Plant-Forward Diet: A Complete Guide to Getting Started

plant-forward diet

You’ve probably heard of a plant-based diet, but what exactly is a plant-forward diet?

In this blog, I am going to explore what the plant-forward diet is, the benefits of following a plant-forward diet, the key nutritional considerations and how you can shift your diet to become more plant-forward.

What is a Plant-Forward Diet?

A plant-forward diet focuses on consuming predominantly whole plant-based foods, whilst still allowing for flexibility in incorporating animal products and processed foods.

The ratio of whole plant foods to animal foods and processed foods is up to the individual, but in general, any way of eating that focuses on eating more plants compared to your typical diet would be considered plant-forward.

For example: If you typically eat 40% whole plant foods and 60% animal products and processed foods, adopting a plant-forward diet might involve eating 80% whole plant foods and 20% animal products and processed foods.

Plant-Based vs. Plant-Forward

A plant-based diet is an over-arching term that refers to any diet that is mostly or entirely made up of foods derived from plant sources. This can include processed plant-based foods and, depending on the strictness of the plant-based diet, some animal derived by-products such as honey.

On the other hand, a plant-forward diet is a particular way of eating that emphasises the inclusion of a wide variety of whole plant foods, whilst occasionally incorporating animal products and processed foods. This inclusive approach to eating encourages people to focus on increasing their intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, whilst also being mindful of their consumption of meat, fish, dairy, eggs and processed foods.

Note:

The term ‘plant-based’ can be used to define any food product that doesn’t contain animal derived ingredients (including ultra-processed foods like meat and cheese alternatives). Whereas, ‘plant-forward’ tends to emphasise whole plant foods.

Plant-Forward Foods: What to Eat on a Plant-Forward Diet

So what can you actually eat on a plant-forward diet? In short: everything!

The reason why I love this way of eating is that nothing is off limits. Instead, this diet focuses on what proportion of the diet is made up of nutritious, whole plant foods – and the more, the merrier!

So unlike other diets that often focus on the restriction of particular food groups, a plant-forward diet promotes adding more healthy whole plant foods, without restricting your favourite foods.

Foods Included On a Plant-Forward Diet:

  • Whole plant foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices (with a focus on eating these in abundance and variety)
  • Animal products: meat, fish, dairy and eggs (consumed in moderation)
  • Ultra-processed foods, plant-based or not (consumed in moderation)

I like to think of the plant-forward diet as a ‘plant-first’ approach to eating. This involves eating whole plant foods around 80% of the time, whilst also including other foods like animal products and ‘soul foods’ (like your favourite cookies) around 20% of the time.

plant forward diet foods

Benefits of a Plant-Forward Eating

Improved Health

You won’t be surprised to hear that eating more fruit and vegetables is good for you, but you might not realise the wide range of benefits that a plant-forward diet can provide.

Sustainability

Beyond the health benefits, adopting a plant-forward diet can also contribute to reducing our carbon footprint and promoting sustainability.

So, if we shift our diets to one that is more plant-forward, we can help lower greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water resources and mitigate deforestation associated with animal farming.

Flexible and Inclusive

One of the main reasons I like the plant-forward diet is that it’s FLEXIBLE.

This flexibility to include ALL foods accommodates a diverse range of dietary preferences and lifestyle choices, making it accessible to pretty much everyone (unless you are set on being a carnivore, which I wouldn’t recommend as a nutritionist).

Many people are unable or unwilling to commit to a fully plant-based diet (which I totally understand) so a plant-forward approach might be a good middle ground.

Plant-Forward Nutrition Considerations

However, we do still need to be mindful of our nutrition on a plant-forward diet, because removing or reducing animal-based foods from your diet might significantly reduce your intake of certain essential nutrients.

1) Getting a Wide Variety of Protein Sources on a Plant-Forward Diet

If you’re swapping out some animal-based foods for plants, it’s important to be mindful of what types of plant-based foods you are replacing them with.

It’s no good replacing meat with more potatoes or rice, because this isn’t going to provide you with the protein that you would have otherwise got from eating meat. So making ‘like with like’ replacements is essential for keeping your meals balanced.

And no, I don’t mean swapping these out for meat substitutes either! You can, if you want, but just bear in mind that these are less nutritious than whole plant-based options and shouldn’t make up a large part of a plant-forward diet.

Instead, focus on incorporating a variety of plant-based sources of protein that are less processed, as these will have less salt and saturated fat compared to processed substitutes (I’ve listed some below).

Plant-Based Sources of Protein

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Green Peas
  • Yellow Split Peas
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Again, you don’t need to sub out animal-based foods altogether. But reducing your intake of meat and including more plants can have a number of benefits.

2) Essential Vitamin and Mineral Considerations on a Plant-Forward Diet

Nutrients that are commonly found in animal products include vitamin B12, iron, iodine, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.

A well-planned plant-forward diet can provide all the nutrition you’ll need, but if you are only eating meat, fish, eggs and dairy sporadically, you will need to be mindful of where you are getting these essential nutrients.

Essential Nutrients and Their Plant-Based Sources:

Vitamin B12: There aren’t many plant-based sources of vitamin B12, as this nutrient is typically found animal-based foods. The main plant-based sources include yeast extract (like marmite), fortified nutritional yeast and fortified milk alternatives. If you only eat animal products occasionally, I’d consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

Iron: Plant-based sources include pulses, fortified breakfast cereals, some nuts/seeds and dried fruits. However, one thing to bear in mind is that plant-based iron is not as well absorbed as animal-based iron. Though you can increase this absorption by pairing vitamin C rich foods with iron-rich foods, as vitamin C aids iron absorption.

Iodine: Plant-based sources include seaweed*, some fortified milk alternatives and iodised salt (though this isn’t widely available in the UK). If you don’t frequently consume fish, eggs or milk, you may need to consume fortified products (like plant-based milk alternatives) or take a supplement that includes 140mcg potassium iodide/iodate.

Calcium: Getting enough calcium on a plant-forward diet shouldn’t be difficult. Especially if you include some dairy in your diet. However, it’s always a good idea to include a variety of plant-based sources too. These include tofu, tahini, bread, some green leafy veg and most plant-based milk alternatives.

Omega-3 (ALA, EPA and DHA): There are 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids. ALA is found in plant-based foods such as flaxseeds, rapeseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts. Whereas, EPA and DHA are found in oily fish. If you don’t eat fish, you can get a source of EPA and DHA from algae-based omega-3 supplements.

    *The amount of iodine in seaweed varies and can be considered too high, therefore it is not recommended as a regular source.

    Getting Started on a Plant-Forward Diet

    If you want to start adopting a more plant-forward diet, you’ll need to first consider where your starting point is.

    Ask yourself:

    • What % of my diet is made up of whole plant-based foods or plant-based meals I’ve made from scratch?
    • How many of my day-to-day meals include meat, fish, dairy and eggs?
    • How many beige meals do I typically eat in a day/week that lack colour?

    Once you have some answers to these questions, you can start making some goals to make shifts towards a more plant-forward diet.

    For example:

    • If you estimate that around 30% of your diet is made up of whole plant-based foods and plant-based meals you’ve made from scratch, then you could make a goal to shift this to 50%.
    • If you include meat, fish, dairy and eggs in every meal, you could try to reduce this to only 2 times a day.
    • If you typically eat a beige meal with minimal colour every day for breakfast (e.g. plain cereal or toast with butter), you could make a goal to eat a more colourful plant-forward breakfast at least 5 times per week.

    Building a Plant-Forward Meal Plan

    If you want to start eating more plant-forward, meal planning will be your best friend.

    It can be so easy to reach for the same meals week on week, but creating a meal plan will help you get organised and take some of the mental load off of daily meal prep.

    I like to add a variety of meals to my plant-forward meal plan. Some of which are nourishing and some that are good for the soul (remember: it’s all about balance!).

    Here are some meals to consider adding to your plant-forward meal plan:

    1. 100% plant-based recipes: It’s easy to eat more plants when you include more completely plant-based recipes in your meal plan. Try out some new recipes and have a bank of firm favourites that you can dip in and out of.
    2. Add more plants to your favourite animal-based recipes: You don’t have to eliminate all animal-based foods – that’s the beauty of plant-forward eating! But you can ADD more plants to your meat or fish-centric meals. For example, you could try substituting 50% of the meat in a dish for beans or lentils. This will help you get more plants into your diet, without completely sacrificing on foods you enjoy.
    3. Add more plants to your favourite beige/processed meals: Again, you don’t have to eliminate all processed foods! If you fancy a beyond burger but you typically serve this with oven chips and garlic bread, make a switch to have homemade sweet potato fries and a salad on the side instead.
    4. ‘Fun’ meals (whether they are plant-forward or not): Food isn’t just for nutrition, it’s also for fun and enjoyment. So always remember to include a few ‘fun’ foods that you enjoy in your week, so you never feel like you are missing out.

    Plant-Forward Meal Ideas

    To kickstart your plant-forward journey, here are some nutritious meal ideas:

    Plant-Forward Breakfast Ideas

    • Overnight oats with mixed berries and almond butter
    • Avocado toast with wholegrain bread and sliced tomatoes
    • Green smoothie with spinach, banana and milk.
    • Vegetable frittata with spinach, bell peppers and onions
    • Greek yoghurt with fruit, seeds and granola
    plant forward breakfast ideas

    Plant-Forward Lunch Ideas

    • Quinoa salad with vegetables and chickpeas
    • Black bean and corn tacos with avocado salsa
    • Mediterranean-inspired grain bowl with hummus, falafel, and fresh vegetables
    • Lentil soup with carrots, celery, spinach, and diced tomatoes
    • Mediterranean wrap with hummus, mixed greens, olives, cucumber, red bell pepper and feta cheese
    • Noodle salad with soba noodles, vegetables, edamame and sesame-ginger dressing
    plant forward lunch ideas

    Plant-Forward Dinner Ideas

    • Lentil curry with brown rice and roasted cauliflower
    • Baked salmon with rice and roasted vegetables
    • Tofu stir-fry with broccoli and bell peppers
    • Stuffed bell peppers with quinoa, black beans, and melted cheese
    • Spaghetti with lentil bolognese sauce and a side salad
    • 3 bean chilli with beef mince and vegetables, served with rice
    plant forward dinner ideas

    Resources to Help You Eat More Plants

    a-z plant points guide

    Conclusion

    The plant-forward diet offers a balanced and inclusive way to improve your nutrition and overall health.

    By embracing a plant-forward way of eating, you can still enjoy all of your favourite foods, whilst also reaping the benefits of eating more plants.

    Remember, it’s not about perfection—it’s about progress. Start with small changes, incorporate more plant-based meals into your routine and gradually build a diet that works for you.

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