“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” -Michael Pollan, food writer and professor at U.C. Berkeley
As rates of obesity and diet-related disease continue to escalate across the West, health institutions, as well as individuals, are beginning to realize, frankly, that the Western diet is killing us. This realization has spurred the popularization of a plant-based diet, which eschews consumption of processed foods and animal products in favor of whole, plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
The payoffs of adhering to a whole-foods, plant-based diet include:
- Decreased environmental effects such as methane emissions (a greenhouse gas), consumption of natural resources such as water, pollution of rivers and streams, animal cruelty, and the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.
- Decreased environmental effects, as well as transportation costs, by eating local and supporting the farmer’s market.
- Prevention, and even reversal, of diet-related diseases including heart disease (currently the #1 killer in the United States), cancer, and diabetes.
Eating a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean the same thing as being a vegetarian or vegan, although most people who follow a plant-based diet consequently eat little-to-no animal products. Someone may call themselves vegetarian or vegan because they do not eat meat or eggs, but they may consume other foods with negative health effects such as oreos, white bread, chips, etc. This is why the emphasis specifically on unprocessed, plant-based, whole foods is important.
Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds supplies the body with an array of crucial vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants (which boast anti-aging and anti-cancer properties), fiber, and lean protein. These natural properties of plant foods help control weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, improve sensitivity to insulin, decrease inflammation, improve energy level, mood, and cognitive function, and slow aging– the benefits are innumerable.
Tips to get started:
- Transition to a plant-based diet gradually, by first making 1 day a week completely vegetarian. This is the idea behind the “Meatless Monday” campaign that has recently been gaining popularity. Slowly increase from 1 day to 2, 3, and 4 days a week.
- Each time you go grocery shopping explore new fruits, vegetables, types of whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds to replace meals that previously involved animal products. If you are not sure how to prepare certain types of foods, research them to learn healthy recipes. Knowing how to cook is the most vital tool towards staying committed to a healthy diet.
- If a plant based diet at first tastes bland, season your food healthfully with herbs and spices, lemon/lime juice, balsamic vinegar, etc.
- Protein is often over-glorified in the American diet and over-consuming it actually has negative effects on the body. Eating a variety of whole foods provides more than an adequate supply of this macronutrient.