Plant Based Eating: Should You Try It?

With growing popularity and increased public praise, the switch to a plant based diet seems enticing to many, while others don’t understand the hype. There are numerous reasons why an individual may choose to switch their eating habits to this natural substitute. Some choose to change their diet for the health benefits, others for ethical reasons, but whatever the reason, the diet involves no animal products whatsoever in its strictest form. 

While many use them interchangeably, the term plant based describes a diet while the term vegan describes a lifestyle. For clarity, in this article we will be focusing on eating plant-based over being vegan. The ethical motivations behind plant-based eating and veganism do exist, and are prevalent in many individual cases. In today’s piece we will be focusing on the health benefits of choosing this food source over traditional meat and dairy inclusive diets.

Meat is the main concern when switching to a plant based diet. Many individuals who have removed the product from their diets will argue that eating meat is unhealthy, unethical, and unnecessary. There are pros and cons to everything, and meat consumption is no exception. No meat doesn’t mean no protein. While meat is an excellent source of protein, it isn’t the only one or exclusively the best. Foods like tofu, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh, beans, and legumes provide a sustainable protein source to those with a plant-based diet. Vegetables themselves also provide protein, making it very possible to retain intake. 

When considering your protein sources, it is important to think about the whole package of what you are eating and the baggage it carries. For example, a 4oz broiled sirloin steak has 33 grams of protein, but it also has 5 grams of saturated fat. A cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber, and virtually no saturated fat or sodium. Choosing the latter consistently can have a serious positive impact on your health.

Lowering the amount of meat in your diet has been shown to dramatically reduce risks for many diseases. Loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, meat can play a critical role in an unhealthy heart. Red meat specifically has been shown to be harmful. Decreasing meat intake reduces risk of stroke, high blood pressure and cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers. It has also been shown to fight obesity. 

Moving on from meat, there is often much debate over the necessity of dairy in your diet in order to maintain quality health. The science goes back and forth between supporting the products or denouncing them. The role of dairy in ones diet revolves around being a good source of calcium and protein, assisting with bone health. Most health authorities, however, advise individuals to minimize their intake. Dairy is a product that should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Much of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant, about 75% in fact. Often individuals see their skin and digestion negatively affected by dairy products. Taking some detox time from dairy is a great option to see if you would be better off without it.

For athletes, the common misconception stands that meat is required for peak performance. This past fall, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron teamed up to produce a documentary on athletes and plant based eating. The Game Changers, available on Netflix, debunks the misconception that athletes need animal protein to compete and perform at a high level. When it comes to weight loss, plant-based may be one of the best options. A review of 12 studies found that those on plant based diets lost significantly more weight than non-vegetarian counterparts, an average of about 4.5 more pounds. It has also been found to maintain weight loss, not only helping you shed pounds but also keep it off. 

An important thing to note is that just because a diet may be “plant based” doesn’t mean that it is healthy. Technically, eating nothing but french fries is considered vegan. The emphasis should be on eating whole, minimally processed foods with a focus on plants in order to see the real results this diet can provide. Also notable, a plant based diet doesn’t have to mean being vegan or even vegetarian, restricting meat and dairy entirely. Eating plant-based can mean consciously choosing to have the majority of your food and nutrients come from plant sources. The recently coined term flexitarian names a vegetarian that occasionally indulges in meat or fish products but mostly sticks to a plant-based diet.
Regardless of what you decide, eating a healthy diet can impact your health from the inside out. Your energy, mental health, and overall well-being is impacted by everything you eat. Logically, it makes sense that your body would perform better, and that you would feel better eating mostly vegetables and minimally processed foods. Being conscious about the food you consume is the first step to great health and, let’s be honest, we all could use more plant power in our life.