Whether you’re trying to improve your environmental footprint or your own health, adding more plant-based meals to your diet is a good start. Swapping meat and dairy-filled meals with more plant-based ones is healthy for your budget, too. Ready to try it out? Learn everything you need to know about plant-based eating here, including recipes, ingredients and tricks for easy meal prep.
Frequently asked questions about plant-based diets
1What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet focuses on foods that come from plants—not just fruits and vegetables, but any foods that come from the earth. Think whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as fruits and veggies.
Plant-based eating is also about eating whole foods, or items that aren’t highly processed or refined. That means enjoying foods that are more or less in their natural state. They might come packaged or frozen, and that’s fine—focus on avoiding preservatives and flavourings.
And don’t worry if you’re an avid carnivore—eating more plants doesn’t mean giving up animal products or adopting a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. You can still eat a plant-based diet while incorporating healthy sources of protein, such as eggs and fish.
Some people like to think of plant-based eating as the diet our ancestors followed in the days before fast food and packaged snacks. If you’re wondering if a certain food fits, ask yourself: would a caveperson eat it?
2What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets are associated with a variety of long-term health and environmental benefits. Here are a few:
- The Mediterranean diet, a famous example of a plant-based diet, has been studied for many years for its health advantages. Researchers have found that a Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Eating a plant-focused diet with fewer refined foods may help you lose weight. A recent study found that eating a whole food plant-based diet was associated with healthy weight loss and reduced cholesterol.
- Plant-based eating has also been shown to help reduce blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. Researchers at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences estimate that following a vegetarian diet could reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 40 per cent.
- Animal-based food products are responsible for 12 to 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and up to 58 per cent of all food production emissions. Researchers have found that vegans and vegetarians generate nearly anywhere from 35 to 50 per cent less greenhouse gas than meat eaters. The UN encourages a dietary shift to more plant-based foods, estimating that “dietary change alone” could free up to 240 million hectares of the world’s land.
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3What can you eat on a plant-based diet?
Whether you’re simply trying to increase the number of plant foods you eat or committing to a vegan or vegetarian diet, there are lots of delicious options in plant-based diets. Your family probably enjoys many of them already. For a healthy, whole-foods approach to plant-based eating, here are some foods to eat more of and some to avoid:
Eat these foods frequently
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Bean and legume-based products such as tofu and tempeh
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut and seed butters
- Plant-based and minimally-processed oils such as olive oil, avocado oil and sesame oil
- Herbs and spices
- Dairy-free alternatives made from nuts, seeds and coconut
If you’d like, eat these foods occasionally
Avoid these foods
- Fast food
- Deep-fried food
- Processed meats such as deli slices
- Packaged foods, such as chips, sugary cereals, cookies and frozen dinners
- Refined grain products like white bread and pasta
- Refined sweeteners such as white sugar, corn syrup, sucrose and malt syrup
- Sweetened beverages like pop
- Highly processed oils such as vegetable oil, canola oil and corn oil
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4Are plant-based diets healthy for kids?
Kids who eat plant-based diets gain the same benefits as adults do, including reduced risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Following a plant-based diet may also reduce allergic reactions and help manage kids’ symptoms of asthma and eczema.
If you’re considering going vegan or vegetarian as a family, consult your family doctor first. A dietician or nutritionist can help you source healthy amounts and sources of protein as well as vitamin B12, which can only be found in animal products.
5How do you transition to a plant-based diet?
Follow these tips to easily incorporate more plants into your diet:
- Start with one plant-based meal a week. It can be overwhelming when your family is used to eating animal protein every day. Go easy on yourself and commit to just one vegan or vegetarian meal a week. As you become more comfortable preparing and eating plant-based meals, gradually add more.
- Involve your kids. Talk to your kids about why you want the family to eat more plants, and involve them in meal planning and prep. A study reported in Scientific American found that kids can influence parents’ attitudes on climate change. Present your case well, and they might take over as the family’s plant-based diet cheerleaders.
- Focus on veggies. Make vegetables the main focus of every meal, filling the largest section of your plate with a salad, or steamed, grilled or roasted veggies. Once you’ve done that, you can add in other components of the meal, such as protein, whole grains and healthy fats (like an olive-oil based salad dressing).
- Snack on plants. Instead of grabbing a packaged snack such as chips or cookies, try some fresh fruit and nuts, like apple slices and almonds or a mandarin orange and walnuts. Keep prepared veggies such as cucumber slices, celery sticks and baby carrots on hand, and serve them with a yummy dip like hummus.
6How do you eat plant-based on a budget?
Plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils are quite a lot cheaper than animal-based equivalents such as meat and cheese. Here are some other ways to trim your budget on a plant-based diet:
- Cook at home. No matter what your diet, preparing your own meals is the best way to reduce your grocery bill. In fact, according to Forbes, it can be up to five times cheaper to eat at home than to order delivery.
- Buy bulk. Beans and whole grains are affordable and last a long time in your pantry. Stock up to save.
- Look for seasonal specials. Oftentimes produce that’s local and in season is cheaper than items that have been brought in from far away.
7What are some yummy plant-based recipes?
Bookmark these recipes for inspiration:
These granola bars are sweetened with honey instead of refined sugar, which makes them a great alternative to packaged varieties. For a school-safe and nut-free alternative, try making them with tahini.
Make a big batch of chili and freeze extras for an easy meal that keeps on giving. Serve this kid-friendly and veggie-laden dish over sweet potato fries for a fibre-filled treat.
Print or pin this plant-based superfoods shopping list
Shop Plant-Based Recipe Ingredients
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2. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. Economical Healhty Diets (2012): Including Lean Animal Protein Costs More Than Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
3. American Diabetes Association. Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes With the Mediterranean Diet.
4. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. Prevention and control of type 2 diabetes by Mediterranean diet: A systematic review.
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7. Food Research International. Meat consumption: Which are the current global risks? A review of recent (2010–2020) evidences.
8. Science. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers.
9. Advances in Nutrition. Vegetarian Diets: Planetary Health and Its Alignment with Human Health.
10. United Nations. What we can do.
11. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Nutrition for Kids: Plant-Based Diets for Infants, Children, and Teens.
12. Center for Nutrition Studies. Can a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet Help with Allergies?
13. Nutrition Research and Practice. Nutrition education discouraging sugar intake results in higher nutrient density in diets of pre-school children.
14. Scientific American. Children Change Their Parents’ Minds About Climate Change.
15. Forbes. Here’s How Much Money You Save By Cooking At Home.
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