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 minimise meat, including chicken, dairy products and eggs. The diet will definitely exclude foods made from refined flour and sugar, and certain refined vegetable oils.
I advocate a completely plant-based diet, excluding all animal products, because of the multiple health issues related to animal products.
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 etc.
Starchy vegetables: potatoes, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, peas and green beans.
Whole grains: quinoa, 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, chickpeas and lentils.
The basis of a plant-based diet
Starch-based foods and fruit form the basis of a whole-food plant-based diet. While leafy greens play an important part in the diet, they are low in calories and do not provide much of an energy source, so they may result in decreased energy levels, and leave you feeling hungry.
However, combined with starch-based foods like corn, peas, potatoes etc, provide fantastic all-round nourishment, and keep the energy pumping.
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 to 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 - it’s a bit of a long list!
A low fat, plant-based diet reduces your risk of certain cancers.
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 are less likely to be overweight. Weight loss happens naturally when you eat wholesome, unrefined foods, lots of fibre, take in natural vitamins and minerals, rather than animal fats and sugary, floury foods.
Once you’re at your healthy weight you’ll find it easier to maintain your weight.
Increased intake of antioxidants. These help to protect your body’s cells and tissues against damage and can be found especially in brightly coloured vegetables and berries.
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 fibre in a plant-based diet will keep your colon healthy.
Reduce your intake of antibiotics and artificial hormones. The majority of antibiotics used are used in animal agriculture. The use of artificial hormones is also commonplace, to speed up animals’ growth.
It’s packed with fibre which helps with regular bowel movements, which also helps to eliminate toxins, maintain your weight and reduce the risk of constipation and diverticular disease. The fibre in plants helps to fight high blood sugar, by slowing down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream. Fibre is only found in plant-based foods and most people aren’t eating enough.
Not all vegan diets are healthy, but it you eat whole plant foods you are eating foods packed with nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, that our bodies need.
By eliminating dairy, you are removing a food that a lot of people are intolerant to, and may not even realise. This can be seen in poor skin, acne, joint pain, eczema and asthma.
You’ll naturally reduce your levels of saturated fat. Saturated fat is found mainly in animal foods, with the exception of coconut and some oils.
Reduction in dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in animal products. It plays an essential role in how every cell in your body works, but it can increase your risk of heart problems if the level is not controlled.
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
If you have not had the healthiest of diets you may find it tricky initially to go completely vegan and plant-based, especially if you have not been a healthy eater. Whether you decide to change overnight or to do things in stages is a personal decision only you can make. But there is no doubt that reducing your meat intake, and following a plant 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 exclude red meat from your diet.
A good idea is to replace one or two days of your week’s meals with a full vegan, plant-based meal. Do this on a regular basis, until you no longer want to return to your previous way of eating.
Some meals you can try:
Vegetable stir fry
Chickpea curry with wholegrain rice
Carrot and coriander soup
Black bean and rice burritos
***You’ll find recipes for some of these, plus a 5 -day meal plan and shopping list in my Beginner’s Guide to Plant-Based. Join here and start your journey to healthy plant-based eating now.
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.