With Celebrities from the likes of Ariana Grande, Brad Pitt, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé all endorsing the benefits of plant-based diets, you are probably wondering whether this is just another diet fad.
Sceptical? I was too.
My husband has been a vegetarian for 25 years; and I admit when we first met, I was highly sceptical. Like any warm-blooded human brought up on African soil, I loved meat and the thought of giving it up seemed completely ridiculous.
Fast forward 5 years and I am fully-fledged veg who dabbles in veganism. Needless to say, I took some convincing, but the more research I did, the more it made sense why I should eat a plant-based diet. I suffer from hypothyroidism and developed an auto-immune disease in my early 30’s; going plant-based has been the best thing I could have done for my health, wellbeing and my gut!
What exactly is a plant-based diet?
Strictly plant-based (aka veganism) is a diet based on whole foods, fruit and vegetables with no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy or honey; it further limits sugar and processed foods. But plant-based eating can be done in varying degrees; some people choose to eat mostly plant-based with allowances for some animal products such as eggs and honey, others include dairy too. It is worth saying that most people who go vegan generally do so more for ethical reasons.
Now that you know what it is…. Should you (and your family) try it?
Absolutely 100% yes!
Let me lay it out for you and you can decide for yourself
Firstly, whole foods plant-based (WFPB) is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. In adopting it, your whole life will change (mine did!).
The health benefits of eating WFPB include a lower risk of developing chronic lifestyle diseases such as Hypertension, Cardiovascular Disease, Type II Diabetes and Insulin Resistance. In fact, there is a great deal of research proving that eating a WFPB diet can actually reverse these diseases (see reference links below). It is protective of the development of many cancers; helps with weight loss and weight management. Your gut health and microbiome will improve incredibly AND it is better for the environment and the animals (BONUS)!
So, how do you do it?
Ease into It.
Like any lifestyle change, I suggest doing it gradually. I wouldn’t recommend going fully plant-based in one go. You need time to adjust your taste buds and implement the changes. Your body needs time to adapt to the different foods you will be eating, which are high in fibre, so you want to give your gut a little time to adjust.
A good way of going about it is to cut your meat servings down to 2-3 a week and go from there. If you want to cut down on dairy milk you can mix plant-based kinds of milk (almond, coconut, oat or rice milk) into your cow’s milk starting with a higher ratio of cow’s milk and then reducing the ratio of cow’s milk until you are using fully plant-based milk.
Knowledge is definitely power.
The more informed you are the better you can implement WFPB eating into your lifestyle. You should understand how to include all the nutrients that you and your kids still need from plant-based sources. If you’re cutting out meat and dairy completely, Iron and Vitamin B12 are ones to be aware of. There are plenty of good plant-based sources of iron like lentils, chickpeas, beans, cashew nuts, raisins and quinoa.
The good news is that both macro and micronutrients from plants are highly bioavailable and your body processes them much better than those from animal-based sources.
Don’t Become a Carbotarian!
Most people tend to replace meat on their plates with carbohydrates like rice, bread and potatoes. Whilst you can eat these foods, remember that isn’t the point of the exercise. The idea is to replace meat with vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Don’t focus on what you aren’t eating; focus on what you are. Think about how good the food you are eating is for your health and be adventurous with cooking. That way you don’t feel as though you’re depriving yourself. Most importantly – ensure that you are choosing nutrient-dense foods.
Do It Together.
My kids ate meat even after I adopted a plant-based diet. I was cooking two different meals at every mealtime. Eventually, I just stopped doing it, and to my surprise – no complaints! (Okay, I do get the odd grumble here and there about broccoli but let’s face it, very few people actually LOVE broccoli, so I don’t blame them).
I took the time to explain the benefits of eating more plants and then started cooking one meal for the whole family. I included them in the process, meal planning and talking about what veggie dishes they would enjoy. It’s always easier to make a lifestyle change like this when the whole family is on board. The benefits to your children’s health in the long term are worth it.
(As Always!) Be Organized
This should not be a chore. Meal planning and stocking your fridge and pantry with staple ingredients is essential to keep the process stress free. All you need to do is go to Pinterest or Google and search ‘Plant-Based Recipes’. Really! It’s that simple!
Create a Pinterest folder with your family’s favourite recipes as you go along, but don’t be afraid to experiment with new flavours and styles of cooking too. I recently discovered Thai plant-based recipes and we are enjoying the spicier flavours in my home right now. I’ve also adapted a lot of my children’s favourite meat recipes to plant-based ones using beans, lentils and chickpeas.
Stay away from processed foods.
There are plenty of meat substitutes out there – veggie burger patties, sausages, vegetarian ‘chicken’ nuggets; I suggest steering clear of these, they are high in sodium and extremely processed. Rather cook up a batch of homemade vegetarian burgers on a Sunday and have a family cookout (see my favourite recipe below). Vegetables like butternut and corn on the cob taste great when cooked on a braai so you won’t be missing out.
In the beginning, it may take time to enjoy the new foods you are eating, and you might even feel for a piece of steak every now and then; your kids might want Nandos for dinner, go with the flow, don’t stress it. If you find you’re enjoying the changes to your diet and the health benefits that come with it, eventually you will manage to cut out meat, fish and poultry completely.
It took me the better part of 3 years to transition to fully vegetarian and then another year to reduce my dairy and egg intake to minimal amounts. You don’t even have to go all the way. The more fruits, veggies and whole foods that you incorporate, even if there are some animal products in your diet – you will still reap massive health benefits.
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