Over the past few years, you may have noticed more people talking about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet or know people who have transitioned over to eating that way. It may seem confusing to change your eating habits after eating a certain way your entire life, but knowing the benefits of a plant-based diet can truly be motivating and life changing. There are an abundance of reasons to eat plant-based, but lets just focus on the many reasons that can affect YOUR own health!
What exactly is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet means eating more foods that come from the ground, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. It also means eating less animal products, such as chicken, beef, fish, eggs, and dairy. Whole foods are also encouraged, which means less processed and packaged foods.
WAIT – don’t stop reading yet! I know you’re thinking, there’s no way I can cut all of that stuff out. But you don’t have to! Going plant-based doesn’t mean you have to be 100% vegetarian or vegan. It can mean making healthier choices when you’re able to, such as opting for a piece of grilled fish, instead of a piece of beef. Or choosing vegetables for a side dish, instead of mac n cheese. Although eating purely plant-based is ideal, any changes – big or small – can make a positive difference on your health.
What are some of the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet?
Here are just a few of the many note-worthy facts about what eating plant-based can do for your health. A plant-based diet can…
Prevent and reverse chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease
- Type II Diabetes is preventable with diet and exercise. 387 million people are living with diabetes, and at the rate we’re going, that number will almost double in just 20 years if we don’t change how we are eating!
- High blood pressure can be lowered with a diet high in fruits and vegetables. 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, which puts them at a high risk for heart disease and stroke (the two leading causes of death in the U.S.)
Aid in weight loss and lower BMI
Eating more fruits, vegetables, and grains instead of meat and refined carbs (such as white bread or rice) will leave you feeling fuller for longer and on less calories
Increase fiber intake
- More fiber aids in digestion and intestinal health, and may lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels
Reduce the risk of cancer
- Low-fat, plant-based diets can reduce the risk of breast, colon, prostate, and skin (melanoma) cancers. This diet can also improve the survival rate for people who have such cancers, because it can slow and reverse cancer cells
- The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors follow plant-based diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains, and low in red and processed meats, refined grains, and sugars
- The diets of many Eastern cultures revolve around a plant-based diet and such countries have significantly lower incidences of cancer and heart disease than the U.S.
Plant-Based Protein Sources
On average, the recommendation for protein is 56g per day for the sedentary male and 46 grams per day for the sedentary female. The recommendations increase if you are more physically active, trying to build muscle mass, an elderly individual, or recovering from an injury.
Some easily accessible plant-based protein sources are beans, nuts, nut butters, tofu or tempeh (made from soy beans), whole grains (like quinoa), and certain vegetables (peas, kale, or broccoli).
It is important to eat a variety of these foods in order to get all of the essential amino acids that our bodies need. If you have difficulty getting enough protein, whether you’re transitioning to plant-based and still trying to figure it out, or are too busy to cook a good meal, you can always supplement with a plant-based protein supplement. There are many out there; Orgain is one example of a delicious protein supplement that is 100% plant based, organic, and fully raw!
How To Get Started
If you have any existing co-morbidities, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, talk to your medical doctor about a safe way to transition to eating a more plant-based diet. If you are otherwise healthy, your physical therapist can talk more about it with you.
You may be overwhelmed or thinking that it’s probably hopeless to change your diet now. Remember – It is never too late and any changes, big or small, can make a difference. Of course making these changes are not easy at first, but as with anything else, if you start slowly and change a couple things at time, it will become more automatic.
Here are some tips to start:
- Start by eating more fruits and veggies. Even if you still eat meat, make the effort to add more fruits and veggies to each meal so that you can get used to a high-fiber diet.
- Fill most of your plate with fruits, veggies, grains, or beans, and take a smaller portion of meat.
- If you are going to eat meats, pick healthier meats. Instead of processed meats like deli meat, sausage, or hotdogs, go for lean chicken or fish. Minimize red meat by reducing the frequency and size of the portion.
- You can start by choosing to eat no animal products just one day a week. For example, you can try Meatless Mondays, experiment with new recipes just one day a week and go from there!
For more information about the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet, check out:
“Forks Over Knives”, a documentary on Netflix
How Not To Die, a book by Dr. Michael Greger, MD
For information about the environmental benefits of a eating a plant-based diet, check out: “Cowspiracy”, another documentary on Netflix.