10 Steps to Eating a Plant-Based Diet

June 10, 2019

People often ask me, “What’s the top thing I can do to feel better fast?” If you’re ready to take back control of your health and maybe even lose some weight, changing to a plant-based diet may be a great first step. Plant-based diets have been shown to support significant improvements in health. Some of these include both prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, thyroid diseases, and kidney disease, plus boosting brain health and supporting weight loss. Consider these statistics:

  • Plant fiber found in fruits and vegetables has been shown to support the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immune systems, yet 90 percent of U.S. adults and children don’t eat the minimum recommended dietary fiber.
  • Lifestyle changes such as improved diet have been shown to save 70 percent to 80 percent of healthcare costs.
  • Given that 75 percent of healthcare spending in the U.S. goes to treating chronic conditions, the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet can also include significant healthcare savings as well as improved health.
  • Of all the antibiotics given in the U.S., the majority are given to livestock to prevent infections. However, this results in antibiotic-resistant infections. In 2013, these kinds of infections led to 2 million sick individuals in the U.S. and 23,000 deaths. [1]

While I personally follow a mostly plant-based diet, I know that it may not be for everyone. We all have different dietary needs and preferences. That said, even if you don’t want to transition completely to a vegan or vegetarian diet, simply viewing plant-based foods as the primary component of your diet can benefit your health in many ways. Read more below to learn about different kinds of plant-based diets, plant-based diet benefits, and steps you can take to start eating a veggie-based diet.



What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

So, what is a plant-based diet? Basically, a whole-food, plant-based diet means that you eat a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. You can include meat and animal products sparingly or not at all.

There are actually a variety of plant-based diets. Some diets are either entirely plant-based, some may include eggs and dairy, and some are mostly plant-based but still include eating meat and poultry occasionally. Below is a list of several types of veggie-based diets you may want to consider.


4 Examples of Plant-Based Diets:

1. Vegetarian Diet

If you’re weighing vegetarian diet pros and cons, keep in mind that the benefits of a vegetarian diet outweigh any cons. That said, it’s important to follow a balanced vegetarian diet to ensure that you get all of the nutrients you need.

A healthy vegetarian diet plan includes a variety of vegetables, legumes, and fruits to ensure that you receive all of the nutrients you need. You may find it helps to take a multivitamin as well.

There are also variations on the vegetarian diet, including “pescatarian” or pesco-vegetarian, which means that fish is also included. Another common type of vegetarian diet is the lacto ovo vegetarian diet, meaning dairy and eggs are included.

2. Vegan Diet

A vegan diet plan is similar to a vegetarian diet. So, what is the vegan and vegetarian difference? Basically, a vegan diet means that no animal products of any kind are included. This means that someone following a vegan diet strictly eats vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods. No dairy, eggs, or animal products of any kind, including honey, are included.

If you’re wondering what to eat on a vegan diet, you may be surprised to learn that there are still plenty of choices and delicious vegan recipes. However, sometimes it can be hard to get all of the nutrients you need on a vegan diet, especially vitamin B12 and iron. For this reason, you may want to include an activated B12 supplement and any other supplements you may need to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs.

3. Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has many health benefits. It has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some types of cancers. This diet is based on foods that are eaten in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

The basics of the Mediterranean diet include eating large amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Olive oil is the main source of fat. Fish and poultry are consumed in small to moderate amounts throughout the week and red meat is eaten sparingly. Fresh fruit is eaten for dessert, and cheese and yogurt are eaten daily in small amounts. Wine is also included with meals, in low to moderate amounts. [2]

4. “DASH” Diet

Promoted by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or DASH diet, has some similarities to the Mediterranean diet. This diet was developed to help prevent or lower high blood pressure (hypertension) and lower cholesterol.

The DASH diet includes eating primarily fruits and vegetables, but it also includes grains; fat-free or low-fat dairy products; lean meats, poultry, and fish; nuts, seeds, and legumes; low amounts of fats and oils; low amounts of sweets and sugars; and low amounts of sodium. [3]

While this diet does include meat, be sure to focus the bulk of your meals on fresh vegetables and fruits and only eat meat a couple of times a week. You also want to avoid processed foods, including lunch meats and other packaged food products.


Plant-based diet numbers - Dr. Pingel


9 Plant-Based Diet Benefits

Numerous studies show that eating a plant-based diet has many health benefits. This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to become a vegetarian or vegan. Even just cutting down on the amount of meat and animal products you eat and introducing more vegetables and fruits into your diet can make a big difference.

Read more below to find out more about plant-based diet benefits that help your heart, brain, gut, and more. You may be surprised at how much you can improve your health just by introducing more plant-based meals into your diet.

1. Heart Health

Many studies have shown the important connection between plant-based diet benefits and cardiovascular health. Evidence shows that about one-half of deaths in the U.S. due to cardio-metabolic diseases such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes might be prevented by healthier diets.

Not only do plant-based diets improve nutrient intake, but there is also evidence that suggests following such a diet may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by about 40 percent and the risk of cerebral vascular disease by about 29 percent. Eating a plant-based diet helps with weight and blood sugar control and also provides metabolic and cardiovascular benefits such as lowering blood pressure and reversing atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque on the artery walls). [4]

Research shows evidence that following a plant-based diet also helps decrease the incidence of heart failure. Two specific plant-based diets, in particular, the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, have been associated with both prevention and treatment of hypertension. Following a low-fat, plant-based diet has been the only type of diet shown to reverse coronary heart disease (CHD). [5]

In order to gain these cardiovascular benefits, it’s important to follow a diet with high-quality nutrients coming mostly from fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains with minimal meat, poultry, dairy, and other animal products.

2. Cancer Prevention

Research shows strong evidence to support how eating a plant-based diet and cancer prevention go hand-in-hand. Numerous studies have shown that a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes, as well as nuts, seeds, and spices, help reduce the risk of one or more types of cancer. [6]

3. Gut Health

Having plenty of healthy bacteria in your gut is important not only for your digestive system but also for your overall health. Current studies show that eating a plant-based diet produces a diverse gut microbiome that helps to support overall health. That said, larger studies and more evidence are still needed to fully understand the correlations between eating a plant-based diet, gut microbiome, and health outcomes. [7]

4. Brain Health

Have you ever wondered, “Can nutrition prevent Alzheimer’s disease?” Well, more and more studies show that the answer is likely yes, or at least eating a healthy diet can help. Two researchers identified “four pillars of Alzheimer’s prevention” in their 2017 study published in the journal Cerebrum. These pillars are diet and supplements; physical and mental exercise; yoga and meditation; and psychological well-being.

While all of these pillars are important, the emphasis the researchers placed on eating vegetarian foods, drinking fresh juices, and supplementing with multivitamins and minerals supports the benefits of a plant-based diet. The researchers noted that most Americans still follow the Standard American Diet (SAD) and that the U.S. government has estimated that 75 percent of Americans do not eat enough vegetables and fruits.

Meanwhile, the researchers also noted that studies have shown how those who eat a whole-food based diet have demonstrated the least decline in their cognitive function. Additionally, those who make the change to mostly plant-based diets can both slow down and even possibly reverse memory loss.

For example, improvements in participants’ cortex among those who followed a Mediterranean diet for a year were shown in one study. The Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) and DASH diets have both shown promising results as well in improving cognitive functioning.

In general, research supports the benefits of a plant-based diet on brain health. [8,9,10]

5. Diabetes

As the prevalence of diabetes continues to rise worldwide, studies have shown that changes in lifestyle and diet, particularly changing to a plant-based diet, can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. In fact, researchers note that studies dated all the way back to the 1950s demonstrate the importance of a mostly vegetarian diet in helping to treat diabetes.

Because eating a diet composed of whole foods also helps individuals to lose weight, a study was done to find out if the patients’ insulin level improvements were due to weight loss or diet. This study enrolled only lean men as participants. Fifty percent of the participants were able to discontinue insulin and the remaining participants were able to significantly lower their insulin dosage. So, the study demonstrated that a whole-food, plant-based diet does help with the management of type 2 diabetes.

Overall, there is strong evidence to support plant-based diet benefits for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. [11,12]

6. Weight Loss

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. If you have been considering a plant-based weight loss plan, you’re on the right track. Numerous studies show that a high-fiber, low-fat, plant-based diet can lead to positive weight loss results. In fact, it seems that plant-based eating and weight loss easily go hand-in-hand. This includes a variety of plant-based diets, from vegetarian and vegan diets to pesco-vegetarian diets (includes fish) and semi-vegetarian.

Individuals who eat a whole-food, plant-based diet that’s rich in nutrients tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index). In addition, adopting a plant-based diet has been shown to help with obesity management and be effective for weight loss. [13]

A 16-week randomized study of 75 participants showed that plant protein found in plant-based diets provided significant improvements in body composition, body weight, and insulin resistance. The study showed continuing positive evidence for plant-based diet benefits in supporting weight loss, but the researchers noted that further studies were needed to better understand the exact mechanisms of how plant proteins and particular amino acids function to support these improvements. [14]

7. Kidney Health

The National Kidney Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services all recommend eating a plant-based diet for kidney disease. Again, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are suggested by these organizations as good choices when considering a veggie-based diet. As noted in the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology, plant-based diet benefits include preventing heart disease and high blood pressure as well as slowing the progression of kidney disease. [15]

Another study noted that the prevalence of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome—which are the main causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD)—is lower among vegetarian populations. The researchers noted that evidence supports plant-based diet benefits for both the prevention and management of CKD. [16]

8. Thyroid Health

Research indicates that eating a plant-based diet may correlate with a lower incidence of autoimmune disease and help to support thyroid health. A large-scale, longitudinal study known as the Adventist Health Study-2 published in Public Health and Nutrition demonstrated the effectiveness of eating a plant-based diet to help protect against hyperthyroidism, the most common cause of which is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder. The study found that following a vegan or vegetarian diet was the most protective against hyperthyroidism vs. a mostly plant-based, or semi-vegetarian, diet or an omnivorous diet. [17]

Another aspect of this same study also showed the efficacy between eating a plant-based diet and hypothyroidism—the researchers found that eating a vegan diet tends to show a correlation with a lower incidence of hypothyroidism. [18]

9. Healthy Aging

Let’s face it: Time stops for no one. And poor diet has been shown to be the leading cause of both early death and disability in the U.S. But we can age more gracefully and live longer, healthier lives by making wise choices. Given the many plant-based diet benefits, maybe it’s not a surprise that eating plenty of veggies supports healthy aging.

While it’s important to eat a healthy diet at any age, making the change to a plant-based diet as an older adult can be especially beneficial. It can lower your risk of heart disease, improve your brain health, and boost your energy. [19]

10 steps to eating a plant-based diet - Dr. Pingel

Plant-Based Diet Foods List

If you’re just starting a vegetarian diet, or mostly plant-based diet, you may be wondering what you can eat on a whole-food plant-based diet. If so, here is a list of plant-based foods to help you with your meal planning and grocery shopping as you shift to a plant-based diet. This plant-based diet food list will make it easy to start thinking about foods you can begin including in your meals.

And don't worry about protein. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources. These include legumes, tofu, nuts, and nut milks, as well as plant-based protein powders, such as those made from pea protein.

One last tip: You may need to include certain supplements, especially to get enough vitamin B12, if you eat a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet. If you are taking a vitamin B12 supplement be sure to take activated B12.


Plant-Based Grocery List

  • Vegetables: dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, broccolini, cabbage, cauliflower), avocado, cucumber, sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini
  • Whole grains: brown and wild rice, oats, quinoa, ancient grains (e.g., spelt, amaranth, etc.)
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh
  • Berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries) and other fruits such as bananas and pineapple
  • Nuts: walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds
  • Seeds: hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds
  • Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir
  • Spices: turmeric, ginger, cumin
  • Herbs: fresh basil, coriander, parsley, mint, chives
  • Nut milks: almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia
  • Supplements: activated vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega 3s


10 Steps to Eating a Plant-Based Diet

If you’re considering becoming a vegetarian, or you just want to eat more plant-based meals, you may be wondering how to switch to a plant-based diet. The 10 steps below are designed to show you how to eat a plant-based diet.

By following these suggestions, you can make the change to a plant-based diet within a few weeks. You may find it helpful to make this transition over a period of six weeks by introducing steps five through 10 one at a time each week over the six-week period.

  1. Make a gradual transition. If you’re thinking of changing to a plant-based diet but you’re a little overwhelmed, don’t be. The best approach is to make slow changes. Trying to quit your current diet “cold turkey” or make many changes at once might backfire and leave you frustrated.
  2. Educate yourself. Become more familiar with food labels and ingredients. Explore vegetables and fruits you haven’t tried. Learn about portion sizes. Educate yourself on organic vs. nonorganic foods and GMOs vs. non-GMOs.
  3. Keep the food interesting. Try new recipes, vegan/vegetarian restaurants, or vegan/vegetarian options. Trying new recipes or dishes will help prevent your plant-based meal plan from becoming stale or boring.
  4. Slowly eat more vegetarian meals each week. Like step one, making the change gradually will best prepare you for success as you switch to a plant-based diet. Slowly eat more meals that don’t contain meat.
  5. Cut down on sugar and cow dairy. Although sugar isn’t an animal product, cutting down on it can significantly improve your health by limiting the body’s inflammatory response, helping to cut down on the potential for candida, and helping with weight loss. Cutting down on cow dairy or switching to goat milk or nut milks can also help lower your body’s inflammatory response and improve gut health.
  6. Clean out your cabinets and refrigerator. Get rid of all the processed foods in your cabinets and refrigerator. Make space for healthy replacements.
  7. Refill your cabinets and refrigerator with healthy foods. Now that you’ve cleaned the processed foods out of your kitchen, replace them with whole-food, plant-based options, like plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
  8. Try “Meatless Mondays.” As you’re gradually switching to a diet that consists mainly of vegetables and fruits and other plant-based options, try doing “Meatless Mondays” to begin introducing more veggie-based meals. Another option is to start by eating a plant-based breakfast that only includes fruits and vegetables, and possibly grains and dairy, such as whole-grain toast and yogurt.
  9. Eat a salad a day. Another suggestion to start eating more plant-based meals is to include a salad each day. This can be a great option for a quick, but healthy lunch.
  10. Switch out dessert with fruit. You can also make healthy fruit-based desserts. Instead of indulging in a cookie or ice cream, reach for a bowl of berries or try one of my recipes, like my Vegan Chocolate Tart. Be sure to keep some fresh or dried fruit on hand and keep cookies and other sweets out of the kitchen to make this an easy option.

If you’re concerned about how to maintain a plant-based diet, you may want to keep this list handy to help keep you on track. Keeping a standard plant-based food list on-hand, trying a variety of plant-based recipes, and sticking to certain guidelines like eating a salad each day can help you stick to your plant-based diet.


Plant-Based Meal Ideas

What is a plant-based diet meal plan? Basically, this is exactly what it sounds like! You may find it helpful to plan your veggie-based meals for the week to ensure that you have ingredients on hand and that you get the nutrients you need.

There are plenty of whole-food plant-based recipes to choose from, but I’ve included a few of my recipes below to help you get started. These recipes are can work for anyone, and they are great plant-based recipes for beginners to a veggie-based diet.


Are you wondering what do you eat for breakfast on a plant-based diet? Wonder no more! There are plenty of easy plant-based recipe options. One of my favorites is my Chia Seed Pudding with Strawberry Kiwi Compote. This recipe also makes a delicious dessert!

Lunch or Dinner

For lunch or dinner, you may want to give my Cauliflower Tabbouleh recipe a try.

Or you could start with my delicious Vegan Burger recipe. Either one of these would be perfect for a “Meatless Monday” meal. Yum!


Key Takeaways

  • Even if you don’t want to go vegetarian or vegan, making the transition to a plant-based diet that cuts out most meat and animal products and emphasizes vegetables and fruit can improve your health, boost your immune system, and help prevent diseases such as cancer, thyroid disease, heart disease, and kidney disease.
  • Plant-based diet benefits not only include improving your health, but also helping you to save on healthcare costs.
  • If you’re ready to try a plant-based diet, make the transition slowly. Start by eating one or two veggie-based meals per week.
  • Following the 10 steps I listed can be a great way to start transitioning to a plant-based diet.


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