Most people think a plant-based diet is strictly for those vegan and vegetarian types, but there is no debating the overwhelming evidence showing the benefits of improved health for those who make that diet choice. Plant based eating is more of a lifestyle than a diet. You are simply eating more foods that are closer to their harvested state with minimal processing.
Meatless diets have been shown to improve health outcomes by lowering the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, and some cancers. It also improves gut health because of added fiber to your diet.
A plant-based diet still allows you to consume the carbohydrates, protein, fats, minerals and vitamins that are necessary for good health, with the added benefits of being higher in fiber and phytonutrients.
You do not have to give up meat entirely, and there are labels to identify where you fall in your plant eating journey. Do what is comfortable for you so you will stick with it.
You can choose to be a flexitarian which means you occasionally eat meat but you choose plants as the primary foods you eat. You have some flexibility with your diet. If you choose to be a vegetarian, then you do not eat meat but you still eat eggs and dairy products as opposed to being a vegan who eats no animal products.
There is also another reason to add more fruits and vegetables to your daily food intake; It is better for the environment. The industries that produce our dairy and meats are said to account for a third of the world’s water usage in addition to producing greenhouse gas emissions. Eat your greens and save the planet!
TIPS to get started on your plant-based journey:
1. Make small changes to test your comfort level when reducing meat intake. There is a risk of being overwhelmed if you suddenly stop eating meat altogether, and it will be harder to stick to your choice long term. Increase consumption of plant foods you already like.
2. Plant based diet does not mean boring. You can create a variety of dishes including ethnic meals that are meat free and delicious. This is a great time to try new spices to add a punch to your vegetables and add green leafy vegetables to your smoothies.
3. Use the whole plant because there are nutrients in every part of the plant including the stems, and leaves. Use the leaves from celery, radishes, beets and carrots, and use the stems from spinach. Don’t throw away vital nutrients like potassium, vitamin C and fiber. You are also reducing waste.
4. Eat the rainbow! Choose different colored fruits and vegetables to get a variety of nutrients. The color of plant-based foods is often an indicator of the vitamins and minerals they contain. So, more colors mean more nutrients. Example: Orange foods contain beta carotene, the precursor for vitamin A.
5. If you do not eat any animal products, you will need to take a B12 and possibly an iron supplement. Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin available only in animal products. Low b12 can cause anemia and damage to the nervous system. Some vegan foods are fortified with vitamin b12.
6. A meat free diet does not automatically mean healthy if you replace the meat with highly processed junk food and meat substitutes. You need to eat good, fresh quality fruits, vegetables and grains to get the health benefits that can add years to your life.
Claudia Martin-Ayoade, is a Registered Dietitian, Writer and Public Speaker who is passionate about educating people on nutrition and addressing food insecurity.