“Every time you eat, you give yourself an opportunity to nourish your body”. Healthy eating is a way of life. So it is important to establish routines that are simple, realistic & livable. Healthy eating is about eating smart & enjoying your food at the same time. Let’s try to understand significance of healthy eating.
Why healthy eating is important?
The greatest wealth is health! Healthy eating confers many health benefits. When we eat well - we sleep better, have more energy, are able to concentrate & lead a happy & disease free life!
Healthy eating isn’t about compromising on food or letting go your favorite food. Rather it is about eating a variety of foods in right amounts to provide your body what it needs. Though in reality, there is no particular menu that needs to be followed to be healthy. Just ensure that you get the right balance of different foods.
The main aim of our diet should be to improve health. We are also aware that the nutritional goals & requirements vary greatly from one individual to another. However, the overall focus should be on avoiding excess carbohydrates, fat and cholesterol while encouraging consumption of food high in fiber and lean protein. Temporary restrictive diets for the purpose of rapid weight loss should be discouraged as they do a lot of harm than good. Hence, it is recommended to adhere to a healthy, well-balanced diet that is sustainable.
Of late, Plant based diet has gained immense popularity not only because of the increasing incidence of life-style diseases but also because people have started becoming more health conscious than ever before. But what does “plant based diet” mean anyway? Is it the same thing as being vegan or vegetarian? Or does this mean you must add more veggies to your diet?
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What exactly is a plant based diet?
People interpret the term ‘Plant based diet’ in different ways. Some people use this term as a synonym for the “vegan diet”, one which avoids all the animal products. While others use the term in a much broader way- to represent all the vegetarian diets that are composed of mostly, but not entirely, of plant foods.
However, the truth is that-‘A Plant based diet’ involves consumption of foods that is mostly of plant origin. A plant based diet is one which emphasizes on foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, whole grains, legumes, pulses and limits the use of meat, dairy & eggs.
So, a healthy plant-based diet aims to maximize consumption of nutrient-dense plant foods while minimizing intake of processed foods, oils and animal foods, including dairy products and eggs. It encourages the use of vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans etc. in plenty while seeds, nuts, skimmed milk and egg whites in moderate amounts.
Esselstyne, who directs the cardio-vascular prevention & reversal program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute advocates complete avoidance of animal-based products as well as soya beans & nuts, particularly if the person is suffering from severe form of coronary artery disease. It should be noted that the term plant based diet is sometimes used inter-changeably with vegetarian or vegan. These diets adopted for ethical or religious reasons may or may not be healthy.
Whether you are a vegetarian or a vegan or a meat-lover, increasing the intake of plant based foods is definitely a good idea because of the varied health benefits it offers. To put it simply, the plant based diet is known to lower the risk of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, Type-2-diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease & some cancers. Besides, it increases longevity.
The only issue here is that, people who follow this diet regimen might miss out on certain vital nutrients which are also essential for the normal functioning of our body & may have to depend on some supplements. However, with little planning, even a plant based diet can help meet your daily dietary requirements. So, one of the major decisions you can take in order to improve your health, boost your energy levels & prevent chronic diseases is to switch on to a diet that is purely of plant origin.
A typical vegetarian diet – to most of us is one that doesn’t include meat, poultry, eggs or fish. But it is not so. There are different types of vegetarian diets that vary according to the foods they include & exclude. Let’s have a closer look at these types.
Different types of vegetarian diets
Starting from the most restrictive type, ‘The Vegan’-working our way down we have the following approaches to vegetarianism as discussed below. However, it’s up to you to make dietary choices that best suits your life-style.
Vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products. They also do not consume eggs and dairy. Vegans also do not use honey, bee- wax, gelatin and other animal by-products too like silk, leather, wool as well.
They do not consume meat, fish, fowl or eggs as well as the foods that contain them. However, they do consume dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt etc.
Ovo-vegetarians do not eat red or white meat, fish, fowl or dairy products, but do eat eggs & their products.
Lacto-ovo diets exclude meat, fish and poultry, but allow consumption of dairy products and eggs. Many people fall under this category.
Technically people belonging to this category cannot be called a vegetarian, as they do consume sea-food, but do not consume red or white meat & poultry. This type of diet is called a ‘semi-vegetarian’ or a flexitarian diet.
Much like the Pescatarians, people who follow this diet are of the semi-vegetarian type. They restrict the consumption of meat to poultry only. They also consume eggs. A pollotarian would not consume meat & sea food often for environmental, health or food justice reasons. Hence, they cannot be considered as vegetarian.
People of this category have a typical plant based diet with an occasional meat item on their menu. These folks try to minimize meat intake as much as possible or stick to a plant based diet entirely. Therefore, this type of a diet cannot be technically called a vegetarian diet.
Plant based diet: What to eat & what to avoid?
A plant based diet focuses primarily on whole foods, rather than processed foods. ‘Whole food’-the term basically refers to natural foods that are not heavily processed or having minimally refined ingredients.
People transitioning to this diet have to entirely depend upon the following foods namely- whole grains, vegetable, fruits, tubers, legumes etc. Let’s see what is included under each of this category.
They are an excellent source of fiber & help in maintaining stable blood sugar. They also contain essential minerals such as magnesium, copper and Selenium. Examples of whole grains include –brown rice, oats, buck wheat, quinoa, barley etc.
A plant based diet includes all fruits such as apples, bananas, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits, melons, avocados, blueberries etc.
A healthful plant based diet contains plenty of colorful vegetables that provide a wide variety of vitamins & minerals that Include corn, green leafy vegetables like Spinach & lettuce, peas, broccoli, bell-peppers, asparagus etc.
Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, radish, beets, turnips etc.
Include grains, cereals & other starches in their whole form such as quinoa, millets, brown rice, whole wheat, oats, barley etc.
Legumes are excellent sources of fiber & plant based protein. People can include a wide variety in their diet including chick peas, kidney beans, lentils etc.
There are a huge variety of nuts that are a good source of plant based protein & vitamins such as selenium & Vitamin E. Some of them include – almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, pistachios etc.
Seeds are a great snack and an easy way to add extra nutrients. Sesame seeds are a rich source of Calcium & Sunflower seeds are a good source of Vitamin E. Other seeds include-Chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds etc.
Plant based milk & milk products
There are plenty of options available when it comes to plant based milk products. These include-Soy milk, coconut milk, tofu etc. These foods should be however consumed in moderation as they are calorie-dense and therefore may contribute to weight gain.
Coffee & tea (green tea, chamomile or ginger) can be included.
Foods to avoid/limit
Eliminating/Reducing intake of animal products does not mean that plant based diet is healthy. It is recommended to avoid foods like-
Processed foods such as sausages & hot dogs.
Sugary foods such as cakes, brownies, biscuits, cookies & pastries etc.
Dairy products including milk & cheese.
All animal products including eggs. (If you are a vegan).
Refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, rice and bread.
Excessive salt in food.
Oily & deep fried food items such as French fries.
Sweetened beverages like soda and fruit juice.
Honey (if not a vegan).
How to make your journey last?
Changing your diet & maintaining it isn’t easy. No doubt, it requires tremendous will power. But, success comes from having the right attitude and following the right approach. Regardless of whether you are a vegan, a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian in your nutrition journey, I’d like to share some tips that you can adopt to ensure that your transition to plant based diet is smooth and successful.
Tip 1: Determine your purpose behind the change & set a goal for yourself.
Be specific & clear about your purpose. Some of the probable reasons that prompt you to opt for a plant-based diet could be-
To be healthy.
To get rid of those extra pounds and get back into shape.
Concern for animals
Concern for environment.
Figure out what really excites you. Because, when the going gets tougher, it is this “Why” that will keep you moving ahead!!
Tip 2: Think Big, but tread slowly.
It is great to have a goal as it helps you to remain focused. But don’t feel pressurized to get there right away. Instead, embrace the journey & have patience. Because, transformation is certainly going to take time & requires some honest efforts. The more gradual the process, the more likely you are going to succeed in the long term.
While working towards your goal, try the elimination approach. You could start by cutting down consumption of meat once in a week rather than twice. After a month, bring it down to once in a week, then twice a month, followed by once in a month & eventually eliminate the stuff altogether. Repeat the same process with other foods too.
Remove all those food stuffs from your kitchen cupboard, you need to avoid & replace them with plant alternatives. Stay away from certain aisles in the supermarket, fast food joints etc. as something which is out of sight is out of mind as well. So, the key is to have patience. Moving slowly gives your taste buds the chance to adjust, lessening the shock of any change!
Tip 3: Experiment, aim for variety.
If your diet gets boring, it is unlikely that you will stick to it for long. Also, it can be daunting to think that you have to let go all your favorite foods. Hence, it is important to strike a balance between simplicity & experimentation.
Try a new recipe once a week. With a little bit of tweaking, you should be able to create something novel that tickles your taste buds. Beans and lentils are great substitutes to meat & are rich in protein. So, Use them liberally. Add plenty of colorful vegetables & whole grains to your diet so as to satisfy your daily dietary needs. Try different ways of preparing it. Keep yourself going!!
Tip 4: Form a plant-powered crew.
Build a support network. Involve others in your journey for things to become easier. Connect with like-minded people so that you won’t feel left alone. Discuss about your diet plan with your family and friends to secure their support. If you are lucky, you might be able to find groups in your local area to meet up with. Thus, you will get an opportunity to exchange ideas and information with people in the know. If you achieve your weekly goal, celebrate your small victories with external rewards like watching a movie which you haven’t for some time now.
Tip 5: Support nutrition with fitness.
Whatever be your reason for adopting a plant-based diet, changing the way you eat isn’t the only thing that is going to influence your overall health. There are a number of factors that come into play like- your fitness regime. If you begin to work out regularly, you may start to crave for healthy food to refuel your body. Meditation is another good choice. It makes you more mindful about the choices you make & spurs you on to take your diet plan seriously.
Furthermore, if you are someone who gets easily sucked into the complexity of nutrition, supporting habits can sometimes help take the focus off the food for a little while, which might stop you from over thinking & burning out.
Just remember to start slow and not to overload yourself with a bunch of difficult changes straight off. Take small steps. You are more likely to succeed..!!
What are the constraints involved with plant-based diet? How to overcome them?
Before starting with plant based diet, ensure that you take the necessary steps to get enough of the following nutrients as they are found in high concentrations only in foods which are of animal origin. Hence, the vegans or vegetarians may have to resort to taking supplements to prevent deficiency of the same.
It is an essential nutrient for blood & cell health. B-12 deficiency can lead to anemia and nerve damage. Unfortunately, B-12 is present in many of the animal products & not in plant based foods. So, people who are vegan or vegetarian should consider taking a B-12 supplement or consume products fortified with B-12. Some of the foods in which this vitamin is present include- cereals, plant-based milk & nutritional yeast.
People following a plant based diet may also have to ensure that they get enough iron through their diet. Plant based foods that are a good source of iron includes- Kidney beans, black beans, soy beans, Spinach, raisins, oatmeal, green leafy vegetables and tomatoes. Make sure you eat citrus fruits & boost your vitamin C intake as it will help increase the absorption of Iron.
There is an increasing concern over the plant based products having enough of protein. Plant based sources of protein include- Lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, beans, tofu, mushrooms, nuts & seeds. Eating a variety of foods provide all the necessary amino-acids essential for good health.
Health Benefits of plant-based diet
Plant based diet is often touted as the healthiest approach to eating & its benefits extend way beyond weight loss. There is enough scientific evidence that many chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes etc. can be controlled or reversed by turning on to plant based diet. Let us have a look at some merits & demerits of resorting to a diet that is plant based.
Improves your gut health
Eating a plant based diet improves your gut health, so that you are able to absorb the nutrients from the food properly. The fiber present in this diet is excellent for bowel management.
Supports your immune system
Plants give your body what it needs to help fight off infection. They have essential nutrients that you cannot get from other foods. The vitamins & minerals, phyto-chemicals & anti-oxidants present in the plants help to keep your cells healthy & your body in balance so that you immune system can function at its best.
If you have given a thought regarding cancer prevention, you must have thought about your diet as well. But there is one diet that has consistently proven to reduce the risk of cancer. And that is the plant based diet. Eating a plant –based diet does not mean that you can’t eat meat. It just means that your meals consists of food mostly form plants like-whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts etc.
Helps maintain a healthy weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer etc. Obesity causes inflammation & hormonal imbalance as well & If you are over-weight or obese, your risk of getting different types of cancer like uterine cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer etc. increases manifold. Add in exercise if you are on a path to weight loss.
Minimizes the risk of developing several diseases.
The benefits of plant-based diet are not limited to reducing the risk of cancer, but it minimizes the risk of getting other diseases too. Eating a plant based diet improves your gut health, improves your immune system & reduces inflammation. Fiber can also lower cholesterol & stabilize blood sugar.
Lessens the impact on the environment.
Another good reason for filling your plate with plant foods instead of animal foods is that you can help save the planet. As Palmer noted, “research consistently shows that by drastically reducing animal food intake & mostly eating plant foods, one can reduce your impact on the planet over your life time, in terms of the energy required, land used, green house gas emissions, water used & pollutants produced.”
Pros & cons of plant based diet:
The plant based diet has gone main-stream primarily because of the innumerable advantages it offers. The health care experts too recommend this way of eating as many patients to whom they had suggested, showed incredible results.
Pros of plant-based diet.
They are low in saturated fats & free of cholesterol.
Rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants.
Lowers the risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease & cancer.
Helps reduce your body weight, the bad cholesterol (LDL) level in the blood.
Lot cheaper than the foods of animal origin.
Cons of plant-based diet.
They require you to change your eating habits which can be stressful.
Adapting to new diet patterns may take some time.
You will have to prepare most of your food by yourself.
They don’t meet all your vitamin needs so you may require supplements.
“A Healthy outside starts from the Inside ! "
The decision to change your diet is a personal choice. Whether the aim is to shed weight or prevent some chronic conditions or save the environment, getting started might seem challenging. Yet, don’t give up!! Look at the big picture instead! Pay attention to the positive changes that have taken place within you after quitting meat, eggs and other animal products. It is only then you will realize what you have gained is worth the struggle & your effort!
Though people transitioning to plant based diet may experience some discomfort in the initial stages, but the urge to move on becomes more prominent once they start noticing a measurable improvement in their health. Many people who shared their experiences after switching to plant based diet experienced less fatigue, lost weight and felt a lot healthier!
It cannot be denied though, that even the plant based diet has its own pitfalls. Sometimes people end up consuming plenty of refined sugars, saturated fats & food items that is not prepared from whole grains which may have an adverse effect on their health.
But, if you are seriously contemplating about switching on to ‘Plant based diet’, the time to start making the change is now!! Am sure, you’ll be glad you did it!!