What does a typical day of plant-based eating look like?
This is the question that everyone asks, and I love to answer it. But here’s the deal - a typical day of plant-based eating will differ depending on your health goals.
I wouldn’t expect a semi-professional athlete to eat the same way as a post-open-heart surgery patient. Everyone is unique in their nutrition needs. Not to mention that some people need to budget their time and money. That's why it’s imperative to discuss your goals with a health professional, such as a dietitian.
Nevertheless, let's examine three examples of a day of plant-based eating for 3 very different individuals
There is no “right way” to structure your meals
Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
Should I snack?
Should I incorporate intermittent fasting?
These are good questions and they can be answered with cold, hard, scientific facts. But, just because science says it’s beneficial to do something, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Instead, ask yourself these questions:
Will I enjoy eating this way?
How can I incorporate this specific action into my daily routine, so it becomes a sustainable habit?
What immediate changes must I make to encourage habit change?
Remember that someone else’s plan that worked for them may not be your solution. The proper way to structure your day is to make these changes sustainable, easy and fun!
Eat the foods that you love EVERY DAY
Eating food that you love will help you stay on track. For example, I LOVE mangoes. When they’re in season I eat them every day. Since mangoes are incredibly nutritious and part of a healthy, whole food, 'plant-based diet there’s no guilt in indulging on the daily. Sometimes, I eat more than one at a time! Make your favorite foods a staple in your diet, because the less you think about what to eat, the less tempting it will be to reach for the junk food.
Don't succumb to decision fatigue
When you know ahead of time what you’ll be eating, the fewer decisions you’ll have to make that day. This is important because too much decision making can be detrimental to success. Willpower is like a muscle; it gets fatigued when you use it repeatedly. Just like at the end of a workout, your willpower to make good choices fade as you make decisions throughout the day. Researchers often refer to this phenomenon as decision fatigue.
If you make a lot of decisions during the day due to your job or your family, your will to make healthy eating choices may wane as well. That’s why it’s so important to plan your meals ahead of time. Choose 3-4 healthy lunch and dinner ideas and rotate them throughout the week. Brainstorm your meal ideas for the beginning of every week- it's one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
Keep it simple
This is an easy method to prepare healthy, balanced, plant-based meals. Of course, you can make your meals a bit more complex, but it's also okay to eat simply. This method is cost-effective and time efficient.
Here is the framework:
Vegetable + Green + Starch + Plant-based Protein
Choose one or more non-starchy vegetables. Always include a leafy green vegetable for optimal nutrients. Vegetables should consist of ½ of your plate.
Choose a starchy vegetable or whole grain. Fill ¼ of the plate.
Choose a plant-based protein. Fill ¼ of the plate.
Choose a low-fat sauce or dressing to put on top.
Most of the time, the key to making a meal delicious is in the sauce and the seasoning. This would be a good time to experiment with oil-free dressings and seasoning mixes. Personally, I enjoy adding a dash of liquid coconut aminos to my veggies for a sweet, salty touch.
Make health your priority
Failing to stick to a diet plan does not mean you lack willpower. It could mean that the diet was too restrictive, which is often the case. It could also mean that health is not your top priority.
I get it, life is hectic, and health is the last thing on our mind when we’re stressed. As a result, we make tons of excuses to avoid committing to change. When we make excuses we make the case for maintaining our current state of poor health. So stop the excuses and take control of your future.
Let me put this another way: lack of willpower is not the problem. It’s the absence of motivation that is the problem. This is the time to remind yourself WHY you’re committing to change. Really dig deep and remember to love yourself!
So, without further ado:
A day of plant-based eating for a
type II diabetic
Low-glycemic and low insulin index foods
Nutrient-dense but calorie-sparse foods
Avoiding oil and high-fat plant foods
Oatmeal with flax seeds, berries and cinnamon
Coffee/ Tea with pant-based creamer
Green smoothie with celery, cucumber, spinach, lemon, banana, ginger
Buddha bowl with sweet potato, quinoa, baked falafel, roasted veggies, steamed greens, topped with lemon-tahini dressing
Ancient grain crackers and hummus
BBQ tofu steak, lentils, brown rice, broth-sautéed veggies and a raw kale salad on the side.
Frozen cherries and dark chocolate
A day of plant-based eating for the
Minimally processed food products such as whole grain bread/ pasta, veggie burgers, frozen fruit/ veggies
Prep meals that keep well in the refrigerator
Quick cooking methods such as steaming and blanching
Overnight oats topped with almond butter, hemp seeds and apples.
Whole wheat pasta with pesto sauce, navy beans, sun-dried tomatoes, blanched broccoli, cherry tomatoes
Plant-based yogurt with low-sugar granola
Veggie burger w/ whole grain bun, baked purple yams, steamed collards
Banana nice cream topped with cocoa nibs and shredded coconut
A day of plant-based eating for the
Fueling workouts with protein from tofu, tempeh, legumes and complex carbohydrates
Adequate fat intake from whole, plant foods
Option to add protein powder to smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods and other recipes
Protein buckwheat pancakes topped with fruit
Banana berry smoothie with raw nuts, seeds and greens
Giant kale and arugula salad with beans, potatoes and baked tempeh. Topped with a mango-hemp seed dressing.
Almond butter and banana slices on whole wheat bread
Tofu curry with basmati rice and vegetables.
Black bean brownies
Next: Pantry Essentials
Iraina Rosenthal-Tawil, RD
Founder, Your Life on the Veg
Iraina is a registered dietitian based in New York City. She specializes in plant-based diets for the prevention and management of chronic disease. She offers virtual nutrition counseling via a HIPPA-secured online platform.
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