Covering the Basics of a Plant Based Diet

This article provides an overview of a plant based diet for beginners, or those who are interested in learning more about this type of diet.  When the term plant based diet is used, I believe many people automatically think of a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are some similarities, but my definition takes it a step further.  These recipes use foods that are high in nutrients, which include vitamins, minerals, fibers, and phytochemicals.  Eating foods that are high in nutrients, as well as low in calories, is the key to gaining optimum health, as well as meeting all of your weight loss goals.

Plant Based Diet vs. Vegans and Vegetarians
The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegetarians still consume dairy products, whereas vegans do not.  However, both groups do not consume any animal products.  There are still many foods that you can consume as a vegan or vegetarian that will hinder your weight loss goals.  Some examples include bread, pasta, candy, high calorie dressings and oils, as well as baked goods.  Becoming a vegan or vegetarian doesn't automatically equal optimum health.

With a plant based diet, the main goal is to consume as many nutrient rich foods as possible, until your hunger is satisfied.  There isn't any calorie counting, or calculating how many grams of carbohydrates or protein you can have in a specific meal.  These nutrient rich foods are broken down into 4 groups; leafy green vegetables, fresh fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.  These types of foods should make up the majority of your diet.

Leafy Green Vegetables
Eating leafy green vegetables is the key to achieving your weight loss goals, because of all the nutrients that are in this type of food.  One good way to think of it, which I read in 'Eat to Live' (affiliate link) by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, is to compare eating a 400 calorie piece of steak with eating 400 calories of leafy green vegetables. A 400 calorie piece of steak may be the size of your palm, based on what type of steak it is.  Now think of eating 400 calories worth of leafy green vegetables in a salad.  That portion size would be huge!  Now think of both meals inside your stomach. The steak fills up a very small portion of your stomach, which leaves you hungry and more likely to continue eating.  Whereas the leafy green vegetables fill up a large portion of your stomach, because of how large it is.  This will leave you full and unlikely to continue eating.  Of course, you can add other vegetables or fresh fruits to the leafy greens based on your taste preferences.  Good examples of leafy green vegetables are kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and broccoli.

Fresh Fruits
Fresh fruits also contain a large number of micronutrients and the majority of them are low in calories.  Some people worry about the carbohydrate and sugar content in fruits, but that is unnecessary.  Sugars in fresh fruits are natural sugars, so they aren't processed in the body the same way that processed sugars are.  This means that you should stay away from canned fruits, because the majority of them have added sugars.  As I mentioned earlier, we aren't worrying about the amount of carbohydrates, as long as they are coming from nutrient dense food sources.  Good examples of fresh fruits are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, bananas, apples, oranges, pears, plums, and melon.

Beans or legumes are a great source of insoluble and soluble fiber, as well as protein and resistant starch.  Specifically, resistant starch aids in weight loss and digestive health, helps maintain lower blood sugar levels, helps prevent constipation, and reduces the risk of developing diabetes, colon cancer, and heart disease.  Since beans are full of fiber, they make you feel full for a longer period of time, which reduces the temptation to overeat.  Good examples of beans are black beans, pinto beans, soy beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, and black-eyed peas.

Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are higher in calories and fat, so those trying to lose weight should limit themselves to one or two servings per day.  A serving can be considered as one ounce or less.  However, they are an important part of a plant based diet because they contain valuable nutrients and healthy unprocessed fats.  It is important that you eat raw nuts and seeds, not those that have added salt, oils, or sugar.  Good examples of raw nuts and seeds are almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashews, pecans, and flaxseeds.

3 Easy Tips to Start a Plant Based Diet
*Eat a salad every day, with low calorie or no salad dressing
*Eat at least 5 fresh fruits per day
*Eat 2 handfuls of nuts or seeds every day

Helpful Information
The majority of the information I have learned about plant based diets is from reading books written by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  I highly recommend reading 'Eat to Live', 'Eat for Health', and 'Super Immunity'.  They are each full of great information, written testimonials, and statistical evidence on how a plant based diet can improve your health.  They are also written in a way that is easy to understand, it's not a lot of confusing medical terminology.  

I'm someone who is very interested in nutrition and exercise, and I thought I was eating pretty healthy foods.  For the most part, I followed the low-carb diet, where I ate a lot of vegetables, some fruit, and had some form of animal product with nearly every meal.  I wanted a lot of protein, but few carbohydrates, because I wanted to build muscle and burn fat.  After reading these books, I've really changed my approach to food and how I eat.  I no longer care about carbs or how much protein I'm getting.  I keep it really simple; I eat high nutrient foods for each meal, until I feel satisfied.  

In my opinion, the best part of the books is that they each contain plant based recipes that you can make at home.  Each book can be found at (affiliate link), or you can check your local bookstores.