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How to Eat a Plant-Based Diet

A person puts slices of pear on top of a salad with romaine lettuce.

What are the plant-based diet recommendations?

  1. Eat mostly plant foods.

  2. Eat 5 or more servings of a variety of colourful non-starchy vegetables and fruits every day.

  3. Balance starchy vegetables, roots or tubers with non-starchy vegetables, fruits and legumes.

  4. Eat a variety of whole grains and/or legumes with every meal.

  5. Limit refined starchy foods.

Overall message

No single food can reduce your risk of cancer, but a healthy balanced diet that includes a variety of plant-based foods may help lower your cancer risk and promote overall health.

1. Eat mostly plant foods

  • Eat a wide variety of plant foods prepared in a healthy way every day. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes should fill 2/3 or more of your plate.
  • Select more unprocessed grains, non-starchy vegetables and fruits and legumes.
  • To learn more, read the WCRF/AICR recommendations for a plant-based diet

2. Eat 5 servings or more of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily

A picture of non starchy vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables, fruits, roots and tubers include:

Apples, berries, cantaloupe, oranges, pears, beets, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, eggplant (aubergine), garlic, green leafy vegetables, Jerusalem artichoke, Swiss chard, parsnips, parsley, okra, turnip, rutabaga and more.

A picture of starchy vegetables

Starchy vegetables, roots and tubers include:

Cassava, corn, plantain, potato, sweet potato, taro, yam, yucca and more.

 

 

What is a serving of vegetables or fruits?

A serving is a recommended portion size as per Canada's Food Guide. Women aged 19-50 and 51+ should be consuming 7 to 8 servings of vegetables and fruits each day. Eating the recommended servings of vegetables and fruits daily is easier than you think!

  • Chopped vegetables or fruit (e.g. carrots, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe ) = 1⁄2 cup or 125ml
  • Leafy vegetables (e.g. romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula) = 1 cup or 250ml
  • Fresh fruit (e.g. apple, pear, orange) = 1 medium-sized
  • Dried fruit (e.g. apricots, cherries, cranberries) = 1⁄4 cup or 60ml 

Easy ways to add more colourful vegetables and fruits to your meals!

  • Sprinkle fresh, frozen or dried fruits (blueberries, strawberries) on your cereal.
  • Add frozen or fresh berries to your favourite smoothie.
  • Top your salad with fresh (pears, strawberries) or dried (cranberries, cherries) fruit.
  • Boston Lettuce and Pear Salad-add fresh and/or dried fruit to your salads
  • Add dried apricots or cherries and chopped vegetables to your couscous, brown rice or quinoa.
  • Add red peppers, mushrooms or spinach to your omelette or scrambled eggs.
  • Have a salad for lunch or as part of your evening meal.
  • Add grilled roasted red peppers, avocado slices or spinach to your wraps.
  • Add green onions and fresh dill to spice up your egg, chicken, or tuna salad sandwich
  • Use fruit or vegetable puree, such as pureed beets, zucchini or applesauce to replace oil or margarine when baking.
  • Increase the amount and type of vegetables to your stir-fries* or casseroles.
  • Replace potatoes with mixed roasted vegetables* (celeriac, butternut squash, multi-coloured carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips).

3. Balance intake of starchy vegetables, roots and tubers with non-starchy vegetables, fruits and legumes

  • Starchy vegetables, roots and tubers are lower in fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals and higher in calories compared to non-starchy vegetables, fruits and legumes.
A wheat berry salad with wheatberry, carrot shavings, raisins and dried cranberries.
A wheatberry salad

4. Eat relatively unprocessed grains and/or legumes with every meal

Whole grains are good sources of carbohydrate and fibre, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and in some cases whole grains, such as quinoa, are rich in protein. Canada's Food Guide recommends that at least half of our daily grain product choices should be whole grains. Women aged 19 to 50 and 51+ should eat 6 to 7 servings of grain products daily and half of these (3 to 4 servings) should be whole grains.

What is a serving of grain products?

  • Pasta, brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, kasha = 1⁄2 cup or 125ml
  • Hot cereal (oatmeal) = 3⁄4 cup or 175ml
  • Cold cereal = 30g, this could range from 1⁄4 to 1 1⁄4 cup depending on cereal type. For example, 1 cup (28g) of Kellogg's® Rice Krispies® is close to 1 serving. In contrast, a 1⁄2 cup (36g) of Kellogg's® All-Bran® is just over 1 serving. Look on the Nutrition Facts Labels to help determine the serving size of your favourite cereal.
  • For more on serving sizes, visit Clinical Nutrition's serving size guide

What are whole grains?

"Whole grains" include all three parts of the seed (the bran, the endosperm and the germ). Compared to refined (processed) grains from which most of the bran and germ are removed, whole grain wheat, rice, barley, oats, wild rice, rye and corn contain more nutrients, more fibre and less fat.

The anatomy of a kernel of grain. On the exterior, there's the bark-like bran layer, which provides fibre, b vitamins, minerals - such as magnesium, iron and zinc, phytochemicals and some protein. On the inside, the bulk of the grain is called the endosperm, and it provides carbohydrate and protein. The inner grain is called the germ, which is very small, and provides b vitamins, unsaturated fats, vitamin e, minerals and phytochemicals.
The anatomy of a grain kernel. For more information on what unsaturated fats can do for you, visit our Clinical Nutrition healthy eating resources.

How can you find whole grain foods?

Choose whole grains such as bulgur, millet, brown rice, kasha, quinoa, pot barley, amaranth, buckwheat, oats, rye, spelt, triticale, wild rice. Look for the word "whole grains" in the ingredient lists on food labels of cereals, bread, buns, bagels, pasta and other grain products. If the food contains whole grains, the first ingredient should have the words "whole" or "whole grain" followed by the name of the grain, such as "whole wheat", "whole oats", "whole rye", "whole grain corn". Whole grains may also be listed as the first ingredient, such as "brown rice", "wild rice", "barley", "bulgur" or "oats".

Whole wheat flour may, or may not, contain the germ portion of the whole grain. Whole wheat bread (including 100% whole wheat) and breads and cereals labeled as "multigrain" and/or "organic" may, or may not, be made with whole grains.

What is a legume?

Legumes are a family of plants that produce seeds in pods, such as beans, peas and lentils.

What is a serving of legume?

Since legumes are high in protein and often eaten in place of meat they are included as a Meat Alternative on Canada's Food Guide.

Legumes: An easy way to add more whole grains to your everyday meals

Women aged 19 to 50 and 51+ years should eat 2 servings of meat and alternatives per day and choose meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu more often. One serving of cooked legumes (beans, lentils, peas) = 3⁄4 cup or 175ml.

Compared to meat, legumes are:

  1. Lower in fat.
  2. Higher in dietary fibre (meat contains no fibre).
  3. Lower in calories, which could help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Legumes are also:

  1. A good source of protein.
  2. A high source of B vitamins and minerals such as iron.
  3. A source of phytochemicals.
A photo of a mosaic of six different types of legumes, including split green and yellow peas, black beans, white lentils, white navy beans, and red kidney beans
From top left (the green): split green and yellow peas, black beans, white lentils, white navy beans, red kidney beans

Cooking with legumes

  • Canned beans, peas and lentils
    • These are already cooked, just rinse well in cold water and add to your favourite dish.
  • Dried beans and peas
    • Rinse and soak overnight in water to help them cook faster. Boil beans in fresh water. Gather and discard any foam that comes to the surface while cooking. Cook until tender as per package directions. Alternatively, follow the package directions for a quick cooking method.
  • Dried lentils and split peas
    • These do not have to be pre-soaked. They are smaller and cook faster; just rinse and cook.

Easy ways to add more legumes to your everyday meals and snacks!

  • Add a can of rinsed beans to homemade soups and stews.
  • Blend chickpeas, red kidney beans or black beans with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil to make a spread. Serve with vegetables or whole wheat pita as a snack or add it to a vegetable wrap.
  • Mix 2 or 3 whole grain breakfast cereals together. Choose whole grain pastas and couscous.
  • Add cooked millet, bulgur, brown rice or kasha to vegetables and stews. Add roasted nuts, fresh herbs (thyme) and dried or fresh fruit (cranberries) to quinoa and barley. Add rolled oats, wheat germ, oat bran or wheat bran to pancakes, muffins and other baked goods. Make your own whole grain tortilla chips by cutting whole grain flour tortillas into triangles. Spray lightly with canola oil and bake at 3500F until crisp.
  • Choose whole grain breads, pitas, wraps, flatbreads or buns.

5. Limit refined starchy foods

Refined starchy foods include products made from white flour such as bread, pasta, pizza, white rice, and foods that are high in fat and sugar and low in fibre, such as cakes, pastries, biscuits, cookies, doughnuts and other baked goods. Small portions of these foods may be eaten in moderation.