What is whole plant based diet?
Let start with clarifying what plant based diet really is. Whole plant diet is plant-rich diet consisting mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants and with few or no animal-source foods. This way of eating aims to minimize or eliminate meat, dairy and other animal foods, while focusing on unprocessed, pure plant foods for optimal health.
There seems to be a bit of misunderstanding between Plant Based and Vegan diets. Veganism begun as a movement and way of living that aims to avoid animal harm. Being vegan is a way of life based on ethical reasons which expanded to dietary and lifestyle choices to minimize harm to environment and animals. Vegans exclude all animal products in terms of diet as well as clothing, home goods and eliminate any products tested on animals. While veganism gained a lot of popularity in the recent years, supermarket shelves are full of “convenient” processed vegan goods that is not necessarily as healthy as it’s marketed to us.
Consumption of all types of plant in their unprocessed form, whole, unrefined or minimally refined ingredients is what we should be aiming for our health benefits.
Why is it worth considering plant diet?
While I always loved vegetables I have been a meat eater most of my life and I will not pretend I don’t like the taste of meat. I do indeed! Most of us can’t imagine life without that juicy steak, BBQ sausages and burgers on a warm summers’ day, cheese board with lush onion chutney or yogurt with fruit for breakfast. I definitely was in that category myself and trust me, it takes some bravery and mind set change to accept that those limitations are just in your mind.
Why did I decide to make the change? Education. Knowledge really is a power and once you can justify the change you are making it’s so much easier to persue. For the last few years I have been reading a lot, educating myself from different sources to get clarity and growing up to this life change. While I do care about animal welfare as well as environmental impact of meat and dairy industry those were secondary reason to my change. I made my decision selfishly focused on me and my family’s health benefits!
What we consume day in and day out is single most important choice we are having to make. Are we what we eat? Yes! Cliche it might be, but what we fuel our body with is a key to our existence, building block of our health foundations and long term investment into longevity.
Proven heath benefits of plant diet
1. Lower your risk of heart disease
There is lots of evidence out there showing that the standard diet is one of the major causes of heart disease in the modern population. Man- made heart relate conditions are still number one killer in most developed countries. Build up of plaque in our arteries leads to high blood pressure and eventually coronary disease or other related heart diseases often leading to heart attack. Healthy plant diet has been proven to leads to better artery function and some studies show reverse of heart disease achieved with combination of physical activity and the right diet!
2. Cancer prevention
We do not know all about cancer and the exact triggers that cause it. While lots of questions remain unanswered there are many studies providing evidence linking consumption of both red meat and processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer and consumption of dairy products could significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that 40% (!) of all cancer cases could be prevented with healthy diet and active lifestyle. Plants also contain phytochemicals that protect our cells from damage and essentially lowering risk of getting cancer.
3. Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a global epidemic, with approximately 422 million cases worldwide and a rapidly rising. Dietary choices are a key driver of insulin resistance, especially in an aging, more sedentary population. Consumption of calorie-dense foods, including fast foods, meats and other animal fats, highly refined grains, and sugar-sweetened drinks play a major role in the rising rates of type 2 diabetes worldwide. Many studies strongly support the role of plant-based diets and nutrient components of plant-based diets, in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Some studies show reversal of this disease through plant diet and exercise.
For years we have been told that consuming dairy is our best source of calcium and aids health of your bones.
While dairy industry is a multi million dollar worldwide business and going strong, research undertaken by a team of Swedish scientists shows a clear link between milk consumption with increased mortality, bone fractures and osteoporosis.
Dairy products are acidic and raise our natural blood pH, which in turn triggers a biological correction in order to protect the kidneys. As calcium is an alkaline mineral, our body sacrifices calcium from the bones to neutralize the rise in blood acidity and calm the imbalance. Calcium from the bones is than excreted in the urine and not recycled leaving a net calcium deficiency.
There is many other benefits of eating plants such us better hormonal balance which links to improved fertility, better skin and hair health, better mood control and general improved mental health, healthier guts and improved immunity, better sleep patterns and above all longevity. If you are hungry for more information on “how” and “why” there are many useful sources available with the ultimate book that answers many questions, “The China Study” written by Colin Campbell. Mr Campbell is American biochemist who specializes in the effect of nutrition on long-term health. If you are after more digestible information I recommend watching “What the health”, ” Game Changer” or “Knives over Forks” all available via Netflix.
I also invite you to read about how to make this diet a sustainable choice and how by switching to plants you can help the environment : Whole plant diet: sustainable or not?
Progress not perfection
When starting major change in your life it’s never without it’s challenges. There will be days when you simply tired and have no steam left in your tank. Going back to your old ways might seem at times like that the easiest solution. The key really is to keep educating yourself and keep reminding yourself the very important reasons behind the changes you are embracing.
When I switched to plant based diet I went all the way and made 100% switch almost immediately. Looking back at the change, facing unknown recipes and new ingredients, having to deal with new methods, new combination and substitutes was probably more stressful and time-consuming than it had to be. So here I am sharing my tips with you to help you make this journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible. As with every other major change, this one also will require some time, patients and your commitment but it’s an investment total worth your every effort.
How to start changing your diet?
1. Adjust your plate
If you have been a meat eater for majority of your life the shift can be significant and overwhelming. Start with reducing the portion of meat or fish you eat in your meal and focus on rediscovering vegetables, legumes and grains. If you are a dairy lover each week you can pick one plant alternatives to yogurt or milk to test and try. Spent 10/15min each week to research some recipes and choosing those that appeal to you. Test them, tweak them and after a while you will be able to pick you favorites while you build your confidence with the preparation process.
2. Meat free days
With some confidence you built by now and numbers of plant recipes you can rely on you will be able to progress to meat free days. You are the judge of how ready you are for the shift. Try with 1, 3 or 5 plant days, trust your instinct and honestly, do not force yourself into too much too early. Take your time, it really is about a progress, not perfection! The aim is to make this a sustainable way of living, it should not be a struggle.
3. Preparation is a key
I can not stress enough how important planing is. Investing a little time researching new recipes, making a list of your meals for the week and creating a shopping list based on your meal choices not only saves money, prevents food from being wasted but most importantly it saves you a lot of stress! With clear plan on what you will be cooking each day you can prepare ahead or batch cook for the days you know you will have little time.
4. Change your mindset
Start thinking about what are you gaining rather than what you are giving up! Think of this change as one of the best investments you will ever make for your own and your family’s health. Give yourself and your taste buds enough time to adjust and get used to new things. Allow and accept that errors will happen and that’s part of the process and great proof that you are trying.
“Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food”
I could not agree more with this very well-known Hippocrates quote. The true for many of us is that until we are unwell, we take health for granted. It’s never too late to change your old ways so I hope I have inspired you to do just that. Eating plant based diet is not only your best way of illness prevention and sustainable way of living but also it’s amazing journey of discovery of new ways, new testes and new combination as well as new exciting produce. With that in mind and progressive approach you can make that change. The biggest bonus? When you start eating food without labels, you no longer need to count calories!