What is a plant based diet? In essence, eating plant based is exactly what it says on the tin – it’s eating plants, or anything else that is not derived from animals or fish, and it’s really not quite as boring and bland as it sounds, honestly. In this post I hope to show you how simple it can be for YOU to achieve this lifestyle today no matter what place you’re starting from, or how much you know about food groups and plant based macronutrients.
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. Eating a highly 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 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 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 go plant based than right now, as fortunately most supermarkets are getting on board in a big way with the plant based movement. 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 breaking yourself in).
What are the Plant Based Diet Benefits?
First, I need to convince you of the reasons why (and I believe there are many) you should even bother to make the change to this lifestyle 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 health benefits of a plant based diet, when done correctly, can be simply astounding, and this has most definitely been my experience in the 2 years of my own plant based 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 change to this awesome lifestyle in case you still need convincing. Remember, you will only get thee benefits if you are truly eating lots of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and also food combining properly (which is much easier than it sounds, and 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? Cut out the Junk!
Choosing a whole foods and animal-free diet for the reasons of superior health and well-being, will also mean cutting out sugar and other high GI foods; also 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, allowing 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 with certain conditions.
Healing the body AND mind
For me personally, swapping to a plant based lifestyle definitely changed my whole life more than any other diet (and believe me I have tried them all!); and not just in body, but in 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 is proven 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, I personally think it 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 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 – oh the satisfaction!
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, the plant based way of eating is 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 pant based diet, you’re either in or out!
Benefits I have noticed since eating a plant based
- 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, I can see now, 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 and other natural supplements for skin.
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.
Plant Based Vs Vegan – What’s the difference?
THE VEGAN LIFESTYLE
The main difference would be veganism is a lifestyle that is predominantly about the welfare of animals and therefore shuns ALL animal products; including anything made of animal skin, the likes of 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 I will be focusing more about 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 doing this.
It’s worth noting that as veganism is not predominantly about health; not all vegans are necessarily healthy, and there are many vegan junk foods out there – I know a few myself. Just think fries, trans fats and SUGAR for starters – ALL these junk foods are still vegan, and technically plant based for that matter!
THE PLANT BASED LIFESTYLE
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 on the plant based diet you have more leeway 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 eating 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 – 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, you can refer them to this website :-). 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 (great guy!).
How to eat a plant based diet correctly
COMPLETE AMINO ACIDS
Combining the right foods for a full profile of amino acids (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.
Plant based protein Powders
Sometimes a good protein powder supplement can be a Godsend when you are on a vegan or plant based diet. Why? Because it is actually quite hard to meet your protein needs (but not impossible with vigilance) on a plant based diet, especially 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 sure, I now take a protein shake most days, or even add a scoop to my morning porridge if I have done a workout the day before.
Another good reason to take extra protein supplements is if you’re trying to burn fat and/or 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 watchful for, so be mindful to choose something that will work for you and fits in with your lifestyle and needs. Here I have done an in-depth review of the best all natural plant based protein powders for you to to check out before you go down the protein supplement path.
You will find that you’ll 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 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)
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Don’t forget to eat in abundance all the fruits and vegetables for all the 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.
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 sells fast to give you an energy boost and a glowing complexion. Also, great for recovery from sickness or operations.
LOW GI FOODS
Low GI foods (GI is short for glycemic index, and is the rate in which the sugar’s in any particular food hit 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, 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.
The Plant Based Diet and Weight Gain
Some people begin a plant based diet in the hope of losing excess 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 your major source of protein that was coming from animal products. If you find you are having these problems then please check out these 4 common weight gain mistakes and learn how to fix them fast.
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 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; and I believe it’s 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.
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.
Please be sure to join up below↓↓↓ for upcoming posts, plant based diet tips, guides and meal plans straight to your inbox. Thanks, and have an awesome day!