The advice to “eat more plants” probably doesn’t surprise you. After all, almost every major authority on public health and nutrition makes this recommendation. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Diabetes Association, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, and the Canadian Dietary Guidelines all support shifting to a more plant-based diet.
Plant-based foods have unique benefits for women:
- Swapping animal protein sources for plant-based sources can cut infertility risk in half, and lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, breast and other cancers.
- Plant-based eaters tend to do a better job meeting their folate needs compared to meat eaters. Folate is critical for fetal neural tube development.
- Meeting iron needs with plant-based iron sources specifically has been shown to support normal ovulation, which in turn supports fertility
- Infertility is often paired with higher levels of oxidative stress. The best way to lower oxidative stress is by eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, and fruits and vegetables pack the most antioxidant punch.
Now that we know just how beneficial plant-based eating is for women, let’s talk about how you actually do it. But first, I want to mention a few mindset shifts that are key to approaching plant-based eating with self-care.
Required Self-care Mindset Shifts:
- Let go of diet mentality. Making any change in your eating habits can easily become just another diet if you don’t make this key mindset shift first. What are your intentions for making these changes? If your intentions are rooted in self-care, great! If they are rooted in fixing or controlling yourself, then read Why Diets Don’t Work (and what to do instead) to learn how to let go of diet mentality and approach plant-based eating with self-care
- As a woman, remember your needs are unique. Make sure you keep this in mind whenever you are evaluating plant-based nutrition recommendations. Are the recommendations general, or are they specific to a female body? Women need to pay special attention to getting enough healthy fats, omega-3s, iron, and calcium.
- It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. This one is for all of my perfectionists out there! Remember that eating and health are lifelong journeys, and every small step you take is beneficial and worth celebrating. If there are non-plant-based meals or foods that bring you joy, keep them! Feelings of guilts and negativity around eating is never good for you, so give yourself grace.
Your Transition Roadmap:
In the spirit of thinking about health as a journey, I’ve designed a roadmap to help guide you. The steps are simple, and that’s the point. This doesn’t have to be a gigantic leap from one polarity to another. In fact, with the hundreds of women I’ve worked with, small, incremental shifts are the ones that end up lasting forever.
Step 1: Enjoy
What plant-based meals do you already know and love? Be intentional about including those meals in your rotation more often.
Ideas: Smoothies, oatmeal, avocado toast, black bean soup, hummus and veggie wrap, falafel, tofu stirfry
Step 2: Adapt
What meals do you love that can be made plant-based with a few simple swaps? Start noticing where effortless swaps can be made.
Ideas: Swap ground beef for black beans in tacos, swap cow’s milk for soy milk in cereal, swap mayo for hummus on sandwiches, swap chicken for tofu in grain bowls
Step 3: Explore
What are some new ingredients or recipes that you’d like to try? After you feel successful with Step 1 and 2, begin to branch out. Every week, choose one new plant-based ingredient or recipe to try.
Ideas: Select a new fruit for your afternoon snack, try a different whole grain for your dinner (amaranth, millet, and farro are all fun), choose a different type of bean for tacos, find a new recipe to cook.