More and more people are switching to a plant-based diet for it’s many proven health and environmental benefits. The emerging evidence is piling up like soy chicken nuggets in a buddha bowl.
Studies suggest that plant-based eating is associated with:
- sustainable weight management (vegetarian diets were almost twice as effective in reducing body weight compared to calorie restriction, in this study),
- reduced risk of mortality
- lower risk of heart disease
- the prevention and treatment of hypertension (that’s high blood pressure),
- the prevention and treatment of high cholesterol and
- lowered risk of certain cancers.
(Note that most of these studies are short-term, observational and not demonstrating a direct causal relationship.)
As for the effects on climate change?
Meat and dairy production alone account for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (as much each year as from all cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined).
This isn’t to say that plant-foods aren’t damaging to the environment – it can take more water to grow nuts and peas than to produce the equivalent weight of beef (according to New Scientist’s 4 January 2020 issue) . Almonds require particularly large amounts of of land, pesticides and fertilizer (and now billions of bees are dying in the process). In Asia and South America large areas of forest have been cleared to grow oil palms…
But being vegan or vegetarian is surely the best for human health?
Not necessarily. Vegan and vegetarian diets are hugely popular but they’re not the best for everyone. There are several individual factors that determine which diet is best suited to you, based on your unique biology and your genetics. It’s worth doing your research and listening to your body (by doing personalized assesments like pathway-based genetic testing) before committing to a lifestyle change that might actually do more harm than good in the long run.
For example, some people are genetically more sensitive to dietary saturated fats (found mainly in animal products and to a lesser extent in plant foods) compared to others, who are able to have large amounts of saturated fats daily without it negatively affecting their blood lipids or impacting their cholesterol in a worrying way.
For people who are sensitive to gluten, soy, FODMAPs, or legumes, vegan and vegetarian diets can worsen symptoms and health outcomes.
Nutrient deficiencies (particularly B12, which is found only in animal-based foods and crucial to the brain and nervous system) are generally more common on vegan and vegetarian diets. More planning and support is needed to meet unique nutrient requirements again, something a genetic report will shed some light on for you)
You can be 100% perfectly plant-based and still have an unhealthy diet (think processed foods, baked goods made with refined flour, and too much fructose sneaking in, for example) Many foods that aren’t made with animals are still unhealthy.
The Mediterranean diet might still be our best move, all things considered.
Eating more plants (regardless of what else you’re eating) is beneficial for just about everyone. Simply increasing the fresh veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains is the best dietary approach for most.
The Mediterranean diet (ranked the ‘best diet of 2019’ by U.S. News and World Report) consists of mostly plants; some fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese; with yogurt and small amounts of meat less often. The Mediterranean diet has been shown in both large population studies and randomized clinical trials to reduce the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and potentially certain cancers (specifically colon, breast, and prostate cancer), depression, and in older adults, a decreased risk of frailty, along with better mental and physical function.
If you’re keen to give more veggies (and less meat) a try, here are some helpful plant-based diet tips to keep things simple and delicious for you.
1. Focus on the veggie meals you already enjoy eating.
I bet you can think of quite a few dishes you’ve always enjoyed that just happen to be plant-based? Things like a good roasted tomato soup or creamy squashed avocado on fresh sourdough toast with extra olive oil and sea salt; or a big colourful Mexican-style burrito bowl with sweet corn, black beans, guac, brown rice and salsa?
Make a point of having your existing favorites more frequently and soon your palette (and your cooking repertoire) will adapt and expand in favor of more and more plants on the plate.
2. Get curious. Pick a positive attitude.
Even change that’s good for us can be hard, mentally. Often we respond to a dietary change with resistance or even childlike rebellion. We obsess over what ‘we ‘have to give up’ and miss the opportunity of excitement over all the new things we get to try out.
Get curious about how you’re feeling every day (what’s different, if anything, about your energy levels, your sleep quality, your focus, weight, skin, what else?) Get creative in the kitchen and look for interesting new plants outside of your comfort zone (all the varieties of mushrooms, different types of beans, new ways to cook greens, all of the curries!)
3. Be one with beans, nuts and seeds.
Beans are a great stand-in for meat in certain recipes, adding heartiness, texture and protein. Use chickpeas in curries, black beans in chili and tacos, lentils in dal, you get the idea! Seek out less common varieties – there’s a whole world of beans out there waiting tfor you to discover them.
Nuts and seeds are awesome. Evidence suggests that eating nuts and seeds daily can lower inflammation as well as your risk of diabetes and heart disease and could lengthen your life. Eating nuts five to six times a week was linked to a 15% reduction in risk of death, and seven or more times a week to a 20% reduction. Yes, it’s nuts!
4. Greens are the greatest. Eat (and drink) them regularly as part of you plant-based diet.
Dark leafy greens are mega-healthy disease-zapping, age-delaying, brain-boosting plant foods that offer a variety of phytonutrients needed for your body to function at its best.
Try a variety of green leaves in all shapes and sizes – kale, collards, Swiss chard, baby spinach, rocket, lettuce, herbs! Besides blending into smoothies, there are many other delicious ways to prepare greens: Steam, grill, braise, stir-fry, or add them raw to soups and stews to preserve their flavor and nutrients. Green smoothies don’t have to be gross – Here are 5 Delicious Green Smoothie Recipes.
5. Reach for the right resources.
There are so many good plant-focused blogs, sites and magazines for recipes, tricks and more plant-based diet tips! Here are a few of our current favorites.
- Tenderly Mag – A friendly + radical vegan magazine dedicated to living well with kindness towards animals, care for the planet, and justice for all.
- Naturally Ella – Your best friend for vegetarian cooking. “The mission of Naturally Ella is to inspire families to have fun in the kitchen and cook a few more meatless meals.”
- The First Mess – cooking with natural, plant-based foods, eating seasonally, and sharing wholesome meals.
- My New Roots – How to make healthy choices everyday. Holistic Nutritionist Sarah Britton has been publishing her plant based whole food recipes on My New Roots since since 2007.
The topic of eating animals (and eating in general, let’s be honest) is touchy and emotional, steeped in ego and ideology. Ultimately what you eat is entirely your choice to make, no one else’s and there’s no need to explain your decisions or to to put yourself in a box to prove anything to anyone. Test, don’t guess, and do what works best for you, for now. You got this…
Do it for your genome.
Daily Choices is an online wellness publication dedicated to delivering fresh evidence-based advice to a community of people who are curious about how to feel - and live- better.
By sharing what we know about modern health and nutrigenomics (that’s food x genes), we hope to inspire you to figure out which lifestyle choices might bring you closer to the life you want.
We believe every body is unique and that health is a personal, daily choice. Get a deeper understanding of your body’s unique needs and choose what’s right for you.