A Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet

Sanchali Pal
August 28, 2020
TL;DR: A plant-based diet, focused on eating more food from the earth and less food from animals, is a delicious, healthy, and climate-friendly approach to eating. Succeeding at a plant-based diet is all about preparation: we share tips in this blog on how to stock your pantry with staples, snacks, and main ingredients for a week of plant-based eating. If you've ever thought about trying to eat more plants, this is the perfect time of year: many vegetables are at their peak. Join Sustainable September, Joro's new plant-based eating challenge, to track your carbon impact from eating more plants and access exclusive tips, content, motivation, and even special events.

What is a plant-based diet?

It’s 2020, and a plant-based diet is one of the most popular trends in nutrition. Plant-forward eating doesn’t necessarily mean you choose not to eat animal products at all. Rather, it means you eat more food from plants (like fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and oils) and eat less food from animal-based sources (like meat, poultry, fish, and dairy). As described by Harvard Medical School, plant-based diets include:

  • Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian: eats eggs, dairy foods, and occasionally meat, poultry, fish, and seafood.
  • Pescatarian: eats eggs, dairy foods, fish, and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
  • Vegetarian (aka lacto-ovo vegetarian): eats eggs and dairy foods, but no meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.
  • Vegan: eats no animal foods (no meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, or dairy)

The term “plant-based diet” was coined in the 1980s, but usage of the term has really grown since 2017 (source: Google Trends).

For many of us, it’s not easy to go cold turkey on meat. But now is the perfect time to try: Joro is hosting a plant-based eating challenge, Sustainable September.

Sign up to access exclusive tips, inspiration, recommendations, motivation, and even special events throughout the month.

Download the app to track your impact and see how many trees you’re saving in just a month.

Take the quiz to test your knowledge on the climate impacts of a plant-based diet.

And read on to get prepared! 

Step 1: Dial up the enthusiasm

Plants are yummy. There couldn’t be a better time of year to eat more plants. We’re drooling over gorgeous, ripe, end-of-summer tomatoes. Eggplants are happiest now, ready to see their flavor shine on the grill or in the oven. We’re experiencing peppers and green beans at their juiciest and sweetest, perfect for a summer salad or bake. And greens like kale, chard, lettuce, and mustard greens are fresh, year-long sources of crunch and nutrition.

They're good for you. Hungry yet? Consider the health benefits of a plant-forward diet. Eating more plants helps to boost immunity, maintain a healthy weight, reduce inflammation, and decrease risk of cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

They're good for the planet. Now for the icing on the cake: eating more plants is lighter on the earth. If we all were to cut consumption of meat and animal products by 50%, we’d reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5%. That single action gets us one-tenth of the way to achieving the Paris Climate Targets and capping global warming at 1.5C by 2030. An average American who lowers their footprint by 7.5% is having an impact equal to that of 68 trees in a year.

Step 2: Prep your pantry

Cover the Basics

Successfully sticking with plant-based eating is all about prep.

If you’re eating vegetarian or pescatarian, you can stock up on your regular pantry staples, e.g. milk, eggs, yogurt, butter, oil, bread, grains like rice, pasta, or quinoa, and coffee and tea.

If you’re trying a vegan challenge, swap out dairy products for plant-based alternatives: 

  • Plant-Based Milk. Our favorite is oat milk - both for flavor and  impact - but soy, almond, cashew, and even pea are all good options. 
  • Plant-Based Yogurt. We recommend a coconut or cashew based yogurt option - both are creamy and delicious.
  • Oil instead of Butter. Olive and vegetable oil are great everyday alternatives. Pick an oil with higher heat capacity for sautéeing and frying, especially safflower, sunflower, or good ol’ canola. 

It may also helpful to add a few new suspects, if they're not already part of your routine: 

  • Veggie stock. Look for organic or natural brands, like Imagine
  • Canned tomatoes. We find diced tomatoes to be the most versatile
  • Tomato paste. Great for thickening curries, pastas, stews, and more
  • Canned beans. Get a can or two of dark beans, like black, pinto, or kidney beans, and a can or two of light beans, like cannellini, navy, or garbanzo beans; as a rule of thumb, lighter beans are good subs for white meat, and dark beans better mimic flavors and textures of dark meat

Stock up on snacks and treats

It’s easy to forget to prepare for the smaller treats that get you through the day. A little forward thinking can help avoid a situation where it’s 5pm and all you have on hand is salami and cheese.

A few of our favorite treats to reward yourself with: 

  • Fresh fruit. Black and blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, peaches, plums, nectarines are all at their peak in the end of summer. They’re delicious, sweet, and packed with vitamins.
  • Nuts and nut butters. Keep a couple bottles of peanut, almond, or cashew butter, or even tahini (made from sesame) on hand for a quick, protein-filled snack. Perfect to smear on bread, crackers, or apples for a treat any time of the day.
  • Hummus. Hummus is another protein-packed pantry staple for herbivores. Pair it with vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, or carrots, or with pita or pita chips. 
  • Guacamole and salsa. Much of Mexican cooking is naturally vegan. If you have an avocado, onion, and lime on hand, you can make a mean guac (add tomato or pomegranate for a sweet bite, and cilantro and green chili for spice). With just a few tomatoes, onion, and chili, you can also make a fresh delicious salsa. 
  • Sorbet or vegan ice cream. Fruit sorbet is a perfect vegan treat. There is also a variety of vegan ice cream in grocery stores - we’ve been loving Ben and Jerry’s Non-Dairy ice cream.

Plan for a few main dishes (and proteins)

There are so many incredible dishes from around the world rooted in plant-forward cultures. Pick a few meals you (and your family or friends) can get excited about, and plan your grocery shopping around them. As a general rule of thumb, with the following groceries, you can whip up a variety of flavors and meals: 

  • Chinese and Thai-inspired recipes. Tofu, rice, noodles, eggplant, broccoli, greens, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, peanut butter, sesame oil, red chili
  • Indian-inspired cooking. Lentils, brown beans, rice, cauliflower, eggplant, potato, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, green chile
  • Italian-inspired cooking. Plant-based meats or fish, white beans, pasta, arborio rice, eggplant, greens, garlic, red chili, basil
  • Mexican-inspired cooking. Tofu, black beans, tortillas, peppers, squash, tomato, avocado, garlic, cumin, red chili

Here are a few of our favorite recipes to kick off week one right: 

Not-Boring Farmers Market Farro Bowls

Garlic Dal + Arugula

Brussels Sprout Tacos with Spicy Peanut Butter

Mushroom Risotto with Peas

Pasta Alla Norma

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