Available to you on all your devices, abundant research demonstrates the incredible health benefits of a plant-based diet for weight loss, preventing and reversing heart disease (currently the number one killer in the U.S.), diabetes and even cancer.
If you’ve already made the switch – great! But remember, it’s crucial to pay attention to the details of your diet to be absolutely sure you’re not missing out on any important nutrients. This is the case for any diet you choose to follow.
A well-planned plant-based diet is the best way to ensure that you’re getting all of those amazing benefits that eating this way has to offer for your health, the planet and the animals.
This three-day meal plan includes important nutrients – specifically, vitamins and minerals – that you must ingest daily for optimal health, disease prevention and high energy. First, you will learn what nutrients are crucial to pay attention to when eating plant-based, and other important keys to success on a plant-based diet.
4 Keys to Success on a Plant-Based Diet
Cover these to ensure you not only keep up your optimal nutrient intake, but also to enjoy your meals and preventing them from becoming mundane.
Consume variety: When you make your daily green smoothie, change up the greens and fruits that you use. Did you eat chickpeas last week? Pick black beans this week! Variety will ensure your gut bacteria get the food they need to thrive, nurturing the variety of strains you have in your gut, and that you get a plethora of phytonutrients, which are unique to every single plant. It will also ensure that you never get bored while following a plant-based lifestyle. There are more than 20,000 species of edible plants in the world – explore them!
Eat whole foods: Many folks, including vegans, rely on processed foods way too much. These food-like products contain refined ingredients. It’s OK to consume them every once in a while, but stick to whole plant foods that come from the earth at least 90 percent of the time: whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and seaweed. Pay attention to food labels and become a smart shopper.
Get calories from whole-food carbohydrates: “Carb” has become a bad word in the world of nutrition, but it’s not possible to compare the carbohydrates that come from a banana to those that come from refined grain products. Carbohydrates are your body’s first source of energy, and are a great source of calories on a whole foods, plant-based diet. The best carbs, consumed in the world’s blue zones of populations living healthily well into old age, include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Take supplements: In the next section, you will learn which nutrients to pay close attention to on a plant-based diet. However, some nutrients are no longer available from plants. The main one is vitamin B12, which is actually derived through bacteria in the soil. Due to the chlorination of water and depletion of the soil, B12 is rarely found in soil nowadays, so it is crucial to take a B12 supplement. In addition, consider supplementing with a vegan omega-3 supplement derived from algae, as well as a vegan-friendly vitamin D supplement if you do not get enough sun daily.
How to Get Nutrients on a Plant-Based Diet
In addition to vitamin D and B12, here are a few more nutrients to make sure you get by consuming whole plant foods:
Iron: Iron is crucial for energy production and making hemoglobin in red blood cells. It synthesizes DNA, and is used by the immune system to destroy bacteria. Iron deficiency is one of the most common in the world, yet it’s very easy to prevent. Iron is found in whole grains, legumes (particularly lentils), nuts, seeds, dried fruits and dark leafy greens. It’s also worth mentioning that organic produce has higher rates than conventional.
Zinc: Zinc is used for many functions involving wound healing and immunity, and is needed for more than 50 different enzymes, so many processes in your body depend on it. Great sources of zinc include legumes, and nuts and seeds.
Iodine: Many people forget about iodine, which is vital for metabolism, growth, body temperature and more – all stemming from the impact of iodine deficiency or toxicity on the thyroid gland. Iodine is very easy to find, mainly in seaweeds like nori, dulse and wakame just a few times per week.
Calcium: Calcium is important for bone health, nerve and muscle function, as well as blood clotting. Sources of calcium are plentiful in the vegan diet, including blackstrap molasses, tofu, collard greens, turnip greens, tempeh, kale, soybeans, mustard greens, bok choy and more.
Selenium: Selenium is an important mineral for cognitive function and fertility. It’s very easy to get your daily intake for selenium simply by adding 1-2 Brazil nuts to your daily menu, as they are extremely rich in this trace mineral.
It’s important to remember that the best way to get most of these nutrients (with the exception of B12 and vitamin D) is by eating whole foods, and focusing on the entire, fiber-rich package of plants. While it may seem daunting to make sure to get all of these foods every day, it’s quite easy when you simply eat plants, in their whole food form. If you want to track your nutrient intake, Cronometer is a great free tool that allows you to do that. You can track your nutrients for several days, and assure that you’re covering most of them every day.
Your Nutritionally-Balanced Plant-Based Menu
Day 1: Breakfast
Start your day with a refreshing green smoothie bowl for a burst of energy and satiation that will fuel you through the morning!
Day 1: Lunch
Enjoy a nourishing nibble of 4-5 medium oranges, plus one Brazil nut for your daily dose of selenium.
Day 1: Dinner
Prepare a Pesto Tempeh Asparagus Bowl to wrap up your day in a nourishing way! Complete with hearty quinoa, protein-rich tempeh and roasted veggies, this is a dish your whole family can get behind.
Day 2: Breakfast
Rise and shine with a Citrus Smoothie Bowl with Spinach and Cauliflower! Whether you start your morning with a workout or slowly creep out of bed, this nutritious, well-balanced bowl of bliss will restore your energy so you can to tackle the day.
Day 2: Lunch
For your midday meal, enjoy a healthy spin on an Italian favorite. For this Vegan Zucchini Lasagna with Pesto, Spinach & Cashew Cheese, you'll swap traditional noodles for crisp vegetable slices, replace ricotta with cashew “cream” and trade marinara sauce for pesto. Buon appetito!
Day 2: Dinner
And now... we noodle! For the final meal of the day, crash whole-grain penne with creamy homemade pumpkin sauce for a savory, yet subtle, fall flavor that's appropriate all year long. Make it: Whole Grain Penne with Pumpkin Pasta Sauce.
Day 3: Breakfast
Sweeten your morning with Blueberry-Chocolate Overnight Oats. Simply prepare the night before and top with fresh berries for an easy on-the-go meal to get you going.
Day 3: Lunch
This recipe for Chickpea Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing yields 1-2 servings. If you wind up with leftovers, pack them into a food storage container and enjoy with dinner as a side dish or for tomorrow's lunch!
Day 3: Dinner
Yes, you can eat pizza on a plant-based diet, and YES, it can be nutritious. Oil-free and gluten-free, this Mexican-Inspired Vegan Pizza is out of this WORLD. The crust, which is made from quinoa and water, is topped with homemade tomato sauce, avocado cream, corn and jalapenos (but feel free to add your favorite toppings).
Choose to make these recipes week after week or use them to inspire your own personal meal plan! Once you get the hang of it, start swapping in more plant-based recipes to keep things exciting so it's easy to stay on track!
Questions? Check out how one of our plant-based registered dietitians responds to commonly asked questions about going vegan.