How to follow a plant-based diet
Considering a more plant-focused lifestyle? Follow our simple guide that covers everything you need to know – from necessary nutrition to inspiring recipe ideas
If you're considering a more plant-focused lifestyle, you can find all the resources to get started below. Remember, take things at a pace that suits you. Whether you start eating 100 per cent plant-based overnight, or decide to change one meal or snack at a time, find what's right for you. Here are our plant-based recipes to try, vegan drinks and our pick of best health trends.
Check out our guides on what everyone should know about supporting their gut and why you should eat the rainbow.
What is a plant-based diet?
There are many ideas and interpretations when it comes to what eating plant-based means. According to the British Dietetic Association, a plant-based diet is centred around foods derived from plants, including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, with few or no animal products. With that said, the terms 'vegan' – which is the total exclusion of animal derived products – and 'plant-based' are often used inter-changeably. Other common terms that fall within the realm of plant-based include vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian and reducetarian.
Regardless of whether you choose to assign a label to your style of eating, the most important thing is to find a way of nourishing your body that feels right and fits with the lifestyle that suits you.
Plant-based nutrition – what you need to know
While the premise of a plant-based lifestyle is relatively simple, if you're coming from eating in a primarily omnivorous way, your concept of building balanced meals will require some adjusting. You're likely to find that the places where you used to derive nutrients such as protein, iron and iodine will largely change. But, not to worry, once you understand the basics of what you're looking for, it can actually become quite a fun and creative practice; experimenting with different foods and flavours to find the recipes that truly satisfy your palette.
Foods to eat
- Fruit: berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries etc), apples, pears, bananas, tomato, citrus fruits etc.
- Vegetables: (nutrient dense – eat in abundance!) spinach, kale, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, peppers, courgette etc.
- Starchy vegetables: carrots, potato, beetroot, sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnip, swede etc
- Wholegrains: oats, rice, quinoa, spelt (farro), barley, buckwheat, pasta (egg-free) etc.
- Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, coconut (oil and fruit), tahini, nut butters etc.
- Plant-protein: legumes (lentils, peanuts, beans and peas of all varieties), tofu, tempeh, seitan, plant-based protein powders (minimally processed versions)
- Dairy-free milks: oat, cashew, soy, almond, hemp, rice, hazelnut etc.
- Condiments: herbs and spices (dried & fresh), soy sauce, tamari, nutritional yeast, sea salt (higher levels of iodine), nutritional yeast, mustard, tomato purée, lemon juice etc.
- Sweeteners (alternatives to honey): maple syrup, inulin syrup, date syrup, brown rice syrup etc
- Beverages: herbal and black teas, coffee, water, juice etc
Foods to minimise/eliminate
- Meat, fish and poultry
- Eggs and dairy i.e. cheese, milk, cream
- Non-vegan wines and alcohol
What about plant-based alternatives?
There are some amazing plant-based products on the market these days, and while you want to monitor your intake of highly processed items for health reasons, it's fine to explore and experiment with some of these foods – especially in the beginning when you're working out a new approach to eating. Here are some plant-based alternatives you might spot in shops:
If you're considering trying some of the plant-based alternatives on the market, try to read the labels and choose products with ingredients your recognise. As a general rule, the shorter the list of ingredients, the better.
- Plant-based meat and seafood: burgers, sausages, meatballs, 'chicken' pieces, pies, 'salmon', 'fish' fingers etc
- Plant-based chocolate: many dark chocolate products are naturally vegan, so check the label. You can also find vegan versions of milk and white chocolate
- Plant-based dairy: cheese such as cheddar, feta, mozzarella, soft cheese; cream, ice cream, yogurt, butter, milk etc
- Misc: plant-based pastry, alcohol, cakes, cookies etc
Do I need to take supplements on a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is sufficient in most cases, when following a balanced and nutritious approach. Common nutrients to watch out for include:
- B12: it is recommended to supplement with B12 on a fully plant-based diet.
- Vitamin D: the sun is the primary source of vitamin D. In the UK, it is recommended that this be supplemented during the winter months, especially on a plant-based diet. Fortified cereals, milks and fat spreads may offer some vitamin D.
- Iodine: usually found in seafood. This can be obtained through iodised, sea or pink salt, as well as seaweed.
- Iron: dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, pulses, wholemeal bread and flour, nuts, dried fruits, fortified cereals etc.
- Calcium: calcium-set tofu, sesame seeds and tahini, green leafy vegetables, pulses, fortified milks and cereals, dried fruit e.g. figs, prunes, raisins etc.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: chia, flax and hemp seeds (and their oils), walnuts, rapeseed oil, algae oil etc.
Plant-based recipe inspiration
High-protein vegan recipes
Healthy vegan recipes
Vegan gluten-free recipes
Vegan breakfast recipes
Quick vegan recipes
Vegan meal ideas
Vegan pasta recipes
Vegan baking recipes
Vegan iron-rich recipes
Plant-based products reviews
Supermarket vegan product taste awards
Best vegan pizza
Best vegan mayo
Best vegan chocolate
Best dairy-free ice-cream
Vegan gift ideas
Restaurants to explore
The best vegan restaurants in London
The best vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the UK
Best vegan food and restaurants in New York
*This guide is for information purposes only. You should speak to a nutrition professional before making any major changes to your diet or lifestyle in order to ensure the correct approach for your health and wellbeing.
Tracey Raye is the health editor for olive and BBC Good Food. Tracey, MSc, is a registered nutritionist, holding a master’s degree in personalised nutrition. She is passionate about harnessing the power of all things health and well-being in a way that enhances, rather than limits, our lives. She covers our nourishing recipes and collections, oversees our health strategy and stays adrift of the latest health and lifestyle trends in order to bring you the tools and inspiration you need to find what health means for you.
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