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Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
When I was fifteen I decided to ditch red meat, poultry, and pork. More than 20 years later, I haven’t looked back. Until recently I continued to eat fish, and dairy sparingly to ensure that I was getting sufficient protein. That changed when I began further research into the effects of dairy on the body, and the benefits of adopting a whole food plant-based lifestyle. However, at first I was confused about a plant-based diet vs. vegan diet. As a mom, I was concerned about how this choice would effect the rest of my life. Would it be difficult to implement? Would I have to make two meals every night? I decided to give plant-based a try, and to my surprise I found it to be easier than expected.
When we came upon the holidays I reconnected with family and friends that I had not seen in quite some time. Surrounded by the overindulgent food of the season, my family and friends noticed that I did not partake in many of the offerings being served. Explaining my recent switch to plant-based struck a chord with some of the people I love. It took me by surprise. Some of my friends and family were curious, some concerned for my health, and others were baffled.
Through the course of the holidays I was asked numerous questions about what plant-based was all about. I had never discussed at length the details of my dietary choices. On one hand, I understood the curiosity, and on the other hand, I felt a bit under attack. I did not realize that people would be offended by my food choices. Especially when those foods are not crazy or obscure, they’re plants!
If you’re as curious as my family and friends, here are some answers to the questions I was asked.
What is plant-based?
When eating a plant-based diet you eat only natural whole plants.
Plant-Based Diet vs. Vegan
While plant-based is generally vegan, vegan is not necessarily plant-based. What does that mean? Plant-based minimizes or eliminates any processed food. While Twizzlers are vegan, they are highly processed, and not plant-based. Plant-based greatly reduces sugar consumption, and does not include any refined sugar, or oil. While fruit is encouraged, fruit juices and dried fruits are not. Plant-based can be extreme, or can allow for the occasional consumption of animal products. While many plant-based advocates do not eat any animal products at any time, others believe it’s okay on an occasional basis, but not as a primary staple of the diet.
What does plant-based mean to me in my life?
I’m a working mom. I’m doing the best that I can. I want to be as healthy as possible while also not allowing my diet to consume all aspects of my life. I primarily eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and plant-based protein such as legumes. However, completely eliminating all oil from my life is nearly impossible. I buy store bought hummus that contains oil, and I’m okay with that. I use a little olive oil for my stir-fry. If I’m at a special function and they have my favorite chocolates, I’ll eat one. I love chocolate, and the occasional one here and there is not going to be detrimental to my health. My goal with eating a plant-based is to consume a majority of natural foods that promote health and wellness. Dairy, fish, and meat are not choices I make, but again for others plant-based allows for those foods on an occasional basis. The primary goal of eating plant-based is to greatly reduce the consumption of processed food and increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Why did I choose plant-based?
That’s easy! The overwhelming support through academic studies and research that show plant-based greatly reduces your risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, plant-based promotes weight loss, and increases your intake of fiber, which has proven to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. When consuming fruits and vegetables and eliminating saturated fat found in animal products you could even see improvements in your skin and vision. If that’s not reason enough, being plant-based helps the environment and does not promote animal cruelty.
For me, the overwhelming reason I switched to plant-based was to improve my overall health and longevity. I have a family history of cardiovascular disease, and have lost many loved ones too soon. I want to live a long and vibrant life so that I’ll be able to run around and chase my grandchildren.
Is it hard sometimes?
With a little menu planning at home, and when I go out, it’s not a problem. When going to a restaurant I take a look at the menu before arriving so I have an idea of what my options will be, or how I can ask the kitchen to change a dish to make it work.
Am I worried about my health as a result of eating plant-based?
No. I know I’m doing what is best for my health.
Am I worried I do not get enough protein?
No. Plants contain protein. And when you’re eating a variety of plants you are getting the amino acids necessary to be healthy and whole. For example, when you pair black beans with rice, you have a complete protein source. Americans consume more protein than necessary under a false assumption that the more protein you eat the stronger and healthier you are. The truth is the more plants you eat, the healthier you are.
Do I miss cheese, yogurt, milk and other dairy products?
No, granted I was never a big fan of dairy with the exception of yogurt and ice cream. However, I have not desired these things in the least. When I want something sweet I go for fruit or nuts. A little natural peanut butter spread on whole-wheat toast with sliced banana is a delicious treat!
How do I feel?
Great! Since starting a plant-based diet I have lost weight, gained muscle, and improved my cholesterol, and blood pressure.
Do I think you should become plant-based?
That depends on your unique nutritional needs. I know that plant-based is not for everyone. While an entirely plant-based works for me, it might not work for you.
I do not think you are a bad person if you choose to consume animal products. The more fruits, vegetables, and natural foods you consume the healthier you will be, but that will look different for each individual.
For more information about a plant-based lifestyle including research, how to’s, recipes, and articles, please visit T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
For more information on transitioning to a plant based diet, read my article Plant Based Diet Benefits: 3 Essential Steps to Heal Your Body with Food.