What exactly is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is not a diet of vegetables alone. It is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, which may exclude or minimize animal products, including chicken, dairy products and eggs. The aim is to also exclude foods made from refined flour and sugar, and certain refined vegetable oils.
Be inspired by the delicious foods you can enjoy! Many of these can be included as ingredients in familiar dishes you may want to prepare, such as pizza, mashed potatoes and burrito bases.
- Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, plums, lemons etc
- Vegetables: lettuce, dark green veggie varieties, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, cabbage etc
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans
- Whole grains: millet, barley, brown rice, whole wheat products, oats, whole grain cereals
- Legumes: All varieties of beans such as black beans, lima beans, kidney beans and cannellini beans, as well as legumes like chickpeas and lentils.
Iodized salt may be added to your food as it is a great source of iodine to help maintain a healthy thyroid, although excessive sodium intake should be avoided.
The basis of a plant-based diet
Starch-based foods and fruit form the basis of a whole-food plant-based diet. Leafy greens play an important part in the diet as they are very nutritious, but they are low in calories and may not provide enough calories, resulting in decreased energy levels and leave you feeling hungry. When combined with starch-based foods (such as corn, peas, potatoes, etc) however, they provide fantastic all-round nourishment and keep the energy pumping.
The idea of a plant-based diet is not to eat one food for a single nutrient, such as oranges for vitamin C, but rather s a package of the foods that you enjoy, which contain all the essential nutrients to be of enormous benefit to your general health.
Health benefits of a plant based diet
- A plant-based diet often lowers blood pressure because of the potassium- rich legumes and nuts
- Plants contain no cholesterol (although some is required for hormone production, too much can be detrimental to your health)
- The fibre in plants helps control high blood sugar by slowing down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream
- A low fat, plant-based diet significantly lowers your risk of developing a variety of cancers
- Weight management is easier when you eat wholesome, unrefined foods, lots of fibre, take in natural vitamins and minerals, while avoiding animal fats and sugary, floury foods
- Research has shown that replacing saturated animal fats with mono-unsaturated fats (found in nuts, avocados and olive oil) substantially lowers your risk of cardiovascular and heart disease
- Sugary and fatty foods contribute to systemic inflammation and can lead to other problems like constipation. The fibre in a plant based diet will also help keep your colon healthy.
The best way to start a plant-based diet
Changing to a vegetarian or almost vegan-type diet is not always easy, especially if you have not been a healthy eater in the pasts. Whether you want to embrace a fully plant-based diet, or perhaps keep some animal products as part of your diet is a decision that only you can make. But there is no doubt that reducing your meat intake, and following a plant diet is one of the best things you can do for your health.
If you are finding it difficult to immediately flip over to a new diet, here are some tips to help you on the way.
- Begin with including legumes in your regular diet, as they are generally feel-good foods, will make you feel full and give you energy
- You can also substitute one or two refined items with a plant-based food in a meal each day
- Gradually exclude red meat from your diet.
- If retaining chicken and fish in your diet, make sure that the chicken is skinless and opt for healthy fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna or mackerel for maximum omega 3 content.
- Try replacing one or two days of your week’s meals with a full vegetarian meal.
Backed by science
The health benefits of a plant-based diet are supported by scientific research. Cardiac disease is rated as the biggest single cause of death in first world nations, mainly due to poor lifestyle habits and unhealthy diets. Embracing a healthy diet can help lower your risk of a future heart attack and cardiovascular disease.