What is a plant based diet? In essence, eating plant based is exactly what it says – it’s eating plants, or anything else that is not derived from animals or fish, and is really not quite as boring and bland as it sounds… honestly. In this post I will discuss the benefits of this lifestyle from my own first hand experience over the past 3 years, and also how easy it can be for you to start NOW on your own journey to amazing health.
When most people hear the terms ‘vegan’ or ‘plant based’ they often have visions of grass on a plate, but this is so very far from the truth that it’s almost funny. Starting 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, if you take into consideration the fact that plant foods include not just vegetables, but also fruits, nuts, seeds, quinoa, barley, spelt, amaranth, rices, lentils, pulses, beans, healthy fats, soy, tempeh, seitan and nut milks (you will become familiar with all of these as you go), then you can start to see a bigger picture emerging, and also a 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 I believe could be 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, and we all want to feel and look our best.
- Thirdly, many people are either lactose intolerant or may get other issues arising from too much dairy and are therefore are looking for substitutes to their normal products.
It’s never been an easier or more convenient a time to make this change than right now, and fortunately most supermarkets are getting on board in a big way with vegan foods. You will also find many shops, restaurants and cafes are now offering all sorts of substitutes for animal products and are serving many varieties of nut milks, cheeses and meat substitutes (though I’m not a big fan of soy based meat substitutes for the long term, they are fine whilst you are transitioning to a plant based diet).
Plant Based Diet Health Benefits
First, I need to convince you of the reasons why (and I believe there are many) you should even bother to make these big changes to in the first place – the future of our environment 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 simply astounding, and this has most definitely been my experience in the 3 years on this amazing journey.
I say ‘when done correctly’ because this is a major key point, and will make all the difference between getting you to that place of health and vitality that I know you want to be at, instead of just eeking by.
Here are some of the amazing reasons to turn 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 (which is much easier than it sounds – you will get the hang of it fast).
- MUCH more energy (this one will blow your mind!)
- You will find it easier to get physically fit
- Lower inflammation in general
- Clearer skin
- Glowing complexion
- Weight loss – specifically belly fat
- Reduction in cellulite
- 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, AND 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 which will allow it to clear out toxins more effectively and begin healing itself. Putting your body into a state of homeostasis is the ultimate path to healing, both mentally and physically; and you can actually do this through diet and exercise under certain conditions.
Healing the body AND mind
For me personally, swapping to a plant based diet definitely changed my whole life more than any other diet fad I had tried (and believe me I have tried them all) because it’s not just about healing the body, but the mind also. 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. Boring I know, but there’s no point in going all in and then falling off the wagon very quickly.
It has been shown in studies that if you try to make too many changes at once, then you are way more likely to fail; though for some all or nothing types this approach may actually work better, but, it’s usually best not to take on too much all at once. Either way, I will give you the strategies that I used for incorporating these changes as easily as possible that worked for me.
What are alkaline foods?
Many plant foods are highly alkaline, whilst most animal products (milk and dairy come in mid range) and refined sugars are acidic – meaning 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 as these will not only boost your immune system, but will also give you a beautiful glowing complexion that everybody will comment on. To which 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 in balance, plant based diet foods are much more alkaline, and therefore healthier in this respect in the long term.
Don’t get me wrong, 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.
On a personal note, I am now pretty much 100% plant based these days due mainly to the fact that I really notice the difference in how I feel if I start to eat eggs and dairy again, and it’s not good.
I have actually tried and tested this theory a few times, and eggs and dairy definitely make me feel congested and foggy headed, which is something that I never even noticed before eating plant based full time. I put this down to my body having an inflammatory response to them that I probably never noticed before (because it would have been happening continually), OR it could be my body is just no longer used to them. Either way, it taught me a lesson – when it comes to the plant based diet i’m either in or out!
Benefits I have noticed since changing my diet
- Less bloating and puffiness in the face (I didn’t even realise I had these issues until suddenly I didn’t – and everyone could see the difference).
- MUCH more energy.
- Much less muscle aches after exercise.
- The most amazing glowing skin I have EVER had! (cannot reiterate this enough).
- A clear head (brain fog is another thing I had always had, but didn’t really notice – until it was gone).
- Much better memory.
- Strong immune system (I have not had one day of sickness, colds or viruses the whole time I have eaten only plant foods… so far).
- Hormonal balance (I suffer less from mood swings and PMS).
- Less stress (I find I do not get as angry, frustrated or stressed out like I did before).
- Weight Loss
- Thicker, more lustrous hair.
- Anti aging, which happens naturally when you start filling your body with antioxidants.
One of the things that stands out clear as day when you read this list, is that ALL of those above problems I used to have are the result of too much inflammation in the body – and they ALL got better when I changed my diet.
I may not have developed any serious diseases yet, but I was more than likely on the way. And the way I felt after changing my diet shows you exactly what the plant based lifestyle, when done correctly, can do for you. I’m not saying everyone will achieve the same benefits as we’re all different, but you will see benefits of that I am sure.
Plant Based Diet Vs Vegan
VEGAN DIET DEFINITION
The main difference with these two diets would be that veganism is a lifestyle that is predominantly about the welfare of animals, and therefore shuns ALL animal products, including anything made of animal skin such as leather, suede and fur. It also bans anything that has been tested on animals, which 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, I’m definitely not saying it’s not, but I won’t go further into the animal welfare side of things for the simple reason this is a plant based website and I will be focusing more on the actual health benefits of plant foods. Also, eating plant based means you will already be making a huge difference to animal welfare and the environment just by doing this alone.
It’s also worth noting that as veganism is not predominantly about health, it means not all vegans will be necessarily healthy as 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), and you have more leeway to have a few ‘cheats’ to help make things easier, which 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 it will be hard, especially 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, and therefore may feel they need to give you negative opinions. 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, and that’s just your god given right. They are on their journey, and you are on yours.
You will more often than not 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, which is obviously great and you can refer them to Zestforever :-). Being the change you wish to see in the world is a lot more powerful and effective than just preaching it – or so said Mahatma Gandhi anyway!
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, as 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.
Sometimes a good plant based protein powder supplement can be a godsend when you’re on a vegan diet. Why? Because it is actually quite hard to meet your protein needs (but not impossible with vigilance) if you are doing a lot of exercise or training.
I found this out the hard way in the beginning, and actually lost some muscle mass at first – even though I was doing weight bearing exercise. So, to be on the safe side I now have a protein shake on days I train (or even add a scoop to my morning porridge if I have done a workout the day before) and I haven’t had a problem with it since.
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, so choose something that will work for you that fits in with your lifestyle and needs. Please check out my in-depth review of the best all natural plant based protein powders before you go down the protein supplement path.
Plant based food 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 to make sure you are obtaining the correct amounts of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats and nutrients throughout the day.
By this I mean eating carbs, proteins, and a little healthy fats at all main meals for satiety. The foods you need to eat 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 I find).
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Don’t forget to eat in abundance ALL the varieties of fruits and vegetables for all their different colour groups. Eating a rainbow of colours will ensure an array of different antioxidants and anti aging phytochemicals to keep you looking and feeling great.
Eat your veggies as raw or lightly cooked as possible to keep in the nutrition and fibers that 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 best for keeping blood sugar stable, and they can be found in the complex carbohydrates that are in most whole foods. This means foods that are still in their whole and natural state – for example, a whole orange as opposed to an orange juice which has had its fibers removed.
For the best low GI meals and snacks, plant food carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, cereal, rice, pasta, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, oatmeal and cracked wheat need to be combined with proteins such as pulses, nuts, seeds, quinoa, soy, tempeh and seitan, and also 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 sated and full, with a slow release of energy over many hours.
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 keep you satiated and to slow down sugar release.
Plant Based Diet and Weight Gain
Some people begin a plant based diet to lose weight but unfortunately this is often not the case, especially 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 carb rich foods and not enough protein. Or, just plain and simply eating too many fats in the form of nuts, seeds and oils.
It’s natural for this to happen when you cut out the major source of protein that were 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’ 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 shows 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, and 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
- 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
- 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
Start your plant based diet one step at a time by gradually clearing the junk out of your cupboard and replace 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 vegan recipes to try online 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, which I believe is down to a combination of your body being cleaner, your mind thinking more clearly when it’s not being fogged up by inflammation promoting junk foods, and the happiness that you feel in your soul when your body gets the nutrition it craves. So, e ready for this AMAZINGNESS!
Thank you for visiting zestforever today. I hope you have come away with a much clearer understanding of the amazing benefits of a plant based diet. I also hope I have given you the incentive to want to try this healthful, planet friendly way of eating for yourself.
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