. It is also a crucial part of energy production. B12 is made in the bacteria in the soil, and seeing as our soil is degraded and hygiene standards are quite high, vitamin B12 is non-existent in plants today. Make sure you are supplementing with 2.4 mcg per day!
2) Vitamin D3
As a result of people spending more time inside and covered up, deficiencies are on the rise.
Vitamin D is necessary in assisting calcium absorption for building and maintaining healthy bones. Make sure you are getting 1000 IU’s per day.
3) OMEGA 3 w/ Algae Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important when it comes to disease (specifically heart disease) prevention. Plant foods don’t contain the long chain fatty acid that our body needs (DHA). So, a supplement with algae oil is essential. The recommended daily dose is 250-500mg per day.
UNDERSTANDING FOOD GROUPS AND CALORIE DENSITY
First of all, there are 3 main food groups, or macronutrients. These food groups are Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. Foods are categorized by what they’re MOST rich in, but often have a combination of 2 or 3 different macronutrients. For example, nuts are considered ‘fats’ but also have a decent level of protein. I am often asked what the optimal amount of each macronutrient is. Well, this TOTALLY depends on your goals, but overall, if you want to be eating in line with the longest living populations in the world, and be very healthy, you want to be eating roughly 60% carbohydrates, 15-20% from protein and the remainder from fat (with saturated fats under 10% of total calories). These numbers may seem confusing and impossibly daunting to track, but if you’re eating a balanced and diversified plant-based diet (made up of whole foods), you will hit these targets!
A tablespoon of peas (carbohydrate), for example, does not have the same number of calories that a tablespoon of peanut butter (fat) has.
1g fat = 9 cals
1g proein = 4 cals
1g carb = 4 cals
When you understand the calorie density of foods, you can use this to achieve your goals.
For example, to lose weight, you can reduce the volume of calorie dense whole foods (peanut butter, avocado) and increase volume of less calorie dense foods (broccoli and chickpeas).
I love using the app ‘MyFitnessPal’ to track the food I’m eating. I certainly do not recommend doing this long-term. What I do recommend is doing it PERIODICALLY as a tool to know how to start to become aware of portion sizes and how to eat according to your goals.
FOCUSING LESS ON PROTEIN
The most common question pertaining to a plant-based diet is “without mean, where do I get my protein”? We’ve been lead to believe by clever marketing that meat (and nothing else) equals protein, and we need far more than we actually need. YES protein is extremely important (as it is the building block for muscle and other tissues in the body). One other thing to note is that your body does not store protein (like it does carbs and fat), so it’s important to get enough protein in your diet every day. However, most people don’t know much about protein other than they need LOTS of it in order to be strong, build muscle and lose fat.
Our protein obsession is a product of commercial agendas and highly sophisticated advertising campaigns.
Here’s what you need:
Active men need 0.6 – 0.8 g of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Active females need 0.4 – 0.6 g of protein per pound of body weight per day.
If you are tracking your plant-based intake in MyFitnessPal, you will see that you meet every amino acid goal your body requires. All essential amino acids start in plant form. If you eat a diversified plant based diet you will reach the recommended allowance for each essential amino acid.
Don’t obsess over protein. You’ll have far more success in diversifying your whole plant foods and hitting your fiber target.
FOCUS MORE ON FIBER
Hitting 28g per day for women, and 38g per day for men is extremely important. All health starts in the gut. The gut affects your mood, your immune system, your risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorder, etc. It is proven that a healthy gut has a great diversity of bacteria that thrives on prebiotic fiber found in plants. The greater the diversity of plants in your diet, the greater diversity of bacteria in your gut!
Try to make it easy for yourself to succeed when transitioning to a plant-based diet. Stay away (as much as possible) from packaged and highly processed ‘vegan junk foods’. Make sure you’re aware of what food groups are and understand calorie density. Lastly, don’t focus so much on protein!! If you’re eating a well-rounded WHOLE FOOD and diverse diet you are setting your overall health, your gut….and your waistline up for success!
Here is an amazing 'food pyramid' for the plant-based community made by 'Plant Proof'.