What exactly is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is not a diet of vegetables alone. It is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which may exclude or minimize meat, including chicken, dairy products and eggs. The diet will definitely exclude foods made from refined flour and sugar, and certain refined vegetable oils.
There are several food categories from which to choose, and most of these can be included as ingredients in familiar dishes you may want to prepare, such as pizza, mashed potatoes, and burrito bases.
Here are some of the foods you can add to a plant-based diet.
- Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, plums, lemons etc.
- Vegetables: lettuce, dark green veggie varieties, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, cabbage etc.
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans.
- Whole grains: millet, barley, brown rice, whole wheat products, oats, whole grain cereals.
- Legumes: All varieties of beans such as black beans, lima beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans, as well as legumes like chickpeas and lentils.
Bear in mind that iodized salt should be added to your food as it is a great source of iodine to help maintain a healthy thyroid.
The basis of a plant-based diet
The idea of a plant-based diet is not to eat one food for a single nutrient, such as oranges for vitamin C, as an example. The main plan of a plant-based diet is eat what is known as a package of the foods that you enjoy, which contain all the essential nutrients.
This package can provide you with most of your daily nutrient needs, and be of enormous benefit to your general health.
Health benefits of a plant based diet
- A plant-based diet lowers blood pressure thanks to the potassium-rich legumes and nuts.
- Plants contain no cholesterol, and this includes the super-food coconut oil.
- The fiber in plants helps to fight high blood sugar, by slowing down the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
- A low-fat, plant-based diet seriously lowers your risk of falling prey to cancer.
- Weight loss happens naturally when you eat wholesome, unrefined foods, lots of fiber, take in natural vitamins and minerals, rather than animal fats and sugary, floury foods.
- Research has shown that replacing saturated animal fats with the mono-unsaturated fats found in nuts, avocados and olive oil, substantially lowers your risk of cardiovascular and heart disease.
- You will also experience less inflammation in the body which is caused by sugary and fatty foods that can lead to other problems like constipation. The fiber in a plant based diet will keep your colon healthy.
Plant-based foods contain nutrients which are in proportion according to our human needs, and a variety of whole foods will easily meet your nutritional needs.
The best way to start a plant-based diet
Whether you want to fully embrace a vegetarian diet, or perhaps keep chicken, fish, and lower-fat meats as part of your diet is a decision that only you can make. But there is no doubt that reducing fatty meat intake, and following a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for your health.
If you are finding it difficult to immediately flip over to a new diet, here are some tips to help you on the way.
- Begin with including legumes in your regular diet, as they are generally feel-good foods, and will make you feel full, and give you energy.
- You can also substitute one or two refined items with a plant-based food in a meal each day.
- Gradually limit red meat from your diet.
- If you decide to retain chicken, pork, and fish in your diet, make sure that the chicken is skinless, excess fat is trimmed from the pork, and opt for healthy fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna or mackerel, for the omega-3 content.
- A good idea is to replace one or two days of your week’s meals with a full vegetarian, plant-based meal. Do this on a regular basis, and you may find you no longer want to return to your previous way of eating.
Some meals to try
- Zucchini lasagna
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Lentil soup
- Tuscan white bean burgers
- Black bean and rice burrito bowl, topped with lots of veggies
These meals are popular choices, and most of the recipes can be found on the internet.
Backed by science
The health benefits of a plant-based diet are supported by scientific research. Fatalities from heart problems is rated as the biggest single cause of death today, mainly due to poor lifestyle habits, and grossly unhealthy diets.
Don’t be another victim, embrace a healthy diet and help lower your risk of a future heart attack, and cardiovascular disease.