‘Tis the time to go plant-based. Due to the current health and environmental crises, many people are looking towards a whole food, plant-based diet for the solution. Quite literally, the most perfect diet we have to reduce risk for chronic disease, obtain and maintain optimal weight, enhance energy and athletic performance, and protect our planet and all its species is summed up by eating a diet based on whole plant foods.
Eating healthy can and should be fun and delicious. Instead of focusing on the foods you are trying to avoid, look for new ingredients, new recipes, and new meals to indulge in. Crowd out the unhealthy foods you tend to include with whole plant foods. Nowadays, there are hundreds of creative, enticing blogs and cookbooks filled with tasty and easy recipes. Find a few that sound tempting, shop for the ingredients, and try them out at home. When you find ones you love, save the recipe and add it to your repertoire.
Half your plate should be veggies and fruits. One quarter, whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, barley, buckwheat, as examples), and the last quarter legumes (beans, lentils, and peas). Eat about an ounce of nuts a day and/or 1-2 tablespoons of nutrient-dense seeds (flax, hemp, chia are packed with essential omega-3 fatty acids).
Variety is not only the spice of life, it is also necessary for accumulating a broad range of nutrients. Change up your foods based on color, season, and location of origin to maximize exposure.
The only vitamin not available from plants is vitamin B12. It is critical to ensure you are taking it in from a reliable source. The best way is to supplement with 2000-2500 micrograms per week.
The best foods come direct from nature. Always opt for the whole-est version of any food choice. In other words, select cooked whole wheat over sprouted bread, which is better than wheat bread, which is better than white bread. Stay as close to the original source as often as possible.
The food industry has enjoyed joining in the excitement of the vegan movement and you can literally find anything veganized now. From multiple types of dairy-free cheeses and decadent plant milk ice creams to faux fish, sausage, and meatballs. However, these foods are not healthy just because they are vegan. The goal for optimal health is to eat as unprocessed as possible. So, look for the simple whole food products and enjoy these processed foods as treats.
The only negative side effect of eating a plant-based diet is the reaction you may get from friends, family, and acquaintances when they hear what you are (not) eating. Remember that when you suggest that animal products and processed foods are not healthy (or harmful to the environment and animals, etc.), people are unintentionally forced to evaluate what they are (have been) eating. Defenses come out and people eagerly search for reasons you may not be doing the right thing - like possible nutrient deficiencies or lack of variety. Just reassure them you are doing what is best for you and only offer responses if you feel you want to. Believe in your choices and know that you may be up against some criticism.
When dining out and traveling, make sure you know where you are going and whether there will be food options available. If you are unsure, it always helps to bring some small snacks or meals on the go. At restaurants, scour menus and read between the lines to see all the plant-based options available. Then, graciously request a combination of possible options. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many restaurants have multiple plant-based dishes already listed on the menu and by how accommodating and creative many chefs will be. When traveling, use an app like happycow.net to find veg-friendly restaurants and stores.
Social support is hugely critical to your success. Find like minded friends in meetup groups, online on social networking sites, and at conferences and events. There are veggie fests in every major city where you will meet hundreds of plant-passionate people to inspire and support you all year long.
Have compassion with yourself as you embark on this journey. If you are not perfect or 100% immediately, forgive yourself and note the difference in how you feel. Take one step at a time and make this a loving, exciting adventure that will positively impact your life forever.
The most perfect diet we have available to us that improves vitality, decreases risk for chronic disease, and enhances energy is a whole food, plant-based diet. When transitioning to eating this way, ease into it by incorporating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, whole grains, legumes, and small doses of nuts and seeds. Eat the rainbow every day and stay as close to nature as possible. Have fun on your journey exploring new ingredients, recipes, and flavor combinations, and know you are impacting your health, the planet, animals, and humanity on multiple powerful levels. Follow this advice and also look to this Plant-based dietician's food guide pyramid for more information.
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Photo Credits: Sampler plates at Café by Tao, Organic Raw Vegan Café in North Vancouver by Flickr: Jennifer; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com