It’s 2018 and we all loooveee a good fad diet, something to get that spring break bod or help us lose that freshman 15 (which is a myth, btw), but what about adopting a new, healthy and sustainable lifestyle? I know y’all have heard of vegetarian or vegan diets, maybe even the Mediterranean or DASH diets, but what about simple plant-based eating? Plant-based eating is a really great, achievable way to eat a variety of foods and maintain a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Don’t just think of it as eating salads nonstop, because it is so much more than that!
What is plant-based eating?
In many ways it is a more healthy way of life, rather than an actual diet. Plant-based eating tends to be much less restrictive than several more popular diets, which helps make it sustainable over time. This lifestyle also gives you more freedom to choose what is right for you! What I really like about it, is that it doesn’t require cutting out any foods from your diet, but rather encourages consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Another way you can look at it is decreasing your intake of animal products and processed foods, while increasing your intake of vegetables and whole grains. The main reasoning is that animal products are far less sustainable than plant products, and plant-based products provide a nutrient-rich diet and are associated with risk reduction of several chronic diseases.
I try and refrain from calling this a plant-based diet because it is more of a lifestyle choice! When we hear the word diet we immediately think of a restrictive diet, one that makes us avoid or limit foods. However, plant-based eating is simply a way of eating that encourages the intake of plant-based foods while simultaneously lowering your intake of animal products. If you’re anything like me, you have that one food you just can’t live without, that one treat that without fail ruins every diet you’ve ever tried. For me, this food is ice cream. Any flavor. Any brand. Now, I follow a plant-based lifestyle and because this is not a restrictive diet, I can eat my ice cream when I want, guilt-free. Ice cream is my thing, and following a plant-based diet is too.
A common rule of thumb is to try and follow your guidelines about 90% of the time, and the other 10% is you cutting yourself some slack because you’re only human! This 10% also helps you stick to your new lifestyle and stay motivated. Planning to follow something completely perfectly is a huge goal, and for people like me it is just intimidating enough to make it feel impossible. Now 90%? That I can totally do, that is achievable for me and my lifestyle. Choosing plant-based is just that, based. You don’t have to sacrifice foods you love, because this is not a restrictive diet.
So, what are the benefits?
The benefits to your lifestyle:
Plant-based eating has become increasingly more common because of its many health benefits. This way of eating has been found to improve overall health and reduce the risk of multiple diseases including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (1, 2). Plant-based eating promotes these health benefits by including foods that are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals (3). The most current, research-supported, dietary recommendations are those which are low in saturated, trans, and solid fats, sodium, added sugars, and refined grains (1). Following a plant-based lifestyle is a wonderful way to adhere to these recommendations and live your healthiest life!
The benefits to our environment:
Consuming more plant-based foods also helps conserve the Earth’s resources. For example, it takes 100 times more water to produce animal protein than it takes to produce an equivalent amount of grain protein (5). As if that isn’t shocking enough, a good portion of the world’s grain production actually goes to feeding animals and not people! Choosing to replace a meat-heavy diet with one dense in plants supports a healthy future for our land and the world while also enhancing your own health.
How do I make my diet plant-based?
First of all, what you don’t want to do is cut out all animal products. You’ll want to start slow by making small changes to your eating habits. Taking steps like eating meat only once a day or choosing whole-grain bread rather than white are really great ways to test out this new lifestyle. Another way to ease into plant-based eating is by setting measurable, achievable goals. For example, set a goal of eating 3 servings of vegetables a day! By setting measurable goals you can track your progress, while also ensuring you are meeting your nutritional needs. These changes are great ways to incorporate more plant-based foods and all their quality vitamins and minerals into your diet. When first adopting a plant-based lifestyle, many people get concerned about meeting their protein needs, so I always suggest trying beans or mushrooms as a substitute because they provide a similar savory aspect to a dish. When you focus on the new foods you can add to your diet, rather than the ones you are fizzling-out, it makes it easy to see the nutritional and environmental benefits of this lifestyle!
- McEvoy, C., Temple, N., & Woodside, J. (2012). Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: A review. Public Health Nutrition, 15(12), 2287-2294. doi:10.1017/S1368980012000936
- Hu FB, Willett WC. Optimal Diets for Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease. JAMA. 2002;288(20):2569–2578. doi:10.1001/jama.288.20.2569
- PK Newby; Plant foods and plant-based diets: protective against childhood obesity?, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 5, 1 May 2009, Pages 1572S–1587S, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736G
- Pimentel, D., Houser, J., Preiss, E., White, O., Fang, H., Mesnick, L., . . . Alpert, S. (1997). Water Resources: Agriculture, the Environment, and Society. BioScience, 47(2), 97-106. doi:10.2307/1313020