We’re kicking off our quarter-of-a-century celebration with 25 things you need to know about eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet. While everybody (and every body) is different, a plant-based approach to eating is scientifically proven to improve health, lower the risk of disease, and much more. Here’s everything you need to know about taking the plant-based plunge:
1. You don’t have to only eat plants
A whole-foods, plant-based diet emphasizes plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and beans, while minimizing animal products and processed items.
2. Plants are packed with nutrients
Plant-based foods are nutrient based, and therefore, extra efficient. While meat and dairy can center on one central nutrient, plants contain many. For example, kale provides protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, sulfur, calcium, and ALA.
3. It can reduce (and even reverse) chronic degenerative conditions
Studies and research show that eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet can help reduce the risk of certain types of cancers and reduce the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline.
4. You will save hundreds of animals
Yes, you alone can save hundreds of animals from by consuming meat in moderation.
5. It makes losing weight easy
On a plant-based diet you can eat your way to weight loss. Think about it. Many plant foods only have 10 to 50 calories per cup, so if you eat these foods (as opposed to processed foods), you can eat more and consume less calories.
6. It conserves water
More than half of all water consumed in the U.S. is used for animal agriculture. Further, the meat and dairy industry uses a third of the entire planet’s fresh water.
7. You’ll eat your water, not just drink it
One way to improve your health is to drink a lot of water. But, did you know that you can also hydrate with plant foods? By eating water-dense fruits and vegetables (like cucumber or watermelon), you will hydrate your body at a cellular level.
8. You’ll get your protein
Many people fear protein deficiency when switching to a plant-based diet. But, the truth is, these important nutrients aren’t just found in meats. Beans, broccoli, peas and even pumpkin seeds are high in protein, giving your body the nutrients it needs, without the meat.
9. It can boost your mood
A plant-based diet can improve symptoms of depression. Fruits and veggies naturally lower inflammation in the body, which is a contributing factor to depression.
10. Your skin will thank you
Speaking of lowered inflammation, this plant-based perk will also save your skin. Less inflammation in the body means less risk of acne (especially the painful, cystic kind). And let’s not forget the hydration boost from water-dense fruits and veggies; this will boost skin elasticity and prevent wrinkles.
11. It doesn’t mean anemia
Another common misconception of plant-based diets is that they cause anemia, a blood condition caused by low iron levels. We’re here to bust that myth. Much like protein, iron can be found in many sources other than meat. Leafy greens, potatoes, mushrooms, quinoa, squash, beans, cashews (shall we go on?) are all powerful sources of iron.
12. You’ll finally get enough fiber
Many Americans run around worrying about protein intake, while completely ignoring fiber. In reality, 97% of Americans get enough protein, but less than 3% get enough fiber. Fiber isn’t found in meat or dairy; instead, it resides in plants. By switching to a plant-based diet, you’ll naturally up your fiber intake, reaping some powerful health benefits along the way.
13. You’ll have more energy
That’s right, going plant-based can keep you awake and alert! The typical American diet is filled with processed foods and sugar, which cause spikes in sugar levels. The spikes inevitably decline, leading to that all-too-familiar crash in the afternoon. High-fiber diets, on the other hand, help your body to regulate sugar levels, allowing you to avoid the afternoon slump.
14. It aids digestion
Many of us know the nightmare that is lactose intolerance. However, dairy can cause digestive discomfort and irregularity even in people who haven’t been diagnosed with intolerance. By cutting down on dairy, while simultaneously upping your fiber intake, you can improve digestion and become more “regular.”
15. You’ll be fuller, longer
If you’re envisioning a growling stomach on a plant-based diet, think again. High fiber diets help to keep you satisfied longer and curb cravings. Meanwhile, processed foods and sugars do the opposite - their low nutrient count causes hunger and snacking in between meals.
16. It doesn’t cost a fortune
You’ll be eating plenty of whole grains and legumes, which cost far less than meats, fish or dairy at the grocery store. Most meats also expire fairly quickly, which can lead to wasted food when it’s not prepared in time.
17. You can go out to eat - and enjoy it
Just because you’re on a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to skip out on restaurants. (It also doesn’t mean you have to sit there with a bowl of lettuce while your friends chow down on burgers). Many restaurants are starting to offer vegetarian or vegan options, and not just the expensive ones. Popular chains, such as Panera, Chipotle, and even Cheesecake Factory offer an array of plant-based dishes.
18. You can eat burgers
Okay, okay, not traditional burgers. But plant-based burger patties are becoming more widely available at grocery stores and restaurants. Beyond Meat, in particular, has gained a lot of press lately for its similarity to red meat patties. (Even meat-eaters are showing an appreciation for this meatless burger).
19. It’ll protect your vision
Studies show that diets rich in antioxidants can work to prevent cataracts. Colorful fruits and veggies - especially grapes, kiwis and kale - have been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts, keeping your vision clear.
20. It can limit the effects of climate change
You mean eating more fruits and veggies can help save Mother Nature? Well, yes. The dark impact that processed foods have on our environment can be lessened as more people adopt plant-based diets.
21. You’ll keep your cholesterol in check
If you’re worried about your cholesterol, a plant-based diet might be just what the doctor prescribed. Meats and dairy are extremely high in cholesterol, while plants are low in cholesterol and high in fiber. Fiber regulates the absorption and production of cholesterol in the body, which prevents heightened cholesterol levels.
22. It improves your focus
Put down that Red Bull. Plant foods improve blood flow to the brain, resulting in heightened focus. Some studies show that they may event help you to maintain mental acuity as you age.
23. Kids like it, too
If you’ve got a picky eater on your hands, plant-based foods may be your saving grace. Kids love bite-sized snacks that incorporate their favorite flavors or imitate their favorite “junk” food. From sweet potato tots to vegan pizza, check out some of these recipe ideas to delight your little ones.
24. You’ll catch more Z’s
Eating meat before bedtime can interfere with sleep, as it takes longer to digest than other foods. Conversely, some fruits, such as cherries, bananas and oranges, contain melatonin, which can help you to get a better night’s sleep.
25. It’s never too late
Regardless of age, switching to a plant-based diet allows you to reap countless health benefits. Although these benefits accrue over time, improvements can be seen almost immediately. Start making changes today for a better tomorrow.