You may have heard that a plant-based diet is healthier than your Standard American Diet. That eating more vegetables and fruit will help cut your risk of developing chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, and that it could be a good tool for weight management. Well, this is all correct, and research has proven it. So, what exactly is a plant based diet? And do you need to cut out ALL meat to get the benefits?
What exactly is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is not a diet of vegetables alone. It is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which may exclude or minimize meat, including chicken, dairy products and eggs. If you do include meat, focus on grass-fed or pasture raised animals, which are humanely treated. These are higher in nutrients, and contain fewer contaminants than conventionally raised animals. A plant-based diet also excludes foods made from refined flour and sugar, and certain refined vegetable oils.
There are several food categories from which to choose, and most of these can be included as ingredients in familiar dishes you may want to prepare, such as pizza, mashed potatoes, and burrito bases.
Here are some of the foods you can add to a plant-based diet.
- Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, plums, lemons etc.
- Vegetables: lettuce, dark green veggie varieties, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, cabbage etc.
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans.
- Whole grains: millet, barley, brown rice, whole wheat products, oats, whole grain cereals.
- Legumes: All varieties of beans such as black beans, lima beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans, as well as legumes like chickpeas and lentils.
The basis of a plant-based diet.
Vegetables and fruit form the basis of a whole-food plant-based diet. Leafy greens also play an critical role in a plant-based diet. Greens are low in calories, help cleanse the blood, support your liver (and the liver does a lot of work), and help you feel energized!
Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables are incorporated in a plant-based diet, including corn, peas, potatoes and squashes. These are full of nutrients and help you feel satisfied. The idea of a plant-based diet is not to eat one food for a single nutrient, such as oranges for vitamin C, as an example. The main plan of a plant-based diet is eat a variety of colors to ensure meeting your daily nutrient needs, so that you stay healthy and with optimal immunity.
What are the health benefits of a plant based diet?
- A plant-based diet automatically lowers blood pressure because of the potassium- rich legumes and nuts.
- The fiber in plants helps to fight high blood sugar, by slowing down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream.
- A plant-based diet lowers your risk of falling prey to cancer.
- Weight loss happens naturally when you eat wholesome, unrefined foods, lots of fiber and consume natural vitamins and minerals, rather than animal fats and sugary, floury foods.
- Research has shown that replacing saturated animal fats with the mono-unsaturated fats found in nuts, avocados and olive oil, substantially lowers your risk of cardiovascular and heart disease.
- You will also experience less inflammation in the body which is caused by sugary and fatty foods that can lead to other problems like constipation. The fiber in a plant based diet will keep your colon healthy.
The best way to start a plant-based diet.
If you are not used to eating a lot of vegetables, start slowly. Add in a serving of vegetables to every meal. Swap out other snacks for fruit. If you want to keep meat or fish as part of your diet, that’s ok, but work on replacing a few meals every week with plant-centered ones. Reducing your meat intake and adding in more vegetables and fruits is one of the best things you can do for your health.
The health benefits of a plant-based diet are supported by scientific research. Heart disease and diabetes are major causes of death and poor quality of life, and these are mainly due to poor lifestyle habits, and grossly unhealthy diets. Don’t be another victim. Embrace a healthy diet and help lower your risk.