The plant-based meal:
There are many arguments about which diet is best for you. Nevertheless, health and wellness communities agree that diets emphasizing plant-based foods are superior for overall wellness. There is no clear definition of what constitutes a plant-based diet. The plant-based diet is not necessarily a set diet — it’s more of a lifestyle. This is because plant-based diets can vary greatly depending on the extent to which a person includes animal products in their diet. While one person following a plant-based diet may eat no animal products, another may eat small amounts of eggs, poultry, seafood, meat or dairy.
The main advantages of a plant-based diet seem to be more related to the foods you’re eating lots of (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts) rather than those you’re eating less of (meat). “When you base your meals on plant foods, you’re packing your diet with the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that most Americans don’t get enough of,” says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., editor of Environmental Nutrition. Plant-based diets are also full of phytochemicals, compounds that help keep many of your body’s systems running smoothly.
A healthy plant-based meal should consist of proper portions of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy protein, and healthy oils. What does this look like? The Harvard Health Eating Plate is a helpful visual guide created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health and editors at Harvard Health Publishing.
The health benefits of a plant-based diet:
When you consider Bill Clinton’s svelte physique post-heart surgery and Paul McCartney’s on-stage energy, it may seem that vegetarianism is a fountain of youth. And a strong body of research supports the idea that a plant-based diet can boost your health, decreasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, and helping you stay at a healthy weight. It can even lengthen your life, according to a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine that tracked more than 70,000 people.
A 2014 study from the American Heart Association showed that men ages 45 to 79 who ate 75 grams or more per day of processed red meat, like cold cuts, sausage, bacon, and hot dogs, had a 28% higher risk of heart failure compared with men who ate less than 25 grams. Hot dogs and lunch meats are linked to increased risks for health issues like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and higher mortality. Of particular concern among health experts and doctors are nitrates, preservatives added to hot dogs from synthetic materials or natural sources that give the meat longer shelf life and more color. When digested, nitrates turn into nitrites, which have been linked to cancer in test subject animals. The meat used for hot dogs and lunchmeat comes from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where animals are fed low-quality food and kept in crowded, unhygienic conditions. Hot dogs and lunch meat contains listeria monocytogenes that cause flu-like symptoms and gastrointestinal distress. According to a study published in Cancer Causes & Control, consuming processed meat increases the risk of childhood leukemia. According to Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, processed meat causes cancer.
Obesity is an issue of epidemic proportions. In fact, over 69% of US adults are overweight or obese. Fortunately, making dietary and lifestyle changes can facilitate weight loss and have a lasting impact on health. Many studies have shown that plant-based diets are beneficial for weight loss. The high fiber content of the plant-based diet, along with the exclusion of processed foods like soda and candy, is a winning combination for shedding excess pounds. A review of 12 studies that included more than 1,100 people found that those assigned to plant-based diets lost significantly more weight — about 2kg over an average of 18 weeks — than those assigned to non-vegetarian diets. Adopting a healthy plant-based eating pattern may also help keep weight off in the long run. A study in 65 overweight and obese adults found that those assigned to a plant-based diet lost significantly more weight than the control group and were able to sustain that weight loss of 4.2kg over a one-year follow-up period.
One of the greatest benefits of a plant-based diet is the way it supports our immune systems, largely found in our gut. Plant-based foods are full of vitamin C that powers and strengthens the immune system, along with vitamin A, also needed for optimal immunity and wellness. Even just adding more fruits and vegetables to any existing diet is one of the best ways to improve immunity, though it’s also important to eliminate the sources of antibiotics in your diet that kill good bacteria cells needed for a healthy immune system too. These antibiotics can come from medications, anti-bacterial soaps, and any animal-foods that are made from animals given antibiotics, which usually boils down to conventionally-raised (not organic) animal-based food products. Exercising, not smoking, and managing stress are also important for your immune system. Along with a healthy lifestyle, a plant-based diet will support your body to help you manage stress since it contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber that benefit your blood pressure, blood sugar, and hormones that all affect how your body responds to stress.
Anecdotal evidence from those embracing plants and limiting meat, fish and dairy, talks about how good such a diet can be for skin quality and anti-aging. Plant-based foods, including hemp, contain a wide array of skin-healthy nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all needed for healthy skin. These are more bountiful in those filling their plates with more veggies in place of other foods. Researchers from University of St. Andrews in Scotland found after six weeks of increasing their daily servings of fruits and vegetables, participants showed changes to their skin usually associated with healthy radiance. Researchers have discovered that the majority of the antioxidants which neutralise free radicals found to accelerate ageing come from plants. Fruit and vegetables are abundant in vitamins C and E which are powerful antioxidants credited for destroying free radicals. By doing so they slow the formation of wrinkles. At the same time the antioxidants in plants reduce inflammation in the body and help collagen generation – this makes the skin more elastic and slows down the ageing process.
Top health reasons to eat plant-based:
1. Plant-based diets help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
2. Eating mostly plants can improve your skin.
3. A plant-based diet supports good gut health.
4. A plant-based diet makes weight control significantly easier.
The environmental benefits of a plant-based diet:
Research shows there's another good reason to regularly eat meatless meals. By filling your plate with plant foods instead of animal foods, you can help save the planet.
Advocates of a plant-based diet have long been aware that what we choose to eat is one of the most significant factors in the personal impact we have on the environment. Switching from a meat-based diet to a diet based on grains, fruits and vegetables reduces water and land use, lowers pollution, slows deforestation and reduces destruction of topsoil, among other benefits.
For an example of how animal foods compare with plant-based foods in terms of environmental effects, consider that beef is more than 100 times as emissions-intensive as legumes. This is because a cow needs, on average, 22 lbs of feed, often from grains, to grow 2 lbs of body weight, and that feed will have required water, land and fertilizer inputs to grow. This means we need to grow 16,500lbs of food just to feed one full grown Holstein cow that weighs an average of about 1,500 lbs! In addition, cows emit the potent greenhouse gas methane during digestion, which makes cows and other ruminants such as sheep especially high-emitting.
Examining almost 50 years’ worth of data from the world’s 100 most populous countries, University of Minnesota Professor of Ecology G. David Tilman and graduate student Michael Clark illustrate how current diet trends are contributing to ever-rising agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and habitat degradation. Using life-cycle analyses of various food production systems, the study also calculated that, if current trends prevail, these 2050 diets would also lead to an 80 percent increase in global greenhouse gas emissions from food production as well as habitat destruction due to land clearing for agriculture around the world.
If each and every person in the United States gave up meat and dairy products on one or more days of the week, we would save the environment from thousands of tons of carbon emissions. In fact, in one year, animal husbandry creates as much carbon emissions as the entire transportation sector.
Similarly, by reducing our animal-based foods consumption, we would reduce our water use at least by half as animal husbandry utilizes more than 50% of fresh water.
These reductions would reduce the direct and indirect threats to Earth’s health and habitability for us, and for all wildlife, flora, and fauna.
As for nutritional concerns: Pound-for-pound, gallon-for-gallon, animal-sourced foods use vastly more water and carbon to produce than plant-based foods. However; ounce-for-ounce, the amount of protein that you get from plant-sources, such as legumes, seeds, and grains, is closely on par, plus full of other healthful nutrients including fiber, sterols, stanols, and vitamins and minerals.
Research consistently shows that drastically reducing animal food intake and mostly eating plant foods is one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet over your lifetime, in terms of energy required, land used, greenhouse gas emissions, water used and pollutants produced.
Making the change to a plant-based lifestyle
What is the right plant-based diet for you? You don't need to go full vegetarian or vegan (avoiding all animal products, even eggs and dairy) to get the best heart health benefits. The focus should be on eating more of the right plants, avoiding the wrong kind, eliminating unhealthy foods, and moderating your intake of healthier animal products. A heart-healthy diet doesn't need to be daunting either. "For many people, this may be a matter of switching out their current foods". For instance, replace cold cuts with organic veggie deli slices, hot dogs with organic veggie dogs, and cheese with organic plant-based cheese. Choose oatmeal instead of processed cereal, and water instead of juice drinks.
If embracing a plant-based diet feels intimidating, then begin small. A moderate change in your diet, such as lowering your animal food intake by one to two servings per day and replacing it with organic meat alternatives as your protein source, can have a lasting positive impact on your health. Becoming a flexitarian means you can eat meat and still get the health rewards of a vegetarian lifestyle. Research shows that flexitarians—those who make plant foods the star of their diet, with meat, fish, dairy, and eggs playing a supporting role—are healthier than frequent meat eaters in categories such as colon cancer and heart-disease risk, and overall mortality.
A “less meat, more plants” style of eating can also help improve the quality of your life. In addition, it’s associated with higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in the gut, and research suggests that it lowers the risk of heart disease, inflammatory diseases, and type 2 diabetes.
Reducing the amount of meat you eat is, simply put, the best thing you can do for the environment and for your health. When you eat plant-based, you'll start building a mindset that promotes healthy eating habits for the rest of your life.
Green Slice makes a plant-based diet more appealing and accessible with soy-free meat & cheese alternatives powered by organic goodness.
This journey is yours. Enjoy each and every little moment.