Understanding Plant-Based Diet

It’s hard to ignore the compelling evidence supporting plant-based diets, or the fact that more and more people, from everyday folks to major celebrities, are making the conversion – one step at a time. Regardless of your motivations; whether it is weight loss, improved athletic ability, or simply overall health; it’s important to make an informed approach to plant-based eating to maximize your chances of success. Here at 22 Days Nutrition, we want to help, so here’s a guide to get you started.

Why Plant-Based?

There are many reasons to go meat-free – whether it’s to help the environment, improve your health, or other reasons. Having a good idea of how plant-based diets can help you will provide the motivation you need to stick with it through the long term. Here are some reasons to consider a plant-based diet:

For your health

We know that we need to eat more veggies, but the fact is that most North American diets are distinctly lacking many nutrients that can be easily found in a plant-based diet: fiber, healthy fats, trace minerals and vitamins. Additionally, plant-based diets are low in bad cholesterol and saturated fats. By cutting out meat and eating more veggies, you can cut your risk of disease, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, and diabetes.

A lack of vegetables in the diet is also bad for your waistline – as those who don’t get enough healthy foods tend to have a higher body mass index (BMI), as well as a higher risk of obesity. If there’s one thing you can do to increase your body’s health, it’s to cut the amount of meat in your diet and to eat more vegetables.

For the planet

If choosing a plant-based diet for your own health isn’t enough of a reason, how about helping the planet? Although we all do our part to reduce our impact, converting to a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Raising livestock uses up a far greater amount of resources than growing produce. Just think about it, you can have two acres of land and grow two acres of corn, or you can grow one acre of corn and have a few heads of cattle on the second. Besides the food, the cattle require water and often hormones or steroids. Here are a few interesting statistics to consider:

The same amount of animal protein, rather than plant protein, requires up to 17x more land, 26x as much water, and up to 50 times the fossil fuels.

Replacing meat with plant foods can have an immediate and lasting positive effect on the planet by reducing your carbon footprint. The carbon-reducing effect is multiplied if you buy locally-grown foods, as even less carbon is created during production.





Ensuring Adequate Nutrition

“But how will I get enough protein?” This is a common question for those considering leaving meat behind, and it is a valid concern. However, you may also want to consider that millions of people around the world, including some world-class athletes, are doing just great going meatless. The key here is to be aware of what you are eating and how each food type contributes to your overall health.

Protein Sources

Protein delivers essential amino acids to help build and repair cells. One common argument for meat-eaters is that a plant-based diet doesn’t provide all the amino acids that your body needs. Like many statements regarding plant-based or vegan diets, this simply is not true. There are many plant-based sources of protein that can provide the full spectrum of essential amino acids to ensure a healthy body; though the best way to ensure adequate protein intake is to ensure you are eating from a variety of sources – including beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. If you are still concerned about protein intake, a high-quality, plant-based protein powder is a great way to round out your diet.

Carbohydrate sources

For all the hype about “carbs” and how they’re bad for weight management, many people do not focus on just how good non-refined (i.e. plant-based) carbohydrates can be for your body. The reason is that non-refined carbs, in most cases, offer a lower glycemic index than refined (i.e. high sugar) carbohydrates. To understand how this works you need to understand how fruit, veggies, grains, and fiber work together to fuel your body and aid digestion.

Fruit is typically higher in sugar than vegetables, providing your body with quick energy. Whole grains provide your body with a long-lasting and even supply of energy, while fiber slows down the digestion of food, so you feel full longer. So, keeping your fruit intake low and your intake of vegetables, whole grains, and fiber high can help ensure better overall body health.

What About Fats?

While cutting out meat certainly cuts out unhealthy fat, your body still needs fats to keep your systems functioning at optimum levels. Fats are vital to your body’s hormone function, and help absorb vitamins including A, D, E and K. The important thing is to consider the types of fat you keep in your diet.

The difference with fat from plants is that they offer unsaturated fat (the healthy kind of fat), which are great for your heart and cardiovascular system. Some examples of healthy unsaturated fat sources include nuts, seeds, and avocados – as well as any oils or butters made from the same ingredients.

Plants are also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for cardiovascular health as well as brain function and can help give you healthy, youthful skin. Omega-3s cannot be created internally, so you need to ensure that you are consuming adequate amounts. Some great sources of Omega-3s include hemp, flax, and chia seeds, as well as walnuts and canola-based spreads.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are also essential to complete health. You’ll be pleased to know that all the vitamins and minerals your body needs are available through a balanced, plant-based diet. Much like protein, new meatless eaters typically worry about their intake of iron and calcium, as well as vitamins D and B12. Although it may be easier to eat meat, ensuring a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains will provide you with healthier options and all the micronutrients your body needs.

Iron Sources

Adequate iron is essential to ensuring your red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen throughout your system. Without sufficient iron, you can find it difficult to concentrate and have poor energy levels. Great sources of iron include legumes, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and leafy green veggies. And a bonus for chocolate lovers – dark chocolate gives you a good dose of iron. It’s best to combine iron-rich foods with foods including vitamin C to maximize absorption.

Calcium Sources

Although dairy does provide calcium, there are many non-dairy sources that can provide you with all you need for healthy bones. Some great plant-based sources of calcium include white beans, figs, almonds, spinach, bok choy, kale and sesame seeds. Many cereals are also fortified with calcium, as well as non-dairy milk like almond milk.

Vitamin B12 Sources

Vitamin B12 is harder to find in plant-based sources, as B12 is obtained through bacteria that are often inadvertently consumed by animals and then become part of their biology. Although your body’s daily B12 requirements are low, it is still required to ensure optimal nerve function. The best plant-based source of vitamin B12 is nutritional yeast, or supplements with added B12.

Vitamin D

In order for your body to absorb calcium you need vitamin D. We all know that we can get vitamin D from sunlight, but we also know that too much sun is not good for our skin, and we also may not be able to get enough sun-based vitamin D on a daily basis (particularly in the winter months). You can find vitamin D in nutritional yeast, as well as chlorella, and UV-exposed mushrooms, plus many non-dairy milks and yogurts. Read more about getting adequate vitamin D on our blog.

Do You Need Supplements?

Although, through a varied, plant-based diet, you can absolutely get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs, on a restricted diet or one that requires more nutrients (such as for athletes) you may need a non-food source of extra micronutrients. You should consult with your doctor to find the right multi-vitamin supplement for your needs.


individuals on a

plant based diet

HAVE an average of 44% lower LDL cholesterol

THAN THOSE on a meat-based diet

american journal of clinical nutrition

Plant-Based Nutrition For Athletes

Many professional athletes in a variety of sports enjoy continued success with a plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean that they simply eat well – they need to pay particular attention to their daily intake of nutrients. However, as long as you are aware of your body’s requirements there’s no reason you can’t be an athlete while being meatless at the same time.

Training and Game/Race Recovery

An athlete’s primary concern, when converting to a plant-based diet, is replacing their energy stores and reducing fatigue and soreness after training or a game. Generally the best practice is to consume carbs and protein in a 4:1 ratio (carbs for energy, protein to help rebuild muscle). Plant-based diets offer unrefined and easily-digestible complex carbohydrates and protein, exactly what your body needs to recover quickly.

Inflamation Reduction

Any type of exercise or exertion will cause some stress and inflammation to the body. These types of stress can set in immediately after exercise and lasts for several days. A plant-based diet contains vital phytonutrients and antioxidants that help to reduce the amount and intensity of inflammation to speed recovery.




loma linda university school of public health

Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet: Start Small and Build

Trying to make big changes can often fall short; it’s hard on you psychologically and logistically to make huge changes – so why not start small? You can start with Meatless Mondays, cut meat from one meal in your diet, or even just replace dairy in your diet with non-dairy alternatives like almond or coconut. Even just small changes can have a positive impact on your health, once you start to see the results you’ll be motivated to move towards a fully plant-based diet.

Plan Ahead

When you have a plan for plant-based eating, you have a greater chance of success. Have a week’s worth of meals planned (including snacks) and make sure you have a few days of meal ingredients on hand. For cooking and baking you’ll want to know what you can use as a plant-based substitute for dairy products like butter. You may be surprised to find that it’s not that difficult at all when you use avocados, chia seeds and coconut milk and oil to add the creaminess or viscosity that you would find with eggs or dairy.

The replacements for dairy are pretty amazing. Did you know you can make cheese out of nuts? That’s right – check out the recipe right here.

Dinning Out

Eating out isn’t difficult on a plant-based diet, nor do you have to limit yourself to soups and salads. Look for veggie burgers, stir-fry, fajitas and pasta. Even dishes with meat can often be produced without, so don’t be afraid to ask. When in doubt, how about some veggie sushi? Nothing beats a good cucumber or avocado roll!

Final Thoughts

Eating out isn’t difficult on a plant-based diet, nor do you have to limit yourself to soups and salads. Look for veggie burgers, stir-fry, fajitas and pasta. Even dishes with meat can often be produced without, so don’t be afraid to ask. When in doubt, how about some veggie sushi? Nothing beats a good cucumber or avocado roll!