By now, you’ve probably heard of what is called a plant-based diet. Everyone from the Huffington Post to the New York times is chatting about it and it’s risen in popularity TREMENDOUSLY the last few years.
The million dollar question is, what’s all the buzz about? Why are so many people getting behind it?
Some switch to plant-based for health reasons. They’ve heard that eating more fruits and veggies can help reduce their risk for chronic disease.
Others sick of dieting and overspending on diet foods that don’t seem to work turn to a plant-based lifestyle in hopes of finally losing those unwanted pounds.
Athletes and fitness icons, like Tom Brady and Venus Williams, are making the switch because they know it can help them with their performance and in keeping a lean physique.
If you are thinking about a plant-based diet for yourself, here is everything you need to know and the easiest way to get started.
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What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is pretty self-explanatory. It simply means you’re choosing to eat more plants and less or no animal products. The degree and commitment vary from person to person.
Some may choose to eat more whole fruits, veggies, nuts, and legumes and cut back on processed food and meat.
Others, like vegans, opt for renouncing all animal products completely and requires a major lifestyle change.
Here are a few terms to help you see the variance of plant-based diets:
Vegans, Vegetarians, and Flexitarians Oh My!
Perhaps considered the first step towards a plant-based diet, flexitarians are people, “whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish.”
There are three levels of flexitarianism; the higher the level the less meat and animal products you consume.
For example, level one flexitarians may have 2 days each week where they don’t eat any meat. (Meatless Monday anyone?) Level three could consist of 5 or more meatless days per week.
Some choose to only eat meat at dinner, focusing on eating plenty of greens and whole foods during the day.
Flexitarians focus on eating plenty of fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. For some, It’s not necessarily about how many meatless days you can have, but how many more vegetarian meals you have.
It’s a healthy way to eat, think, and live and is perfect if you’re not quite ready to commit to full vegetarianism or veganism.
Pescatarians are vegetarians who also include fish and shellfish, but no other meat in their diet. They consume most of their calories from fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, and legumes and get most of their protein from fish.
Most of you know what a vegetarian is. They simply don’t eat meat for various health, moral, or other reasons. They do however consume dairy and eggs.
Vegans abstain from all animal products including meat, dairy, eggs and often even honey. Some even avoid non-food products like leather or beeswax.
Other vegans take it one step further and only consume raw fruits and veggies.
Generally, all forms of veganism require major lifestyle changes in thinking and habits and is not for the faint of heart.
The Rise of Plant-Based Diets
You could probably argue that hardly anyone had heard of a “plant-based diet” until 2011 when the insanely popular and somewhat controversial Forks Over Knives documentary aired for the first time. (You can literally see this change in Google Trends.)
If you’ve seen it, you might remember being shocked and in awe at times. If you haven’t seen it, the basic synopsis is this:
“Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.”
The documentary is mostly based on the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the China Study.
In this book, Campbell argues that consuming animal products increases your chances of developing chronic disease.
Although there is some truth to his theory, his reasoning comes from correlation, not causation, resulting in some nutrition experts to disagree with the assumption that all animal products should be shunned.
Campbell’s work along with Forks Over Knives and several other informative documentaries gave rise to the trend of plant-based eating.
The Benefits of Eating Plant-Based
Eating more plants can be very beneficial for health, weight loss, and even fitness goals. Especially in a world where most of the population eats highly processed, high sugar, and high-fat diets. (Talking about harmful fats here. Not all fats are bad!)
Here are some promising benefits of eating plant-based:
1. You Could Lose Weight.
Struggle to lose weight no matter how many diets you try?
Surprisingly the solution (diets) may just be making your weight loss efforts harder.
Most diets restrict you too much, making hunger and cravings go through the roof. If you’re hungry all the time, you’re going to give into your cravings and most likely not eat a healthy diet.
Eating primarily plant-based can help by giving you lots of whole foods filled with fiber, protein, and nutrients. These whole food plant options are usually low in calories so you’ll lose weight naturally without having to count or measure anything.
It’s a way of thinking about food and eating food that can make weight loss easy.
2. It Can Improve Your Fitness.
Wanting to build muscle? Lose fat? A little bit of both? Plants can help!
Most people think of protein shakes when they want to get fit and lean, and rightfully so! A protein supplement can be a huge help when you’re wanting to lean out or build mass.
Most people choose a whey based shake (from cow’s milk) and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Unfortunately, some people don’t tolerate whey very well. If you’ve ever had a whey protein shake and ended up with some digestion or stomach issues afterward you know what I’m talking about.
Luckily, there’s plenty of plant-based protein options out there that are much easier on the stomach.
3. It Will Boost Your Overall Health.
Eating more fruits, veggies, and well, plants mean essential vitamins and minerals that often go missing in the typical American diet.
These vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants work in your body to fight free radicals and make sure everything is running properly.
Many studies suggest that plant-based diets can keep your body healthy, boosting the immune system and more. Even the US Federal Guidelines now recommend a plant-based diet stating,
“A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods promotes personal health and is associated with less environmental impact than the current U.S. dietary patterns.”
You don’t have to be 100% vegan or vegetarian to see these benefits either. In fact, for some people, it’s best not to go the vegan route. Everybody is different and some do better with more plants but still incorporating high-quality animal products too.
4. You’ll Be Doing the Environment Good.
Whether or not you want to begin a plant-based diet or not, one fact is clear:
Consuming mass amounts of animal products does take a toll on the environment.
The livestock industry is right behind transportation as the third largest contributor to greenhouse gasses.
Beef especially has a considerable impact on global warming, causing five times more emissions that cause warming compared to pork or chicken.
One study done in the UK found that meat-heavy diets resulted in 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions. Vegetarian and fish-eating diets caused about 3.8kg of CO2 each day, and vegan diets produced 2.9kg.
Where Do You Get Protein on a Plant-Based Diet?
The biggest worry of following a plant-based diet is getting enough protein.
Of course, there is protein in plants, but often people don’t eat enough of the right foods to get the protein their body needs.
Protein is the single most important macronutrient. Protein is essential for nearly every function the body performs and also promotes a healthier weight and body composition.
For a 150 pound human, they should be getting anywhere from 100 to 150g of protein per day depending on their goals. That can be difficult with just plants.
Luckily there are plenty of plant-based protein options to help individuals meet their protein requirements without having to eat two pounds of beans each day.
Products I Recommend:
Vega– tastes good and comes in lots of different options!
Orgain– I love the ready to drink option of this brand, you can even find it at Costco sometimes!
Better Body Foods-Organic Plant Protein. Only three ingredients and high quality!
Do you have a favorite plant based protein powder? Let me know in the comments!