As plant-based diets become more prevalent, many may assume that means you have to become a vegetarian or vegan, which isn't the case. 

You can still reap the health benefits of plant-based eating without swapping animal products for those veggie burgers that are springing up in grocery stores and restaurants, unless you so choose.

The emphasis is on the word “based” and finding a healthy middle ground between animal and plant products.

Quality counts

When it comes down to a healthy diet, it all depends on how it’s done. A plate of pasta with a couple of broccoli spears and a piece of multigrain bread isn’t a well-balanced meal. A quality piece of organic chicken with a half plate of colourful vegetables is a healthier choice.

Incorporating a small amount of higher-quality animal products and basing a meal around more vegetables, can make a balanced diet more realistic for everyone to achieve.

The strategy

Since fresh fruits and vegetables deliver a lot of nutrients — and are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories — everyone can benefit from a more plants in their diet.

Combine that with quality animal products and it’s a two-part strategy. 

But don’t forget about the third part of the equation — eating less processed food such as sandwich meat, bacon, cereal and microwaveable meals.

Tips to keep in mind 

Slow and steady
If you’re going to incorporate more plants in your diet, you don’t have to drop all the animal products you eat.

Instead, maybe start by having meatless Mondays, where you don’t eat any animal products with your meals. There is also the option of changing only one of your meals at first, like focusing on just eating plant-based lunches.

If you are having meat in your meal, treat it as a side dish and make vegetables, fruit, beans and/or legumes the star of the plate.

The building blocks
A healthy diet is one that balances protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates.

Take the time to research different vegetables and find out which ones have those three building blocks, as well as vitamins and minerals.

We generally increase the amount of fibre we take in, and the vitamins we get, when we boost our consumption of vegetables.

Common mistakes
If you don’t plan your meatless meals, chances are you may reach for ingredients that aren’t the healthiest choices.

One common mistake people make is eating too much ‘white’ food – pasta, rice, potatoes and bread because they fall into the category of ‘meatless’.

Just because you find plant-based or gluten-free cookies in a store aisle doesn’t mean they’re healthy. There is plant-based junk food, too. Read the labels and look out for the amount of sodium, saturated fats and flavour enhancers.

Prep time
Arm yourself with some healthy plant-heavy recipes that are simple enough for you to prepare. The GoodLife Fitness Blog features a lot of recipes.

Even though you’ve heard this over and over again, it’s important to set aside a day to buy ingredients and do a large amount of the preparation such as chopping vegetables and fruit and storing them in the fridge. That makes it less likely you’ll skip making your planned meal if you’re too tired or rushed.

Vegetables should also be colourful, as each has different vitamins and minerals. Think red, green, orange, purple — tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, carrots and purple cabbage.

When it comes to meat, aim to consume only high-quality organic products. Since you're not having as much, it's more affordable.

A balancing act

Any move in the direction of consuming more plants in your diet is positive, but it bears repeating that it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be healthier.

The amount of exercise and movement you do, coupled with your stress level, also impacts your health.

However, when the focus of your meals is more balanced, you should feel better about your overall health.