Are you looking to feel healthier in your life and to boost your energy levels?
Then you might want to consider taking up a plant-based diet.
This is a scientifically supported way of living that can help you protect your body and feel better and work in harmony with the environment.
Now, we know, it can seem quite intimidating to go “plant-based” when you first think about it, so, we’ve got a very straightforward guide that can help you start on your plant-based diet and do so in a way that’s fun and simple to do.
Plant-Based Diets vs Vegan
Now, you may be thinking that plant-based sounds incredibly similar to “vegan” and you’d certainly be right in thinking that there’s a substantial amount of overlap between the two.
However, it’s fair to say that plant-based diets are not quite as strict as becoming vegan though it’s often a step on the road to becoming vegan. (You can check out veganism vs vegetarianism for more info).
The difference is this. People on plant-based diets are seeking to try and minimize or eliminate the use of animal products and chemically refined food in their diets. They do this by means of eating plant-based foods and plant foods.
Vegans seek to eliminate all animal products from their lives not just animal foods from their diets but also in their shoes, clothes, etc. They do not, however, try to avoid chemically refined food as part of being vegan. For more information on the vegan diet don’t miss our round-up of the best vegan blogs.
In the long run, most people who take up a plant-based diet will choose to eliminate all animal products from their diets but to begin with, many will retain one or two products that make their diet easier to adjust to. Plant-based eating can be transitioned to rather than being a dramatic change where you cut out animal foods entirely in favor of plant-based foods.
For more insight into vegan diets, you can check out our article about vegan breakfasts. They’re a great way to consume more plant foods and get into plant-based eating.
The Plant-Based Diet And Whole Foods
There is no official definition of a plant-based diet.
That’s probably because it’s a relatively new development in mainstream dietary practices.
However, most practitioners will suggest that you ought to incorporate whole-foods wherever possible in this diet and they offer these simple guiding principles to get you started:
- A plant-based diet seeks to limit or eliminate the use of animal products in everyday cookery
- A plant-based diet embraces whole-foods (that is those that are locally farmed, organic and which undergo no or very little chemical processing). Whole grains are very popular and it helps to eliminate processed foods when aiming to eat more plant foods.
- A plant-based diet consists mainly of plant material – that is fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, etc. and these ingredients should represent the majority of the food that you consume each day
Vegans and vegetarians may practice different rules to those on plant-based diets.
For example, there are no “forbidden foods” on a plant-based diet. Someone who follows this plan may eat nothing but vegetables and fruit one day and then the next they might put a little honey in their coffee and have a little eggs or fish with their supper. There’s no law that says “only eat whole grains” or “avoid processed foods”.
Followers of plant-based diets are thus, very much in control of what they do and don’t eat and you can’t be condemned for “not doing this right” as long as you keep trying to reduce the amount of animal products that you consume – you’re always moving in the right direction with plant-based eating.
Main Foods That People On Plant-Based Whole Food Diets Will Eat
OK, just to make it clear what’s on the menu for most plant-based eaters for the majority of the time, here’s a list of things that you can happily eat whenever you like:
- Fruits – this means any fruit from avocado to bananas, from strawberries to apples, etc. you really can’t go wrong with fruit. They’re the best plant foods for many people. Just try to eat whole fruit rather than processed foods.
- Vegetables – you should aim to eat as many leafy green veggies as you can but anything is fine including beets, sweet corn, etc. the more vegetables the better.
- Tubers – this the category of “root vegetables” that includes carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and actual potatoes
- Whole grains – obviously this includes brown rice, wheat, cereal, oats, etc. but you might be surprised to learn that popcorn falls into this category too and it makes snacking so much more fun. Whole grains are super tasty too.
- Legumes – this means any kind of bean, lentil, pulse etc. is just fine in your plant-based diet
All of the foods above are relatively low in calories and high in fiber. This often leads to weight loss.
This healthy diet, in turn, leads to a reduced chance of developing heart disease. It’s not dissimilar to the Mediterranean diet, in fact.
While it’s not impossible to gain weight eating the things above, you would have to eat an awful lot of them (probably more than most people could eat) for that to happen and thus, they’re great for grazing on when you feel hungry.
There are other things you can eat too but these should be consumed in smaller quantities because they carry a higher calorific burden and if you consume too much of them, they might lead to some weight gain:
- Dried fruits – these are so tasty but they’re also quite high in sugar. Anything from raisins to dried tamarind is fine though.
- Nuts – peanuts, walnuts, etc. are awesome sources of plant-based protein but they’re also quit fatty.
- Seeds – cashew nuts (which are a seed not a nut), sunflower seeds, caraway seeds, etc. offer similar benefits and drawbacks to nuts
- Plant-based milks – these aren’t so great for the environment and they tend to have a much higher calorie count than fruit juice or water, they’re fine to eat but really do keep their use sparing
- Tofu – this is also a super form of protein and it is a very popular choice in plant-based cookery
You can be as creative as you like with all of these ingredients when it comes to main meals.
Bring as many different items together as you can to deliver a taste experience that your whole family can appreciate.
Don’t be scared to experiment with new products too – once you start exploring the supermarket and farmer’s market with a plant-based diet in mind, you’re going to encounter a lot of new products.
If you don’t know how to use something that you come across you can always ask.
If that doesn’t work, Google is your friend/ There are endless recipes for nearly everything on the internet now.
Plant-Based Diet Benefits
OK, at the beginning of this article we said that this was a scientifically supported diet.
So, let’s take a look at the benefits that eating a plant-based whole-foods diet can bring and what the science says to support those benefits.
Reduces The Risk Of Heart Disease
In their 2017 study, “Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults,” of more than 200,000 American adults Satija et al. discovered that there was a real correlation between eating a whole foods and plant based diet and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
In short, that means that a plant-based diet is good for your heart. The same study also found that a diet that is heavy in sugar and chemically refined products can increase your risks of a heart attack.
So, it is important to ensure that you focus on eating the right foods on your plant-based diet, you can’t just chow down on unhealthy products and expect to reap benefits.
It MAY Prevent Cancer
There are two studies which suggest that a plant-based diet may help fend off the most dreaded condition of the modern era – cancer.
The first “Vegetarian dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancers” which was published in 2015 by Orlich et al, notes that colorectal cancers are a major problem in the population as a whole and that when comparing a vegetarian diet to a non-vegetarian one, there was a reduced incidence in cancer among vegetarians.
It is important to note, however, that they took data from 69,000 people and this allowed them to examine different types of vegetarianism and they found that ovo-lacto vegetarians that is vegetarians that occasionally eat milk or eggs were at the least risk of cancer.
In the rather more boldly titled, “VEGETARIAN DIETS AND THE INCIDENCE OF CANCER IN A LOW-RISK POPULATION” by Tatamango-Bartley et al. they note that nearly 30% of all cancers in a Western diet are caused by the contents of people’s diets.
They examined a ton of different diets and concluded that the people with the lowest overall risk of cancer were those following a pescatarian diet. That is their diets were mainly vegetarian, but they also eat fish.
Plant Based Meals Might Prevent Alzheimers
In fact, things are even more exciting here because Malar and Devi in their paper, “Dietary polyphenols for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease–future research and development” found that not only can a plant-based diet prevent Alzheimers but it may also be able to reverse the progress of cognitive decline! That’s a huge advantage of a plant-based diet.
A meta-analysis of 9 different studies, “Increased Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables Is Related to a Reduced Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Meta-Analysis,” by Jiang et al found that there is a 20% lower chance of getting Alzheimers and other forms of dementia if you follow a plant-based diet. Which is quite an amazing benefit of eating this way.
You Might Be Able To Avoid Diabetes Too
You should also be aware that there is a super strong relationship between plant-based diets and lower risks of contracting diabetes.
The paper published by Satija et al, “Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies” showed that there was a 34% lower risk of diabetes in people who follow a plant-based diet when compared to those who did not follow such a diet.
This wasn’t a small study, either. It involved more than 200,000 adults across the United States, which means that the results are quite categoric.
Another study, “Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes” found that people who follow vegan or vegetarian diets are more than 50% less likely to get diabetes! That’s a huge impact of the diet.
Even if you do have Type 2 diabetes there is strong evidence as presented by Yokoyama et al in their paper, “Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” showed that it’s much easier to keep blood sugar levels under control when you’re eating a plant-based diet.
It is important to note that with all health benefits, there is no guarantee that you will be the beneficiary of a given benefit.
The longer you consume a plant-based diet, the more likely you are to benefit from it but sadly, there is no magical intervention in your diet that can promise you won’t suffer from any given condition.
However, it makes sense to play the odds and the odds are much better if you go plant based.
Plant-Based Benefits To The Planet
The health benefits are the strongest argument for taking up a plant-based diet but we’d also like to note that there are real and substantiated benefits to the planet too.
For example, a major review of the environmental benefits of a huge range of studies concluded that we can lower greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70% if we all switched to a plant-based diet.
And at the same time we’d also save nearly half the water we used for agriculture when compared to today!
Given the state of the planet and the need to change course to protect the environment, this is a very simple way for you to do your bit in creating a better future for everyone.
Final Thoughts On A Plant-Based Diet
So, there you have it, a plant-based whole foods diet is good for you.
It’s easy to get started with and it doesn’t mean giving up everything that you love overnight.
In fact, there is a wealth of information out there that can help you eat a varied and interesting plant-based diet.
One easy way to start a plant-based lifestyle is to eat awesome vegan cereal brands, they’re super tasty and very similar to non-vegan offerings.
We’d recommend our recent post on the best vegan bloggers if you’d like to find out just how wide a range of plant-based food that there are out there, some of these blogs will introduce you to foodstuffs that you’d never have believed possible and if you’re trying to persuade your kids to make the switch for you – why not check out our post on the best vegan ice cream, too?