Our modern world makes it difficult for us to be healthy. Everything from certain chronic diseases, joint and skeletal problems, cancer, hypertension, excess weight, sleep trouble, and mental health struggles can be attributed or exacerbated by an unhealthy lifestyle. Sleeping too little, not drinking enough water, eating fatty foods, constantly staring at screens, staying inside all day, and sitting still for hours are bad for our bodies- plain and simple. It’s so convenient to get off work and grab dinner from a drive-thru, then come home and eat it in front of the TV!
While the world we live in makes it hard to be healthy, it doesn’t make it impossible. If you want to have not only a long life but one that is healthy and happy, make today the day you focus more on wellness. One great option to cut a lot of unhealthy calories and cholesterol from your day is to move toward a plant-based diet.
What is plant-based?
Plant-based eating focuses on foods primarily from plants. “How can I possibly commit to eating only plants?” you may be saying. It’s actually not nearly as difficult, or as bland, as you may fear. Beyond fruits and vegetables, this also means nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans.
You won’t be missing out on what your body needs! Plant-based diets offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often much higher in fiber and other phytonutrients than similar options with meat. Just about any food made from a meat source can also be made from black beans, which is significantly higher in fiber and lower in calories.
It’s important to note that plant-based eating is not the same as being a vegetarian or vegan. A plant-based diet doesn’t mean you never eat meat or dairy. Instead, you are making a conscious effort to choose more of your foods from plant sources. As a simple example, a ceasar salad with lettuce, tomato, croutons, and ceasar dressing would be plant-based even though ceasar dressing has dairy.
Why is plant-based healthier?
There’s a plethora of information regarding why the meat industry is considered harmful to both animals and the Earth. Instead of focusing on any of this, we’ll instead tell you why limiting your meat intake is better for your body.
Your sleep plays a crucial role in your overall wellness. Did you know that eating less meat makes it easier to sleep at night? It’s true! Meat protein is particularly difficult for your body to digest. If you eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime, you may find that falling asleep and staying asleep is a struggle. Your stomach is working hard to break your meal down, and the rumbling and grumbling you feel lets you know that. This is particularly true if you have Sleep Apnea. A recent study by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that animal-based products worsen the condition. It isn’t just about meat being not-so-great for you. It’s also about plants being really, really good for you! Plant based foods are beneficial for sleep because they stimulate the release of serotonin, which helps us to sleep.
Beyond the effects a plant-based diet has on your sleep, it has also been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers (colon, breast, and prostate), and depression. In senior citizens, a plant-based diet decreases the risk of frailty, along with better mental and physical function.
How to begin this healthy new lifestyle
We prefer to think of this as transitioning into a better, health-focused lifestyle rather than starting a “diet.” This isn’t a quick fix for losing weight or curing a chronic condition, but rather a style of eating that should be adopted in order to live a healthier lifestyle for years to come. That being said, it’s actually pretty easy to do. A few tips is all it takes to move into eating more plants and less meat:
#1 Change how you think about meat. Remember, this doesn’t mean you can never take a bite of meat again. Thinking about it as an all-or-nothing thing makes the transition feel much harder than it needs to be. Choose to have smaller amounts and use it as a garnish instead of the centerpiece of the meal. Add blackened shrimp to your salad. Top your morning bagel with a few ounces of salmon.
#2 Don’t make yourself miserable! For any new lifestyle to be sustainable, it needs to be filled with pleasure. Online, you’ll find delicious recipes like meatless chili that taste just as good as the meat-filled kind. Look into fruit-based dessert options.
#3 Eat lots of vegetables. Your goal should be to fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner. This doesn’t mean eating a massive plate of broccoli. That wouldn’t be sustainable or even very healthy. Include plenty of variety in choosing your vegetables. Bake a spinach and artichoke quiche. Yes, this is plant-based even though it has eggs. Dip carrots in hummus. Make tasty bowls of black bean salsa and guacamole to pair with chips.
#4 Start your day with whole grains. If you’re not sure if you can start your day with vegetables, you’re not alone. Instead of grabbing a sausage biscuit on the way to work, try oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley as the mainstay of your breakfast. Then add some nuts, fresh fruit, cinnamon, or other spices.
#5 Don’t avoid fat; choose good fats. In recent decades, the concept of fat in foods has gotten a really bad reputation. The truth is your body needs fat, as long as it’s the right kind. The fats found in avocados, olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, and nut butters are healthy choices. These good, unsaturated fats lower disease risk, not raise them.
Are you ready to get healthier, sleep better, lower your risk for certain diseases, and exercise more easily? If you said yes, it’s time to make the switch to a plant-based lifestyle. Your future self will thank you!