What is a plant based diet? The plant based lifestyle in essence means eating foods that are not derived from animals, fish, or animal by-products.
When most people hear the terms ‘vegan’ or ‘plant based’, they often have visions of grass on a plate. But, this is so far from the truth that it’s almost funny.
Eating a plant based diet (when done correctly with attention to your macronutrients and a good exercise plan) is actually the ultimate healthy lifestyle that can take you to a place of vibrant health, vitality, and healing in a relatively short space of time.
What are plant based foods?
Firstly, you take into consideration the fact that plant foods include not just vegetables. They’re also fruits, nuts, seeds, quinoa, barley, spelt, amaranth, rices, lentils, pulses, beans, healthy fats, soy, tempeh, seitan and nut milks. This gives you lot more ingredients to work with than you may have originally thought.
This past year has seen the sharpest EVER rise of veganism and plant based eating, which is probably down to a number of reasons.
- Firstly, we are all becoming more aware of our environment and global warming. And, the over consumption of animal products and farming methods have played a role in that.
- Secondly, we are also becoming much more aware of the impact food has on our health. We all want to feel and look our best.
- Thirdly, many people are now either lactose intolerant or may get other issues arising from too much dairy. These people are therefore looking for substitutes to their normal products.
It’s never been an easier or more convenient a time to make this change to veganism than right now. Fortunately, most supermarkets are getting on board in a big way with vegan and plant based foods.
You will also find many shops, restaurants and cafes now offering all sorts of substitutes for animal products. Most are serving many varieties of nut milks, cheeses and meat substitutes. Although we are not a big fans of processed meat substitutes for the long term, they are fine whilst you are transitioning to a plant based diet.
Plant Based Diet Health Benefits
First, we need to convince you of the reasons why (and we believe there are many) you should even bother to make these big changes to in the first place. The future of our environment and all living things being just one of the benefits on a very long list.
But for YOU personally, the proven health benefits of a plant based diet plan (when done correctly) can be pretty astounding.
We say ‘when done correctly’ because this is a major key point that will make all the difference between getting you to that place of health and vitality that you want to be at.
Here are some of the amazing reasons to become more whole foods plant based in your eating habits, in case you still need convincing.
Remember, you will only get these benefits if you are truly eating lots of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and also food combining properly. It’s much easier than it sounds and you will get the hang of it fast.
- MUCH more energy
- You will find it easier to get physically fit
- Lower inflammation in general
- Clearer skin
- A more glowing complexion
- Weight loss – specifically belly fat
- Reduction in cellulite
- Possible higher immunity and less sickness (i.e. bugs, colds and flu)
Where do I start?
Choosing a whole foods eating plan for the reasons of superior health and well-being will also mean cutting out sugar and other high GI foods. Plus, deep-fried foods, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours, and other food chemicals will need to be eliminated as much as possible too.
Doing this will kick start the detoxification process and flood your system with life giving nutrients. This will allow your body to clear out toxins more effectively and begin healing itself. Putting your body into a state of homeostasis is a great path to healing, both mentally and physically.
Healing the body AND mind
For long-term change (which is what you need to be thinking about in order to live the healthful life you want) it is always best to take things one step at a time.
It has been shown in studies that if you try to make too many changes at once then you are more likely to fail. Although, for some all or nothing type personalities this approach may actually work better. But, for most of us, it’s usually best not to take on too much all at once.
Many plant foods are highly alkaline, whilst most animal products (milk and dairy come in mid range) and refined sugars are acidic. This means they cause the kind of chronic inflammation in the body that can promote disease.
It stands to reason that cutting out these acidic foods as much as possible and adding in plant foods instead, will help to keep your body in more of a state of balance and even reduce your chance of certain diseases.
To help this process along even more, you should also add lots of antioxidant rich superfoods to your diet. These will not only boost your immune system, but will also give you a beautiful glowing complexion that will get you compliments.
Of course, you can tell them exactly how you have achieved it through the eating of delicious and nutritious plant foods.
TOP 12 ALKALINE FOODS
- Sea vegetables
- Dark green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, spring greens, rocket, Swiss chard (the darker the colour the better).
- Himalayan pink salt (in moderation).
- Sprouted beans
- All raw foods
- Super Green Powder Shots – Absolutely essential for energy, glowing skin, and a stronger immune system.
TOP 10 ACID FORMING FOODS
- All high GI sugars, including white sugar, refined flour products, honey, corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners
- Tea and Coffee
- Dried fruit
- Farmed fish
- Yeast and fermented foods such as miso, soy sauce, mustard and marmite.
As you can see, not all plant foods are necessarily alkaline and vice versa. But, most of the major plant food groups are either alkaline or mid range, and most of the animal products are mid range to highly acidic. So on balance, plant based diet foods are much more alkaline and therefore healthier long term.
There are foods on the highly acidic list that are “considered” healthy (like eggs and fish for example). But, if you do eat them they should be balanced out with lots of alkaline foods to keep acidity in the body to a minimum.
Other benefits you may notice on a plant based diet
- Less bloating and puffiness in the face
- MUCH more energy
- Much less muscle aches after exercise
- The most amazing glowing skin EVER! (cannot reiterate this enough)
- A clear head (brain fog is something you may not notice until it’s gone)
- Better memory power
- Strong immune system
- Hormonal balance (you may suffer less from mood swings and PMS)
- Less stress (you may get less angry, frustrated or stressed out than before)
- Weight loss
- Thicker, more lustrous hair
- Anti aging, which happens naturally when you start filling your body with antioxidants
A lot of the benefits on this list are associated with LESS CHRONIC INFLAMMATION in the body. And, plant based foods naturally reduce this over time.
Plant Based Diet Vs Vegan
VEGAN DIET DEFINITION
The main difference with these two diets (or, we prefer to say lifestyles) would be that veganism is a lifestyle that is predominantly about the welfare of animals. It therefore shuns ALL animal products, including anything made of animal skin such as leather, suede and fur.
Veganism also bans anything that has been tested on animals. This includes most make-up, shampoos, conditioners, toiletries, and many household cleaning and washing products.
This is all noble and for a good cause of course, we are definitely not saying it’s not. But, we won’t go further into the animal welfare side of things for the simple reason this blog is about the plant based diet, and we will be focusing more on the actual health benefits of plant foods.
But, let it be said, eating plant based means you will already be making a huge difference to animal welfare and the environment just by doing this alone!
Veganism Isn’t Necessarily Healthy!
It’s also worth noting that as veganism is not predominantly about health, it means not all vegans will be necessarily healthy. There are many vegan junk foods out there! Just think fries, trans fats and SUGAR for starters – ALL these junk foods are still vegan; and technically plant based for that matter.
PLANT BASED DIET DEFINITION
On the other hand, plant based eating is more predominantly about health (or you may decide to start off plant based as you ease yourself into veganism). But, you do have more leeway to have a few ‘cheats’ to help make things easier. This is often needed, especially in the early stages of making such huge lifestyle changes.
How to ‘be’ around others
There will of course be times when being plant based will be hard. This is especially true when you’re around other people who may not necessarily understand why you are going to (what they may call) extremes with your dietary habits.
Never allow people to judge you for your choices. It’s your body and entirely up to you to decide what you put into it, that’s just your absolute right. They are on their journey and you are on yours.
You will find that when others see how well you look they will ask you what you’re doing, and will want a piece of the action for themselves. This is obviously great. Being the change you wish to see in the world is a lot more powerful and effective than just preaching it.
Putting together nutritionally complete meals
Combining the right foods for a complete amino acid profile (which means obtaining all 9 essential amino acids from your plant proteins) is crucial on a plant based diet. Animal products are already complete proteins, whereas many plant foods aren’t.
This is why its important you understand how to put a complete meal together to cover ALL your dietary needs.
Don’t be alarmed as it’s really not as hard as it sounds and will soon become second nature. New evidence has found that you don’t actually have to eat a complete amino acid profile at every meal. Just over the course of the day is good enough.
TRAINING AND WEIGHT LOSS
Sometimes a good plant based protein powder supplement can be a Godsend when you’re on a plant based or vegan diet. Why? Because sometimes it’s quite hard to meet your protein needs, especially when busy, OR if you are doing a lot of exercise or training.
If you’re in training or doing lots of exercise, you will need to be extra vigilant.
You may find this out the hard way in the beginning and actually lose some muscle mass at first – even though you’re doing weight bearing exercise. So, to be on the safe side, have a protein shake on train days (or even add a scoop to your morning porridge if you have done a workout the day before).
Another good reason to take extra protein supplements is if you’re trying to burn fat and build muscle. Protein not only builds muscle (which actually burns more calories than fat even in its resting state), but it also keeps you full and stops you craving the refined carbohydrates that are so devastating to a weight loss diet.
Just remember, not all protein powders are the same. Some have added sugars, fillers and other nasty stuff to be mindful of. Be sure to choose something that will work for you that fits in with your lifestyle and needs.
Please check out this in-depth review of the best all natural plant based protein powders before you go down the protein supplement path.
Plant based foods list
You will find that you may feel much fuller, and your blood sugars will stay much more stable by the proper understanding of combining foods. This will help you be sure you are obtaining the correct amounts of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats and nutrients throughout the day.
By this we mean eating carbs, proteins and a little healthy fats at all main meals for satiety and fullness.
The foods you need to eat to obtain this come under the following groups:-
- Wholegrains such as spelt, wheat, barley, corn, millet, amaranth.
- Brown rice
- White and sweet potatoes
- Dried fruits
- Tropical fruits
- Quinoa (both protein and carb)
- Soya products such as milk, cheese and yogurt
- Bean burgers
- Soy mince
- Protein powders (plant based)
- Buckwheat (both protein and carb)
- Pulses – Lentils, beans, peas
- Healthy oils in moderation only if absolutely necessary, such as coconut, sesame, extra virgin olive, avocado, walnut, macademia, flax. Official whole food plant based diets don’t use refined oils, but they do come in handy at times.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Don’t forget to eat in abundance ALL the varieties of fruits and vegetables to obtain all their different colour groups.
Eating a rainbow of colours will ensure an array of different antioxidants and anti aging phytochemicals to keep you healthy.
Eat your veggies as raw or lightly cooked as possible to keep in the nutrition and fibres. This will help keep your body detoxified and your energy levels high. Eating a highly raw food diet can boost your health even further, so always try to do this when it’s convenient and possible.
If you feel you’re missing out (or can’t always cram as much fruit and veg in as you would like), then an effective way to top up is with a chlorophyll rich superfood powder. These are like little shots of pure, organic nutrition that will get into your cells fast to give you an energy boost and a glowing complexion all in one hit.
Also, they work great for boosting recovery after sickness.
LOW GI FOODS
Low GI foods (GI is short for glycemic index, and is the rate in which the sugar in a particular food hits the bloodstream) are the best foods for keeping blood sugar stable. They can be found in the complex carbohydrates that are in most whole plant foods.
Whole foods means foods that are still in their original and natural state. For example, a whole orange as opposed to orange juice which has had its fibres removed.
Combining Low GI Foods
For filling, low GI meals and snacks, always combine carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, cereal, rice, pasta, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, oatmeal and cracked wheat with proteins such as pulses, nuts, seeds, quinoa, soy, tempeh and seitan.
You will also need a little healthy monounsaturated fat like avocado, whole coconut or olive oil (if not already in the protein element as it is in the case of nuts and seeds). These combinations will keep you satiated and full with a slow release of energy over many hours.
Check out full low GI foods list here.
High GI foods and sugar spike
High GI carbohydrates such as white sugar, flours, confectionery, fizzy drinks, fruit juices and chocolate will throw your blood sugar out of whack, especially when eaten on an empty stomach.
High blood sugar can eventually bring with it problems of its own, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome to name just a few. Low GI carbohydrates are an ESSENTIAL part of your healthy plant based diet and should be eaten at every meal to slow down sugar release into the bloodstream.
Plant Based Diet and Weight Gain
Some people begin a plant based diet to lose weight, but unfortunately this is often not the case. This can be especially true in the beginning.
If you begin this lifestyle with little understanding of the nutrition required, then you may temporarily gain weight due to the eating of more refined carb foods and not enough protein. Or, just plain and simply eating too many fats in the form of nuts, seeds and oils (a common blunder).
It’s natural for this to happen when you cut out the major source of protein that used to be coming from animal products.
If you find you yourself are having these problems then please check out these 4 common weight gain mistakes to learn how to fix them fast.
Whole foods plant based athletes
With the advent of the Netflix film ‘The Game Changers’ (and many others of its kind) it has become more and more apparent what a whole foods plant based diet can do for you in terms of your training and exercise. The film has highlighted the sheer volume of professional athletes that have sworn that changing their diet has been the best thing they have ever done in terms of their fitness.
Some of these big names in fitness include:-
- Arnold Shwarzenegger
- Jackie Chan
- Lewis Hamilton
- Venus and Serena Williams
- Brendan Brazier
- Torre Washington
- James Wilkes
- David Cater
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plant based athletes. But, it does show the diversity of sports people who find that cutting out animal products has improved their game no matter what their sport. It makes no difference which sport you specialise in, eating plant foods has been shown time and time again to improve fitness, recovery and to beat PB’s.
A plant based diet menu plan would ideally consist of good ratios of all the macronutrients of carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
Food combining is something that will come much more naturally to you as you go along. Sticking to complex carbs and protein rich meals will keep you satiated and full without the need for snacking in between meals and possibly gaining weight.
Here is an example of a daily food plan that has everything you need to stay healthy:-
- Quinoa porridge
- Homemade granola
- Buckwheat pancakes
- Sourdough toast topped with avocado
- Low sugar, homemade protein bars
- Fruit and nut flapjacks
- Fresh fruit salad, chopped nuts and coconut yogurt
- Green smoothie
- Tofu and vegetable scramble
- Sugar-free nut butter on granary toast
Check out some other great breakfast ideas.
- Baked beans on granary toast
- Lentil soup and sourdough bread
- Vegan cheese and onion toastie
- Mixed salad, chickpeas and quinoa
- Hummus, grated carrot and rocket sandwich with wholewheat bread
- Tahini, avocado and grated carrot on sourdough with twist of lemon juice, salt and pepper
Check out some other FAST and EASY lunch ideas.
- Tofu and chickpea curry with brown rice
- Mixed bean chili with baked potato or brown rice, plus chopped avocado
- Buckwheat noodle and vegetable stir-fry
- Bean burgers, polenta chips and salad
- Ramen bowl
- Stir-fied mixed grain rice, vegetables and soy beans
- Roasted vegetables on a bed of boiled quinoa
- Mixed bean and root vegetable stew
- Meat-free sausages, mashed potatoes, peas and onion gravy
- Nut roast, potatoes, vegetable and gravy
Check out some other tasty dinner ideas.
- Hummus on oatcakes
- Tahini and sugar-free jam on oatcakes
- Dark chocolate of at least 70% cacao
- Veggie sticks and hummus
- Dry roasted chickpeas
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Fresh fruit
- Banana and almond butter
- Green smoothie
- Protein shake
- Green superfood powder shots
Check out some other low carb snack ideas.
Start your plant based diet one step at a time by gradually clearing the junk out of your cupboard and replacing with cleaner foods.
If you want to get your unwilling family involved, then cook them a couple of plant based meals in the week and see how they like them. There are so many easy plant based recipes to try that you need never get bored.
Word of warning 😉 Eating the plant based diet may change your life and generally make you a more compassionate person towards everything. It just changes your spirit like that.
We believe is down to a combination of your body being cleaner, your mind thinking more clearly when it’s not being fogged up with inflammation promoting junk foods, and the happiness that you feel in your soul when your body gets the nutrition it craves.
So, be ready for this AWESOMNESS!!
Thank you for visiting ZestForever today. We hope you have come away with a much clearer understanding of the amazing benefits of a plant based diet.
We also hope to have given you the incentive to want to try this healthful, planet friendly way of eating for yourself.