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Getting started with plant-based eating may seem challenging, but it doesn’t have to involve dramatic changes. For example, starting just one day a week with a “meatless Monday” can help anyone embrace more plant-based foods. Or encouraging a switch from animal-based snacks or less healthy snacks, which are high in saturated fat, sugars or sodium, to a fruit or handful of nuts when afternoon hunger cravings hit.

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines offer detailed recommendations for healthy eating. In general, the Guidelines recommend nutritious foods that are often plant-based, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Notably, the Guidelines also recommend both the Mediterranean and DASH diets as ways to embrace healthy eating, as research has found these diets may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.


Plant-based diets can vary widely.1,2 Regardless of the type of diet, it is important that it include a wide range of vegetables (including dark green, red, orange and starchy options), fruits (particularly whole fruits), whole grains, protein and healthy fats.

Some people may assume that plant-based eating includes only vegetarian or vegan diets, but there are also diets that recognize specific lifestyle factors and meal planning. For example, the Mediterranean diet follows the basics of plant-based eating, but encourages ingredients like olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine with dinner, in line with the traditional cooking style of countries on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.3

The Mediterranean diet centres on:

  • Eating mainly plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Using olive and canola oil instead of butter
  • Using herbs and spices rather than salt
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times each month
  • Eating poultry and fish at least twice a week3

The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes eating with family and friends and getting plenty of exercise.

The Nordic diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet, with the major difference being the source of the plant-based oil. While the Mediterranean diet recommends olive oil, the Nordic diet favours canola oil – easy to find in Canada, since we’re the world’s largest canola producer. Research has found that the Nordic diet can improve the risk profile for people predisposed to cardiovascular disease, by reducing LDL-cholesterol and improving blood pressure levels.5

The flexitarian – or semi-vegetarian – diet, meanwhile, is vegetarian with options, meaning it can include dairy products and eggs with occasional poultry, fish, seafood and meat.6

And finally, the DASH diet, based on the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) study, has been shown to help people manage their blood pressure. In one study, people were given one of three eating plans: a typical North American diet; a typical North American diet with extra vegetables and fruit; or the DASH diet, rich in vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy but lower in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol. The people who followed the DASH diet had better reduction in blood pressure than the other diets in the study.7

The DASH diet includes the following servings daily:

  •  Vegetables: 4-5 servings (e.g, 250mL/1 cup raw leafy vegetables, 125mL/½ cup cooked vegetables)
  • Fruit: 4-5 servings (e.g., 1 medium-sized piece of fruit, 63mL/¼ cup dried fruit)
  • Grains (mainly whole grains): 7-8 servings (e.g., 1 slice of bread, 250mL/ 1 cup cereal)
  • Low fat or no-fat dairy foods: 2-3 servings (e.g., 250mL/1 cup milk, 250mL/1 cup yogurt)
  • Lean meats, poultry and fish: 2 servings or less (e.g., 85g/3oz cooked lean meats, poultry without skin, or fish)
  • Nuts, seeds and beans: 4-5 servings per week (e.g., 80 mL/1/3 cup nuts, 30mL/2 tbsp peanut butter, 30 mL/2 tbsp seeds, 125 mL/1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas)
  • Fats and oils: 2-3 servings (e.g., 5mL/1 tsp soft margarine, 15mL/1 tbsp low-fat mayonnaise 30 mL/2 tbsp light salad dressing 5mL/1 tsp vegetable oil.7

    Getting started with plant-based eating is simple with our easy-to-follow 7-day meal plan.


  1. Satija A and Hu FB. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health. Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine 2018;28:437–41. Sourced Dec 5, 2019.
  2. Tuso PJ et al. Nutritional update for physicians: Plant-based diets. Perm J 2013;17(2):61-6. Sourced Dec 5, 2019.
  3. Mayo Clinic. Nutrition and healthy eating. 2017. Sourced Dec 5, 2019.
  4. Berild A, et al. Recommended Nordic diet and risk markers for cardiovascular disease. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen 2017;137(10):721-726. Sourced Dec 5, 2019.
  5. US Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Eighth edition. Sourced Dec 5, 2019.
  6. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it? 2018. Sourced Dec 5, 2019.
  7. Heart and Stroke Foundation. The DASH diet to lower high blood pressure. 2019. Sourced Dec 5, 2019.