As an adult, I wish I listened to my parents more growing up when they begged me to eat my vegetables. During my mid-to-late 20s, I experienced minor health issues that made me question what foods I was putting in my body and how they affected me. Despite eating healthy (healthy being a plate of complex carbs, high quality animal protein, healthy fats and a side of vegetables) I was still experiencing low energy, adult acne and terrible stomach issues like bloating.
After getting food poisoning from grilled chicken and doing some research, I decided to remove all animal products from my diet a little over a year ago. And while I know that eating an all plant-based diet doesn’t work for everyone (as a certified Precision Nutrition coach, I see clients with a wide range of nutritional needs), going plant-based worked well for me and I encourage anyone who’s never tried it to test out a plant-based diet too. And no matter what my clients’ nutritional needs are, I always encourage them and others to eat more plants.
First thing’s first. What does it mean to be plant-based?
“Plant-based” is simply a commitment to eating a diet that focuses on whole, plant foods. However, plant-based eating isn’t just about the addition of foods like fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds; it’s the elimination of all animal products including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, gelatin and other animal byproducts from one’s diet.
On the flip side, veganism is a philosophy deeply devoted to animal rights. Being a vegan is a lifestyle choice that involves diets, politics and ethics. Vegans eliminate animal products from their diet and all over aspects of their lives. This includes wearing leather, fur, wool or silk, products derived from insects (i.e. honey and beeswax) or any products that have been tested on animals.
Why try out a plant-based diet?
1. It will expose you to a variety of foods you may have not heard of.
Reducing animal products from your diet allows you to expand your food horizons and discover tasty new recipes. My only rule of thumb is to make my plate as colorful as possible. And if you’re feeling up to the challenge, the next time you’re grocery shopping, try selecting a fresh vegetable or fruit you’ve never used before and craft your meal around it.
And remember, there are ways to sneak veggies in to your regular recipes too. We’re big fans of turning cauliflower into rice, pizza crust – even adding it to smoothies. Not sure where to begin? This starter guide of the five gadgets to add to your kitchen will make it easy to eat vegetables an assortment of ways you may have not tried before.
2. It can increase your energy levels.
Think about the analogy that food is fuel. Much like when your car is low on gas, it won’t go far, but when you fill it with fuel, it can go the distance – and the same is true with our bodies. If you feel tired and lethargic after eating a hearty meal full of animal products, there may be a reason why. According to Harvard School of Public Health, animal proteins (especially red meat) are harder to digest than plant proteins. When our foods are hard to digest, our body has to work extra hard to get rid of it.
3. You’ll spend less on groceries.
This is coming from personal experience. Even when I purchase organic produce, I still save an incredible amount of money per week on groceries. One pound of beans, rice, oats or legumes is a heck of a lot cheaper than a pound of chicken or beef.
Let’s break it down. Take a look at Walmart, for example, one of the cheapest places to shop for groceries. Skinless boneless chicken breast costs $4.23 per pound and is sold with three servings. That will likely last you two days if you are shopping for yourself. A 16-ounce bag of black beans costs $1.88 per pound and is about 13 servings.
4. There are both short-term and long-term health benefits.
In the short term, a plant-based diet may help promote weight loss because it is inherently fiber-rich, which contributes to the sensation of feeling full. Eating more plants will help you feel fuller longer throughout your busy day. Fiber also helps with digestion and getting bodily waste through and out of your body. This will reduce constipation and gut issues like bloating.
And research argues that sticking with a plant-based diet has additional long-term benefits. According to studies by the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet that consists of fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
5. You can contribute to saving our planet.
Did you know meat-based diets promote production of methane gas, which is one of the main causes of global warming (Jalava et al, 2014)? In the study, it was also suggested that if we reduced our consumption of animal-based foods, we can reduce our water usage by half of what we use today in order to produce meat.