Why adopt a plant based diet?
We can’t tell people to stop eating all meat and all dairy produces. Well, we could… If we were truly basing this on science we would. But it is a bit extreme. (Eric Rimm from the Department of Nutrition, Harvard)
There have been multiple studies coming out about the dangers of meat and dairy For example, the World Health Organisation declared processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as a probable carcinogenic, meaning it causes cancer.
However, as highlighted in the above quote, it is becoming more common that political correctness, social norms and corporate power trump scientific truth.
Moreover, some studies and articles have been released refuting these claims. This has been done in an attempt to neutralise the real science and spread doubt and misinformation. Unfortunately, the reality is some scientists with close links to industry and politics will manipulate science and say anything if they are paid enough to do so.
Science without ethics is empty. Ethics without science is blind. (Joseph R. Des Jardins)
The fact is that researchers have shown that a more plant-based diet helps prevent, treat, or reverse some of our leading causes of death such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. While it may go against what’s considered ‘normal’, it’s important to remember that there are multiple reasons for transitioning to a whole food plant based diet which make it worthwhile.
What is a plant based diet?
A whole foods plant based diet does not mean your food has to be 100% vegan, only that most of it comes from plants. Whole plant foods mean actual plants in there natural form that are not processed. In short, it’s anything that comes naturally from the earth. People who eat plant-based often fill their plates with a lot of fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, herbs and spices (see food pyramid below).
Some meals can contain some meat, fish, egg or dairy but the aim should to limit or avoid these as much as possible. However, I understand that this doesn’t happen overnight and for some it’s not always possible to stick to a 100% plant-based diet.
It’s about progress, not perfection: the key is progressing in a way that works best for you. I never started out trying to be 100% plant based when I started. I just started reducing my meat, dairy and egg consumption and have naturally transitioned to a whole foods plant based diet.
How to transition to a plant based diet?
It can seem difficult to begin with as it was for me. However, after a few weeks once you start to notice improvements in your health you will soon get used to it and learn to adapt.
First off, staying hydrated is essential. It’s important to drink water before and half an hour after each meal to aid digestion. Also, lemon/lime water and herbal tea are great to drink in between meals.
Carbohydrates: our primary fuel source is carbohydrates and therefore essential to include in our diet. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal and it’s best to avoid refined carbohydrates as much as possible and stick to complex carbohydrates. These release energy more slowly, leaving you feeling fuller and providing more fiber. The best sources are complex carbohydrates that come from foods such as oats, sweet potato and bananas.
Protein: most foods contain some protein (even fruit and veg). There are many plant based foods such as hemp and chia that have all the essential amino-acids. Other high plant protein sources come from legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils. Also, nuts seeds and whole grains such as quinoa and rice are high in protein.
Fat: we need healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated to be able to function properly and utilise fat soluble vitamins. Flax, chia and walnuts are the most important because they contain high amounts of omega 3. Avocados, nuts and seeds are also great sources.
There are many vitamins and
minerals we needs to function properly. The most important principle to ensure you get your vitamins and minerals is to eat the rainbow i.e. a variety of different coloured fruit and veg. It’s a simple and visual way to ensure you are getting the most important nutrients.
As long as you follow the aforementioned guidance, the only nutrients you are likely to be lacking are vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Vitamin B12 is made from bacteria and the only reason that we can get it from animal products is because the animals are supplemented with it. The best way to get vitamin B12 is through supplements. The best form of vitamin D is sunshine and many people including omnivores are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D3 is the most superior form of vitamin D and is best to take via a supplement.
- Any green leafy vegetables and salad such as kale, broccoli, rocket and watercress
- Sweet potato
- Red cabbage
- Dates (in moderation)
- Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds
- Walnuts and almonds
- Blackstrap molasses
- All herbs and spices
How to deal with common concerns?
Where do I get my calcium if I don’t eat dairy products?
Did you know that people who consume the least amount of animal products actually have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. Moreover, ask yourself where do you think the cow gets their calcium from? Cows eat lots and lots of plants. Therefore, dark leafy green vegetables are some of the best sources of calcium. There are also many other excellent and tasty sources such as sesame seeds (and tahini), blackstrap molasses, chia and fortified milk such as coconut.
Is free-range and organic meat and dairy okay?
Unfortunately, these terms are made up by the food industry to make people feel better about what their buying. The term ‘free range’ has been misused by the food industry. Organic and free range still contains saturated fat and cholesterol. Moreover, the USDA make no claim that organically grown products are safer or more nutricious then conventionally grown produce.
How do I ensure I’m not nutrient deficient?
There is always so much focus in the media on the potential deficiencies whilst on a plant based diet. While this can be somewhat true, it is also true if you’re eating animal products. Most people are starving of nutrients as opposed to calories, due to poorly planned and executed eating. If you want to track your calories and nutrient intake I recommend using cronometer which is very simple to use.
But I can’t live without cheese or any type of animal product because they are so tasty?
The reason why people hate to give up animal products is because they are addictive, just like sugar and processed foods. We get a positive response when we eat calorie dense food because our brain is wired to want it and store fat for the future. The good news is that food developers have created plant based alternatives for many animal products now that taste just as good.
Cooking without using animal products
There are literally so many amazing recipes to cook that don’t require animal products. The reason why meat is tasty to most people is because it’s seasoned. Who actually enjoys eating a plain chicken breast? I recommend you stock up on your favourite plant based foods and get a plant based recipe book to give you some inspiration. Cooking with herbs and spices will bring real flavour to your food.
We live in a society where eating animal products is normal. It’s a belief or ideology that has been ingrained in us. It’s therefore inevitable that people will question your decision. The worst thing is when people suddenly turn into chefs or nutritionists and say that you will be deficient on key nutrients and are restricting yourself. I have found the best way to stay resilient to this is to be clarify why you are doing it. If you are clear with why you are doing it, you are more likely to just brush off any social stigma and stick with it. As I have already outlined, there are many reasons to choose a more plant based diet.
When you start replacing animal products with healthy and fiber rich plant-based foods like grains, vegetables and legumes, your body needs some time to get used to it. Changing too much too fast can result in constipation and bloating. This is because of the extra fiber. It is an indigestible part of plants that cannot be found in animal products and most processed foods, but which is crucial to our health. To avoid this, start off by regulating your fiber intake by eating small amounts of legumes for the first few weeks and make sure to drink water before and after each meal.