The plant based diet has become popular in the last decade to some astonishing level. As our society evolves, we are constantly facing the need to change our behaviors and habits to increase our health and quality of life. We are now facing climate change, food insecurity and over 40% of our population is suffering from chronic disease. One of the recent ideas put forward to improve our world and health is the plant based diet.
Even though food regiments are not something our doctor prescribes (yet), research is showing that food has a lot to contribute to our health. It is also a less costly option to our society than prescribing medication.
Whether you want to save the animals, become healthier or simply feel better, the plant based diet is a great option for those of us who want to be a better and healthier person.
1: What is Plant Based Diet?
We are hearing the word plant based diet more and more in our society. With the launch of documentaries like Game Changers, books like Forks over knives and the emergence of athletes changing their nutrition to be plant-based, one has to wonder what this is all about.
Our understanding of plant-based eating may differ from one individual to another. In the world of nutrition, plant-based eating is having a large portion of one’s nutrition coming from vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, whole grains and also include legumes or other plants. It can also also be referred as Vegan Protein.
A spectrum of plant based diet options is available to you. Some are very strict (vegan diet), others are still adding animal products like dairy (vegetarian) and at the other end of the spectrum are those that still eat meat, poultry and fish on an occasional basis.
We once believed that early humans consumed a large proportion of animal protein in their diet. It is from that belief that, in the 2000s, the Paleo diet (mainly comprised of animal protein) became really popular in the world of nutrition and diet.
Although, we now know that the nutrition of bipedal primates and Homo sapiens was primarily composed of nuts, fruits, leaves, roots, seeds, and water. In that case, the “original” Paleo Diet was in reality plant-based eating. It is also linked to the fact that some of the strongest animals on Earth are not carnivores.
Why choose a plant based diet?
Many reasons exist for choosing a plant based diet, we will discuss in more details some of those reasons but here’s our top 5:
- Improve your health: Most Americans consume double the recommended daily intake of protein which can also cause issues with digestion. By reducing your intake of animal food, you will most likely reach the recommended daily intake of protein without surpassing it.
- Succeed in weight loss and weight management: In general, individuals who are on a plant-based nutrition tend to consume fewer calories than individuals who consume animal protein. That is because most of their calories are coming from healthier options and fewer calories per weight. Plant-based eaters tend to eat less process food and avoid meat focused restaurants like fast-food chain that provide unhealthy meal options.
- Prevent or manage a chronic disease: As you will see in the next section, research demonstrates that individuals on a plant-based nutrition can prevent chronic disease, reduce obesity and mostly encourage a healthy lifestyle and increase their quality of life.
- Stop spending on supplements: Did you know that our nation’s population spends more than $30 billion a year on supplements? What if you didn’t need to waste that money? With a plant-based nutrition, you are more likely to receive all the nutrients you need from natural sources like legumes, vegetables, and fruits.
- Save our planet: Agriculture uses approximately 70% of our fresh water (globally on average). That said, the production of meat requires around 1000% more water (1 kg requires from 5000 to 20,000 liters of water) than some grains like wheat (1 kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4000 liters of water). It also fulfills the Vegan protein necessity in our body.
2: The Science Behind Plant-Based Eating
Research shows that we need more fruits and vegetables in our plates to prevent chronic disease and help with our weight management. In the next section, you will learn about what we need more in our nutrition intake (vegetables, fruits, fiber) and what we need less (sodium, sugar, protein) in order to live a healthier life.
Fruits and Vegetables
Plant-based eating means that you have a large proportion of your meal that comes from plant-based food. That said, fruits and vegetables are often the number one thing that comes to mind when we think of a plant-based nutrition.
As mentioned earlier, fiber is lacking in the nutrition of Americans. It is recommended to consume from 25 g (women) to 38 g (men) of fiber on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we consume an average of 15 g daily. That is not enough for most of us and can have a negative impact on the bowels and cause constipation or hemorrhoids.
According to research, an increase intake in fiber can help prevent and reduce heart diseases, diabetes, and colon cancer.
Sodium might be considered a plant-based food but there is a
strong warning to decrease our consumption so that we don’t exceed the requirements of 2300 mg of sodium consumption daily. The salt shaker in your kitchen is rarely the culprit. The sodium usually comes from highly processed foods (frozen aisle in the grocery store) and restaurant meals.
Did you know that we are among the largest sugar producers in the world? And we are also high consumers of sugar (3rd country in the world after India and China). The average American will consume 152 pounds (six 25 lb. bags of sugar cane) of sugar a year.
It is a myth that animal protein is a better protein than plant based protein. Since 2007, the World Health Organization has indicated that the difference between animal and plant based protein is not significant.
3: Kick-start Your Plant-Based Lifestyle
Step 1: Choose Your Type of Plant Based Protein
As mentioned earlier, a spectrum of plant based eating is available to you. Start by identifying what you would like to change in your nutrition. Considering that your nutrition will be mainly coming from plants.
Step 2: Adapt Your Grocery
In order to ease yourself into plant-based eating, try to slowly increase the amount of plant-base food on your grocery list and stop purchasing animal protein and dairy products.
Step 3: Plan your meals
One of the most difficult parts about adapting to plant-based eating is to adopt new habits in the kitchen. Instead of having burgers or roasted chicken for dinner, you have to find new ways to cook and bring more plant-based food at your table. If you are going to try the vegan approach, breakfast might be the most difficult to adapt, especially if you are used to eat eggs in the morning.
Step 4: Let’s do this!
The best way to start plant-based eating is to start with small steps now. Choose a day this week when you want to have a plant-based nutrition day. That day will be the beginning of your journey in plant-based eating. Once you’ve chosen a date, pick your recipes! This next chapter will give you a few ideas of recipes you can start with.
4: Plant-Based Recipes
- Overnight Oatmeal
- Potato Breakfast Bowl
- The simpleton
- Cilantro, corn and black bean salad
- Hummus Veggie Wrap
- Vegetable and lentil soup
- Veggie and grain bowl
- Rice and beans with plantains
- Risotto with roasted veggies
Now it’s time to put your learning into action. First, pick a day when you will start you plant-based eating, then select your meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes), go shopping and get your grocery items and implement the change!
If it seems like a big change for you, try once a week for the first month and gradually move to twice a week, three times a week, etc. Remember, slow and steady is a great approach to change habits but mostly to make them stick. Plant-based eating is not a diet but a way of living so have fun with it!