Adopting a diet that is comprised mostly or entirely of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and nuts is no easy feat in a country where the average American eats 71 pounds of red meat and 54 pounds of poultry a year. Although global demand for meat is on the rise, the United States consumes more than any other country in the world. By joining the 6 to 8 millions Americans who eat no meat, fish, or poultry and adding more whole foods reduces the risk of many chronic illnesses.

But before completely cutting out or drastically reducing meat intake from your diet, you need to go in with a strategy to help your body adjust to the new nutrient balances. According to the American Dietetic Association, "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."

We turned to A Plant-Based Life guide, written by Micaela Karlsen, long-time vegetarian and doctoral fellow at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Karlsen discusses the ins and outs of integrating more foods that revolve each meal more around vegetables, whole grains, and fruits as the center instead of meats. Follow these myth-busting tips you need to know before you start your whole-foods journey.

Plant-Based Diet Plant-based diets provide the body full of nutrients, without the cravings for meat or processed foods. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

6 Facts About The Plant-Based Diet

1. Vegetarians and vegans are able to get all the protein they need.

Karlsen explains the strategy of protein-combining, which is a process of incorporating all of the amino acids necessary from protein. Most animal meats have all the essential amino acids we need for our body to function properly. But because vegetarian sources don’t have perfect amino acid profiles, plant-based dieters need to combine two or more protein-sources in order to get all the essentials.

2. Meat isn’t the only enemy.

Hyper-palatable foods, such as white and simple sugars, white flour, and trans and saturated fats can be addictive.  Sugars train the palate to expect sweeter foods, just like isolated fats train the palate to expect richer foods, putting the consumer at risk for obesity, and chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

3. Switch your grocery store.

Karlsen says once you start eating a plant-based diet, you may need to change your shopping needs. Larger grocers typically have a natural foods or organic produce section. With more healthy options, it makes it easier to avoid the butcher or meat aisle. Chains like Whole Foods and Wegmans have bulk sections that provide a variety of dried beans, grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and trail mixes.

4. Include micronutrients into your diet.

Aside from incorporating the right balance of macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins – consumers should prioritize their micronutrients. This includes essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are found in plants. Try to choose foods and supplements that supply vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids.

5. Childhood favorites may sabotage your diet as an adult.

What your parents may have fed you when you were young could change the way you taste foods today. Babies naturally prefer sweet foods instead of bitter, but their acceptance for salty foods is learned. Un-training your palate to enjoy healthful foods, without those savory fats and salts found in burgers and fries, is a step-by-step process. Be patient and learn to integrate whole foods and remove processed foods over the course of a month instead of doing a complete overhaul. Start off by choosing low-salt versions of soups, which Karlsen says helps teach the palate its salt foundation.

Learn about the ‘Virgin Diet’ to find out what are the top seven foods dieters should cut. Read here.

6. Change the environment you eat in to avoid relapsing.

Interrupting your routine diet with more whole foods is key, but in order to develop lasting new habits to support a permanent change, it’s vital to also change your habits. Habits, like muscles, strengthen or dissipate with repetition or neglect. The environment can trigger unhealthy habits from the past, such as eating at the same restaurant once a week and ordering pasta, or going to the same grocery store where you know which aisles are stocked with your favorite foods.