According to recent statistics compiled by the Vegetarian Resource Group, almost half of all Americans eat a vegetarian meal at least once per week, and about 9 million American adults consider themselves to be vegetarian or vegan. Whether it’s a result of the Meatless Monday push, or documentaries like Food Inc. or Forks Over Knives, or the endorsement of numerous celebrities, Americans seem to be embracing the plant-based diet, and good for us! Literally. Here’s what, why and how to jump on the bandwagon, and with the start of a new year looming, there’s no time like today to get started.
WHAT IS A PLANT-BASED DIET?
While vegetarian and vegan diets are defined by what they exclude, a plant-based diet is defined by what it includes -- lots of plant foods! This means eating more veggies, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds instead of animal products and processed foods. At a minimum, a plant-based diet means eating more whole plant foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less animal products.
WHY EAT A PLANT-BASED DIET?
- Plant-Based Foods Provide Energy. Before the body can turn cooked food into usable fuel, it must produce enzymes to aid in the digestion process. A healthy person can create these enzymes, but it costs energy. As we get older our enzyme production naturally slows down; if we are not getting enough enzyme-rich foods in our regular diet, our enzyme-production system will have to work even harder. Plant-based foods, particularly raw foods, are easily digested and assimilated, which directly translates into additional energy by means of an increase in net gain.
- Plant-Based Foods Help You Conserve Energy. When the body doesn’t have to expend a lot of energy digesting, it can conserve energy for other functions. Plant-based foods are high-net-gain foods that deliver us energy by way of conservation as opposed to consumption. When eating, we begin spending digestive resources in an effort to convert energy stored within food—calories—into usable sustenance to fulfill our biological requirements. By eating more plant-based foods, you loose less energy during the process leaving more for your daily activities.
- Eating More Plant-Based Foods Will Help You Sleep Better. In addition to feeling better while you are awake, proper nutrition can help you sleep better. Balanced nutrition provides building material to replace aging cells with new, vibrant ones. Nutrient-dense, whole food reduces stress; a healthy diet improves cortisol levels and thus the quality of sleep. Better rested people do not crave sugary and starchy foods, since they simply do not require their stimulating energy. And in turn, high-quality sleep makes it easier to maintain a healthy diet.
- It is better for the environment. Animal farming and processing has a tremendous impact on our environment and is one of the leading drivers of climate change. It takes about 15 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef and about 5 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of chicken. We grow a lot of grain to feed animals, but we would use less water and other energy resources if we ate the grain ourselves. Eating less meat is one way we can all do our part for the environment.
HOW TO START EATING MORE PLANTS
Every time you shop, make it a goal to fill most of your grocery cart from the produce department and the whole grains section. Choose a variety for both meals and snacks. Try to skip the beef entirely, and when buying chicken, fish, eggs or dairy, try to buy organic and buy less. Start by trying some new meatless recipes and get in the habit of making one or two each week. Before long, you’ll realize the more healthy plant foods you eat, the better you’ll feel, and the easier it will be.