The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Plant-Based Diet
It’s undeniable. We’re currently going through a bit of a plant based revolution. Everywhere you turn, whether in the physical world or the digital one, you see the word vegan or vegetarian. From restaurants having vegan menus to coffee shops offering plant-based milks, and from Twitter to Facebook to Netflix documentaries, you’d have to be living under a rock not to notice the huge upsurge in people adopting a plant-based diet.
Some might be tempted to dismiss it all as a bit of a food fad, thinking everyone will get excited about the next craze soon enough and people will go back to their SAD (Standard American Diet). But not this time. People are refusing to get back into their boxes and are shouting the benefits of veganism from the rooftops.
More and more people are starting to realize what following a plant-based diet can do for their own personal health, whilst simultaneously benefiting the planet we live on.
From an ecological standpoint, the argument for going plant-based couldn’t be much more convincing. There is a whole host of information out there on the effects that the meat, dairy and egg industry has on the environment, but one fact that always astounds me is that this industry is responsible for 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than all cars, trains, boats, and planes put together.
But that’s not my focus today. Charity begins at home, so a good way to get started with veganism is to think about the benefits it will have for you, personally, before you look around you and see the incredible impact you could have on the planet. Today we’re looking at the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
What could a plant based diet do for my health?
- You’ll get more of certain nutrients
If you’re currently following a standard western diet, it will include quite a lot of meat and dairy products. Take these out, and you pretty much have no choice but to replace them with more whole grains, nuts, seeds, peas, beans, fruits, and vegetables. There are, of course, plenty of vegan junk-food options (and I’m not going to deny you the occasional packet of Oreos or portion of chips), but most people turning to a plant based diet do so with the aim of improving their overall health.
As you’re eating more of these than you did before, you’ll get more of certain nutrients. As a vegan, getting your ‘5-a-day’ will be no problem. One study showed that vegans often get more fiber, vitamin C, folates, and antioxidants. It is, of course, really important to monitor what you eat and make sure your iron and calcium levels are up to scratch, getting them is a walk in the park. With plenty of leafy greens (which contain far more calcium than dairy anyway), you’ll be laughing.
- You can shed a few pounds
If you’re considering a vegan diet to help you lose weight, it could definitely be a good move. Typically, vegans are thinner and have lower body mass indexes than those not following a plant-based diet. Several studies have shown that a vegan diet, even one where people are allowed to eat until they feel full, is more effective for weight-loss than a calorie-controlled diet.
- It could help treat and prevent diabetes
If you have type 2 diabetes, studies have shown that people following a plant based diet were able to reduce their dosage of medication. Obviously, you shouldn’t go around lowering your own dosage, that’s your doctor’s job, but it could be revolutionary for you. If we keep going the way we are on our ‘standard’ diets, it seems that, in the US, the number of people developing diabetes could triple in the next 25 years. Vegans are far less likely to develop the condition, which isn’t, it seems, linked to a high sugar or carb diet, but meat consumption.
- Protect yourself against the big C
Cancer seems to be taking over the world these days, but what if making changes to your diet could help you reduce your chances of getting it? Turns out, if you eat at least 7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day you could be 15% less likely to die from or develop cancers.
Processed meats are linked to a whole range of cancers, and dairy products have even been linked to both prostate and breast cancer. In fact, the World Health Organisation has classified bacon and sausages as carcinogenic to humans. Essentially, it seems that eating more of the natural, good stuff served up by mother nature, and cutting out processed meat and dairy is a very smart move.
- Look after your heart
Your heart will welcome a switch to a plant-based diet, which will mean you have up to 42% less risk of developing heart disease than if you were eating ‘normally’. The fact that you’ll definitely be eating more whole grains and nuts is also wonderful news for your heart.
- Avoid second-hand medication
When we eat meat or dairy, we are, logically, also taking in all of the things that were ingested by that animal during their lifetime. We are what we eat, and so are animals. There are over 450 drugs often indiscriminately administered to animals in just the USA. In fact, 80% of all antibiotics made in the US are sold to animal agriculture. That means that even if you try and avoid taking antibiotics yourself unless you’re extremely ill, you are in fact ingesting them every time you eat meat or dairy products. With diseases becoming ever-more resistant to antibiotics, that’s worrying.
I think that’s enough for you to be ‘digesting’ for now (see what I did there?)! There are far more reasons why veganism could be wonderful for your health, some with rock-solid evidence behind them but some very convincing, but not yet proved beyond doubt. If I’ve caught your attention, go down a bit of a google hole and see what else you can find about how avoiding meat and dairy could improve your health.
How can I make the transition?
Here are 7 Tips On How To Start A Plant Based Diet.
I don’t know about you, but all of the above has got me pretty convinced that following a plant based diet, (if done sensibly with the proper research and the proper attention paid to your nutrition) is the very best way for us to nourish our bodies.
I do understand, however, how daunting it can be to take the leap, so here are a few tips…
- Take it slowly
Unless the thought of the fact it might contain pus means you just cannot face another bite of cheese, it’s probably not realistic to go cold-tofurky on all animal-products. Finish things up in the house (waste not, want not) and consider moving to options like goat’s cheese, which is normally from less intensively-farmed sources, as a kind of halfway house. As you experiment with new plant-based recipes and do more research, you’ll find yourself naturally not being tempted to buy animal products.
- Focus on the achievements, not the slip-ups
The worst thing you can possibly do is be hard on yourself during this process. If you can even go one day without consuming anything with animal products in it, you’re having a hugely positive effect on your health. Give yourself a pat on the back for that amazing plant-based meal you made, or the vegan cookies you baked that everyone loved. Don’t have a go at yourself for the slice of pizza you ate when you were starving or the slice of non-vegan cake you had at your friend’s birthday.
- Meal prep
Yep, this one was pretty predictable, I know. But it’s so important! You’re a busy person and your weeks fly by. You can’t be expected to be whipping up plant-based masterpieces every night of the week. If you have to pop to the local shop for your lunch and there’s absolutely nothing vegan on offer (carrot sticks aren’t going to get anyone through the afternoon) or get home tired and barely even have the energy to ring a local takeaway, caving in is fairly inevitable.
Meal prepping at the weekends could be your saving grace. Having nourishing, filling meals with you at lunch and knowing you can come home and just get something out of the fridge will stop you reaching for the takeaway pizza menu in desperation.
- New favourites
You probably have a few reliable recipes filed away in your head that you wheel out when you’re pressed for time and don’t have any interest in looking up a recipe. I wouldn’t mind betting that all of those recipes contain or are based on meat, cheese, or eggs. It will take a little time, but find a few new recipes that can replace those staples and be whipped up nice and quickly.
- Stock up the cupboards
Following a plant-based diet, I try and make sure that my cupboards are always stocked up with plenty of nuts and seeds that can be sprinkled on my cereal, canned and dried pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans) and tahini and nutritional yeast for delicious creamy sauces, as well as basics like pasta, rice, and (not so basic) quinoa. That way, all you need is some fresh vegetables and you can whip up a nutritious meal.
Whatever you do, don’t try and go overboard on the ‘clean eating’ route, and cut out carbs and sugar as well as animal products. Whilst, of course, sticking to foods that are as natural and unprocessed as possible is great for you, these things can be taken too far, and can lead to mega-binges. After all, what’s life without a little (vegan!) chocolate?
- Be flexible
Now I’m not telling you to use going out as an excuse to let yourself consume animal-based products, but the reality is that you may well have to be a bit flexible and eat things you’d rather avoid now and again.
If you’re getting together with a group of friends, suggest a place you know that offers good vegan or vegetarian options, but if a non-vegan-friendly restaurant is selected, just deal with it. There might be a way you can ask for eggs to be left out of a dish or for a cheeseless pizza, but there might not be. In that case, just grin and bear it.
The same goes for being asked around to other people’s houses. The best idea is to bring something delicious to share around along with you, but you may well have to eat a certain dish that’s put in front of you, just to be polite. Don’t make a fuss and make the host feel awkward, or you may find that your invitations to social events start to dwindle pretty quickly. Just because you’re vegan, there’s no need to become a social pariah!
Are you convinced yet?
Do I have you convinced? Whether you’re going to go full-on vegan or just start trying to consume fewer animal products, I wish you the best of luck. It’s far easier than you’d ever have imagined, will quickly become your new normal, and, if you do it right, you’ll feel fantastic on it.
Read more from Katie at SleepHealthEnergy.com