Meatless Meals: Benefits of A Whole Food Plant-Based Diet (+20 Healthy Vegetarian Meals & Snacks)
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
“Let food be thy medicine, let medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates
More and more people are coming to see the huge impact that a plant-based whole food diet can have on your health. It can keep you well, boost your energy, prevent disease, and help you lose weight and live longer. Eating meatless meals at least a few times a week can do wonders for your health. On top of the physical benefits, it can reduce harm to people and animals, save you money, remind you to focus on a more selfless and compassionate life, and help the environment.
An ecological crisis is facing our planet right now. The meat and dairy industry creates more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector. Methane from animal digestion is even worse than carbon dioxide on emissions. Livestock plays a major role in global warming. The amount of water used for animal agriculture is HUGE (because of the super water-intensive grains used for their food). One small hamburger requires the same amount of water as showering for two months. Eating way less meat is one of the best ways you can help the environment and make a positive impact of your own.
If you want to live your healthiest and most superhero life while contributing to a better world and making a positive impact, you absolutely must consider a plant-based diet. Personally, I eat a largely plant-based diet while still incorporating some animal products like eggs, seafood, greek yogurt, cheese, and chicken on occasion. The point isn’t about changing everything about your diet, it’s about eating healthful and good food the large majority of the time to feel your best and live an awesome life. It’s unreal to me how much better I feel when the large majority of my food comes from whole food, plant-based sources.
What is a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet?
A whole-food, plant-based diet is made up of natural, minimally-processed plant foods.
Whole Food includes natural foods that are not heavily processed (whole, unrefined, or minimally refined ingredients) and Plant-Based food comes from plants.
This diet limits or avoids animal products and refined foods. The majority of what you eat should be plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. Health and wellness communities agree that diets emphasizing fresh, whole ingredients and minimizing processed foods are superior for overall wellness.
From Forks over Knives
How a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet Can Improve Your Health
There’s ample scientific evidence that moving to a whole-food, plant-based diet can control, reduce, and even reverse many chronic diseases (like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more). Plant-based diets can also boost energy, reduce inflammation, and provide people better overall health.
The best plant-based diet is one that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and healthy oils. Diets like the Mediterranean diet prioritize fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes, and help maintain a healthy weight, and they have been proven to have positive results for heart health.
Maintaining a healthy diet can help even prevent cancer from coming back. It can reverse heart disease, and you can begin to see plaque go away and cholesterol plummet quickly after going on a plant-based diet.
The Impact of Meat & Dairy on Our Health
Like many who practice a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based lifestyle, I learned much of what I know from documentaries and books. It’s awesome that there is such great information out there to help us learn what’s good for our body and our world, and what’s not. If you want to learn more about some documentaries and books I love, check out the resources page. As with everything you read and see, learn more on your own to form an opinion and prioritize based on your values.
One documentary about physical health was really interesting - What The Health taught us about the major connection between meat and dairy and many major illnesses like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and more. I learned some major points from the doc, and I wanted to highlight a few below that were quite impactful.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death. Alcohol and sugar are related in a small way, smoking is a big factor, but animal-based diets’ contribution to heart disease is huge and pervasive.
Diabetes doesn’t stem from sugar or carbs, it’s about the fat in the blood. This causes insulin resistance, so the sugar you’re eating can’t get into the cells and it stays in your blood. Carb consumption is inversely related to diabetes while meat consumption is highly related. Carbs don’t make you fat - we store carbs in muscles or burn it. Fat goes straight to your body fat and creates inflammation, plaque, fat, etc.
Alzheimer’s and dementia can stem from arteries in the head clogging up with fat and animal protein. A plant-based diet rich in vegetables and fruits may help slow, prevent, or even reverse cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease (due to plant compounds and antioxidants).
Meat, Dairy, and Fish
Meat, dairy, eggs, pork, chicken cause hypertension and heart disease.
Red and processed meats can cause cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
Processed meats (like ham, bacon, and salami) are Group 1 carcinogens, which means they are known to cause cancer.
Red meat (like beef, lamb, and pork) are Group 2A carcinogens, meaning they probably cause cancer.
Poultry is just as bad - the leading source of sodium in the American diet is chicken, which also contains carcinogens. Chicken has nearly as much cholesterol as red meat.
Egg yolks are filled with bad-for-you saturated fat and cholesterol.
Fish have multiple issues including, mercury, saturated fat, cholesterol, and estrogenic and cancerogenic properties. Farmed fish are often fed with antibiotics and antifungals that they pass along to us.
Dairy is the #1 form of saturated fat - the dairy industry tries to make us think it’s healthy but it’s not. It is addictive though, especially cheese, and keeps you coming back for more.
Milk does not build strong bones - milk-drinkers tend to see higher rates of hip fractures and cancer. Additionally, most people in the world are lactose intolerant; our bodies no longer need milk and the hormones and estrogen it is filled with.
Cheese is the worst - it’s an animal product, it’s processed, and it’s full of saturated fat and sodium. It can cause a variety of illnesses like MS, diabetes, and more.
9 tips to get started with a plant-based diet
Eat lots of vegetables. Fill half your plate with colorful vegetables at lunch and dinner.
Enjoy vegetables as a snack. Try carrots, celery, or bell pepper with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
If you eat meat, use smaller amounts. Use it as a side instead of the whole meal.
Choose good fats like olive oil, olives, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and avocados.
Cook a vegetarian meal at least one night a week. Beans, whole grains, and vegetables can easily be thrown together for a quick and delicious meal.
Use whole grains like oatmeal or quinoa for breakfast (with nuts, seeds, and fruit).
Try a variety of green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, spinach, and other greens every day.
Make meals out of salads. Fill a bowl with greens and add other veggies, herbs, beans, grains, fruit, or lentils.
Eat fruit for dessert. A ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.
Click below for a FREE SMART goal -setting worksheet and flowchart that will help you plan a SMART goal around meatless meals and plant-based eating!
A Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Shopping List
Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, pears, peaches, pineapple, bananas, etc.
Vegetables: Kale, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, peppers, etc.
Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, etc.
Whole grains: Brown rice, rolled oats, farro, quinoa, brown rice pasta, barley, etc.
Healthy fats: Avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.
Legumes: Peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, black beans, etc.
Seeds, nuts and nut butters: Almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, tahini, etc.
Unsweetened plant-based milks: Almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, etc.
Spices, herbs and seasonings: Basil, rosemary, turmeric, curry, black pepper, salt, etc.
Condiments: Salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, etc.
Plant-based protein: Tofu, tempeh, plant-based protein sources or powders.
Beverages: Coffee, tea, sparkling water, etc.
If supplementing your plant-based diet with animal products, choose quality products from grocery stores or, better yet, purchase them from local farms.
Eggs: Pasture-raised and organic when possible.
Poultry: Free-range and organic when possible.
Beef and pork: Pastured or grass-fed when possible.
Seafood: Wild-caught from sustainable fisheries when possible.
Dairy: Organic dairy products from pasture-raised animals whenever possible.
20 Healthy Vegetarian Meals & Snacks
Harvard Health recommends meals made up of 50% produce (mostly vegetables), 25% healthy protein, and 25% whole grains, with some healthy fat on the side and water, tea, or coffee. I’m totally into these ratios. You should be using a bunch of produce, and the best healthiest carb/protein/fat options. I’ve listed some of my favorite meals below.
From Harvard Health
Smoothie with frozen spinach and fruit, almond milk, chia/hemp/flax seeds, and protein powder (I love Garden of Life's protein powders)
Fruit (apple, banana, etc.) + sprouted whole-grain toast with nut butter or avocado topped with chia and hemp seeds
Oatmeal with nuts or nut butter, seeds, and fruit
Coconut yogurt with berries and seeds
*Scrambled eggs or scrambled tofu with spinach, mushrooms, and tomato (salsa on the side)
Big ‘ol salad with lentils/beans/rice/edamame/whatever and nuts/seeds/avocado and olive oil & balsamic vinegar dressing
Easy amazing soup with vegetable bullion or miso paste + lentils/beans/rice//whatever + lots of veggies (fresh or frozen)
Burrito bowls with black beans, brown rice, greens, sauteed veggies, and guacamole
Mediterranean bowls with quinoa, greens, lentils, veggies, and hummus
*Cilantro lime shrimp over a pre-made grocery store salad or black beans and brown rice
Beans/chickpeas/lentils, rice/quinoa/farro, and sauteed or fresh veggies
Salad of kale or spinach with tomatoes, carrots, peppers, avocado,
Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes stuffed with seasoned grilled veggies (or twice-baked potatoes with filling mashed together with broccoli, bell pepper, green onion, almond milk, and S&P)
Brown rice pasta with homemade or jarred veggie marinara
*Salmon with a veggie (broccoli, asparagus, green beans, brussel sprouts, etc.)
Plain popcorn with some salt and nutritional yeast
Veggies (I love tomatoes and carrots) with hummus or guacamole
Fresh fruit (I love peaches, apples, berries, bananas, everything - try with nut butter or chocolate)
Veggies and organic corn tortilla chips with guacamole
*Indicates meals that are mostly plant-based but may include animal products as well
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