Food is so much more than just fuel; it shapes our daily life, mindset and our health.
At age 46, I was diagnosed with autoimmune disease. My immune system was attacking my healthy cells. Frequent eye inflammations caused terrible pain which resulted in temporary loss of vision accompanied with pain, stiffness, and tenderness on both sides of the body. Doctors wanted to put me on costly prescriptions with enormous side effects. They said this would help “manage” my disease. But nothing felt right about the pharmaceutical path they had laid out for me. I felt there must be a better way, and I wanted to know more about how the foods I was eating were impacting my health. I researched, read studies and reached out to experts who helped me develop a plant based nutritional plan. I was on the right path. Within eight months, all my symptoms disappeared. It was truly extraordinary, and I felt more alive than ever before.
We have all heard the term “plant-based diet,” but what exactly does that mean? Does it mean all you can eat is leafy greens…? A plant-based diet, as the name suggests, is an eating lifestyle in which most, if not all, the foods consumed, come from plants. Vegetarian, vegan and raw diets are all forms of plant-based diets. There are several others you have probably heard of that are popular for health reasons, including the Mediterranean Diet and Okinawan Diet. Basically, it’s about a diet that emphasizes eating more produce and plant products instead of animal-based foods. What does it look like in practice? An abundance of whole fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, seeds, and spices!
“ THERE IS A CORRELATION BETWEEN ANIMAL BASED DIETS AND HEART DISEASE, DIABETES, AND CANCER ”
Research spanning more than three decades, with most experts agreeing with the same conclusion: there is a correlation between animal-based diets and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization recently made a bold claim, concluding that processed meats are deadly carcinogens, putting them in the same category as asbestos and tobacco.
The idea of changing your eating habits can seem daunting, but the benefits of a plant-based diet are so extraordinary that it is a choice everyone should seriously consider. As a certified nutritionist, I have seen the impact it can have on people. Putting the right foods in your body can make a huge change, including losing weight, gaining energy, and decreasing or eliminating medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Often people report that their emotional outlook is stronger, and their sexual health improved. These are results that anyone can achieve by adopting a plant-based diet and having the right system of support along the way.
However, the benefits of a plant-based diet are not limited to disease prevention – I believe the benefits also extend into disease reversal. It is a bold claim, but it is one I make based on my personal experience and those of many people whom I have personally worked with.
Making healthy changes doesn’t require a complete overhaul of one’s diet. Everyone needs to start at their own pace and slowly make the changes required. Below are five tips to help to incorporate plant-based foods into a new, healthier lifestyle:
1. Start the day with whole grains. Ditch the eggs and milk for quinoa, oatmeal, or a whole wheat egg and dairy free pancake. Add in favourite nuts and fresh fruits.
2. Lead with vegetables. Try filling at least half of the plate with colourful vegetables and fruits at lunchtime and dinnertime. Choose a variety of vibrant colours and dip the vegetables into homemade condiments like salsa and hummus.
3. Good fats are the way to go. Olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds all have the type of fat that our bodies need.
4. Meatless Monday. Transition into a healthier lifestyle by picking one day each week to create meals with beans, vegetables, or whole grains.
5. Green is the new favourite colour. Experiment with a variety of leafy greens such as kale, collards, silver beet (Swiss chard), and spinach. Be creative in your preparations, steaming, grilling, and braising.
“ THROUGH AN EVOLUTION OF CHOICES, YOUR PALATE WILL DEVELOP OVER TIME ”
For many, the real challenge is developing new habits that meet their goal of living a longer, healthier life. Working with a professional nutritionist will offer encouragement, a plan of action and accountability. This is the integral first ingredient towards eating a more plant-based diet.
Through an evolution of choices, your palate will develop over time. A plant-based diet focuses more on the abundance of what we can eat instead of depriving us of what we shouldn’t. You may discover a whole new delicious world!
It is important to know that the food we consume is filled with meaning, communication and information. The food choices we make send messages to our bodies and directly influence our health and wellbeing, our body composition and our performance. Making environmentally friendly and sustainable food decisions are equally important and go hand in hand with proper nutrition. When we pay attention to what we eat and make mindful and careful choices, we almost certainly eat better. What’s good for the planet is usually good for us.