It’s February and that means people are either in the groove with, or given up on, their New Years resolutions. This year saw a record number of people pledge to try a plant-based diet for Veganuary, with approximately 3 million people (In the US and Britain) taking a pledge to go vegan for the month. It is estimated that half of those that tried Veganuary in 2018 kept it going all year!
Veganism and plant-based living are certainly enjoying their day in the sun. More and more people are starting to realize that eating more plants and less animal foods is a recipe for longer, disease-free living that is better for the planet, and yes, even for your pocketbook.
If you are here, you are one of those people. You’ve probably already thought about why a plant-based diet, or adding more plant foods to your diet, is for you. Or, you are already vegan and looking for new recipes and meal planning inspiration.
Here are some specific reasons to keep you motivated as you shift your diet or continue your plant based journey.
Reason #1: Your Health
A whole-food plant-based diet has been shown to reduce rates of obesity, Type II Diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. (A lot of information about this is on the Forks Over Knives website).
What does whole-food plant based mean?
Whole-foods means eating foods in their natural form, not processed with excess sugar, salt or refining. I think we all know intuitively that this is the healthiest way to eat. BUT, My personal philosophy and diet is not totally whole-food based and I will talk more about that in other posts. I just think it’s really important not to make this shift about perfection and making a drastic change that is not sustainable.
Plant-based means most or all of your foods come from plant sources, and not from animals. So, no meat, dairy, eggs, fish, gelatin or other by-products. At first this may seem like a big restriction but most people once they start eating plant-based realize they can eat much more plant food because it does not contain all the unhealthy fats and things that were making them sick. Also, if you are eating whole plants, you don’t have to read all the labels and worry about avoiding hidden ingredients.
A good recommendation for easing into a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet comes from Dr. McDougall, author of The Starch Solution and other books, who suggests adding 1,000 calories a day of legumes, whole grains, and starchy vegetables to your diet. You will naturally feel more full and have less desire to eat animal foods.
Reason #2: It’s never been easier to be vegan
The good news is that if you DO miss cheese and certain animal foods there is a whole new world of vegan processed products on the market that mimic those comfort foods. They may not be as healthy or cheap but may help you feel satisfied as you transition. It’s especially helpful if you are transitioning kids to a plant based diet to be able to offer them such familiar foods as ‘chicken’ nuggets and cheese.
I’m being real about this because the truth is that shifting your diet is a big deal for people and not instantly easy; it’s something they would rather not deal with and fall back on old habits and comfort foods. If you don’t know how to cook or have no interest in cooking, this can be especially hard. Most people only transition after a really big threat to their health or an epiphany about animal rights because those are strong motivators.
The thing is, if you are young or in relatively good health, this is actually a PERFECT time for you to start eating more plant-based. You will be doing yourself a HUGE favor healthwise by avoiding long term damage to your body with animal foods and processed or fast foods. A good rule of thumb is to keep processed foods at about 20% or less of your daily intake.
I do want to stress that ‘replacement’ vegan meats are really not a replacement food. They are more of a fun or convenience food. You do not need to ‘replace’ any ‘lost’ nutrients when you stop eating meat and dairy. Especially protein! Eating a variety of whole foods every day supplies you with all the nutrients and protein you need. (If you don’t believe me, check out Torre Washington, a vegan body builder who uses no supplements.)
(side rant — when I first went vegan 12 years ago, we didn’t have many good cheese replacements and limited fake meats. We were pretty much default whole-foods based. Now you can literally find any animal-like product in a plant-based version. It’s a really awesome time to be vegan without sacrificing any taste or comfort.)
So what do vegans eat?
The main food groups for plant-based eaters are:
Beans & legumes
Vegetables & tubers
That’s it! The great thing is that grains, beans and starchy vegetables are pretty cheap (especially if you buy in bulk). I would say the main grains my family eats are rice and oats. We do eat some bread, but not much. Potatoes are also really cheap and can be whipped up into many cheese like concoctions (not joking!) or used as a base or side for many meals. Sweet potatoes are known to be one of the healthiest foods for stabilizing blood sugar because of the fiber content and micronutrients.
Fruits and veggies do not need to be expensive either. You can shop around (I can give my advice on where I think the best deals are) and do not always have to buy organic. If you are concerned about the use of pesticides on the environment and health, try to follow the ‘Dirty Dozen, Clean 15’ list.
Reason #3: Animals and the environment
Most people do start their plant-based journey with a focus on their health. I certainly did. In 2006 I had been dealing with chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis) for six years. Going vegan helped that a lot with reducing symptoms.
BUT the truth is, there are other compelling reasons to be vegan once you start digging deeper. And, there is evidence that people with a moral or ethical commitment to a lifestyle change are more likely to stick to it. That has definitely been true for myself. As a new vegan, anytime I wanted something not vegan, I would picture a baby cow being taken from their mom or watch footage from factory farms. Pretty soon I had no desire for that “food.”
I’m not going to lecture you with statistics or spam you with violent videos, because all that information is available to you via the internet if you are so inclined to look. I’ll just say that I feel better knowing that no animals (at least many many fewer) were harmed because of my diet.
As far as the environment, there are also a lot arguments saying that a plant-based diet is more efficient at moving protein and nutrients up the food chain, because, basically you are skipping a step (cows, pigs, chickens etc.) Eating plants means using less land and water to feed the same number of people. Again, there is lots of info on this already out there. A great place to start is the documentary Cowspiracy on Netflix.
Of course, there is controversy around these reasons and people will argue both sides. I tend to focus on the positive effects of a plant-based diet, as I believe those outweigh the objections. There are some foods in a vegan diet that you may want to skip though once you look more into the ethics of how they are obtained (palm oil).
It is really up to you. There are no hard and fast “rules” even if the “vegan police” tell you otherwise. I believe we all just do the best we can, with what we have, from where we are. Take control of your health and try vegan today!
I hope I can make this journey easier and more fulfilling for you and your family!