Happy Tuesday, guys!
Admittedly I’m a little nervous to hit “publish” on this because I think it’s probably one of the most debated topics out there right now in the field of health, but based on what I’ve been hearing from you guys lately, I thought now was the right time to publish on this!
THANK YOU by the way, so much, for many positive responses on my “How I’m Detoxing in the New Year” post, I hope you like today’s just as much! ❤
The way I view food has changed dramatically over the past year. Honestly, it’s even changed over the past 6 months! It’s really made a big impact on my life. Hopefully you find this post helpful, informative, and interesting. If you’re looking to make some changes in your eating habits, or just seeking inspiration on new healthy weeknight meals to cook, I hope you find this helpful! (And if all else fails, there are still the cute clothes to fall back on ?)
Before we jump in, a caveat:
Before I dive full throttle into my experience with a plant based diet and why I decided it was a good decision for me, I want to preface this with a couple things.
First, that I am NOT claiming to be a doctor, nutritionist, or health professional of any kind. This should in no way be taken as professional advice. I’m simply sharing my perspective and what I know based on my research and personal experience. EVERY BODY is different. We do not all have the same needs, so it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional to ask about what is best for you individually.
Second, I want to really, really reinforce the idea of everything in moderation, including moderation.
I do not, nor will I probably ever, be that girl that can go out with her girlfriends and drink water and order the kale salad with balsamic vinegar while her friends split a cheesy pepperoni pizza and a bottle of wine.
To me, that’s not living, and while I agree with doing what you can to live your fullest, healthiest life, I also believe in living that life. What’s the point in living to 100 if you miss out on all the fun?
So, while I try to eat plant based more than I eat meat, I do NOT do this 7 days a week because I believe in balance, and truthfully, I just love food too much to give up the occasional cheeseburger.
What works for me:
Monday through Friday I cook plant based meals at home. This is easy for me because I am good at making food taste good without the addition of meat and cheese.
If I go out to dinner with girlfriends–I’ll have a slice of pizza. Or if it sounds good to me at the time and I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself, I’ll get a salad minus the meat and cheese.
When we go out for date night, I’ll order the steak if I want it. If I go over to someone’s house, I’m not going to not eat what they serve me, and enjoy it. I’m simply just trying to eat plant-based when I can, and allow myself room to indulge when that’s really not an option.
Will that change in the future? Who knows! But right now, adopting more of an 80/20 approach feels like the right balance for me at the moment–that is, 80% of the time, I eat plant based, 20% of the time, I don’t. It’s something that makes me feel great, and really feels sustainable for the long haul.
Anyway, now that we’ve covered this and I have effectively beaten a dead horse, now we can jump into specifics.
What is a plant based diet?
“Plant-based diets” are gaining a lot of traction lately thanks to the plethora of alarming food and health documentaries that are becoming increasingly popular these days. (Forks over Knives is my favorite one! It is definitely a must-watch for anyone, regardless of what your eating habits are. If not for the health-related info, it’s entertaining solely due to the meat industry/government scandal factor alone! Mentioning the latter is especially helpful in convincing your husband to watch it with you.)
Anyway. I digress. Let’s get back on track.
What is a plant based diet exactly?
Well, essentially, it’s an emphasis of consuming a lot of plants, and the omission of animal products from your diet. AKA, it’s essentially pretty much being vegan, but I hate the term “vegan” because it makes me (and probably everyone else who truly enjoys the taste of food) think of processed soy cheese, tofurky, soy hot dogs and all that other garbage. (As bad as this is, I get real judgey when I hear or read people saying things like “yummy crumbly soy sausage” Like, GTFOH. That does NOT taste good. That tastes like cardboard dog food. Stop lying!)
The other issue I have with a “vegan” diet is that there is so much processed food that can be labeled as “vegan” but that is still really bad for you. Just because a box of cookies is “vegan” doesn’t mean they’re good for you.
The good thing about plant-based, is that it’s focused on putting only good, whole foods into your body and eliminating the foods that cause issues and inflammation in the body. There is no calorie counting, there is no weird “don’t eat” foods that you can’t keep track of (like for example, if you’re paleo, you can’t eat green beans. WHY? They’re GOOD for you!)
Okay but like, really, no meat, dairy, or eggs?
Here’s the thing, you have to do what works for you. Like I said, I focus on plant-based meals Monday through Friday, whenever I’m eating at home. It’s an easy boundary for me to set. If I’m eating at home, shopping for myself, I’m eating plant-based. If I go out to eat, I let myself eat meat if I want to. The 80/20 rule works for me.
Some other ways it can work for you:
If a plant-based diet is something you’d like to explore, do it on your own terms, whatever that means for you. Maybe you don’t want to cut out meat from every meal at all, you simply focus on 80% plants, with 20% meat. Or maybe you think it’s pretty easy to do for breakfast and lunch, but you really just feel like your body needs meat for dinner. Cool! That’s okay too! (Update, I’ve been doing more of this recently because Neal has been home more and isn’t as into the “no meat” thing as I am.)
I think the biggest takeaway here is that your health is going to improve immensely by eating more plants and less animal products.
Why Go Plant Based:
People choose to go plant-based for a variety of reasons. This is obviously a very personal choice, and everyone should use their best judgement to decide what is right for them and their body. It could be for health reasons, like losing weight, to get healthy skin, or to avoid developing disease. Or maybe you want to avoid eating animals for their sake, or because recent scientific studies show that beef alone is more harmful to the planet than cars.
Personally, I decided to start eating more plant-based meals for health-related reasons, and they all boil down to the fact that eating a lot of animal byproducts just isn’t good for you. In fact, there is a lot of research that supports the fact that it’s downright harmful.
Here are the main health concerns that I wanted to avoid by going on a plant-based diet. To be honest, I’m about to present some findings that are a little intense, and admittedly, I had a lot of mixed feelings when I first took this all in for the first time. Again, I am not a scientist, nor a research professional, I am simply preventing what I believe to the best of my ability to be true.
Overall, meat, dairy, and eggs are key contributors to inflammation in the body. Which is the source behind so many illnesses. Autoimmune diseases to cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, even skin conditions are all associated with inflammation.
Personally, autoimmune diseases run in my family. So there’s a high likelihood that I am genetically predisposed to developing one when I get older. The more I can do now to reduce inflammation in my body, the better. Which means that I do what I can to minimize inflammation causing foods where I can. (But again, everything in moderation, including moderation ?)
Now, to play devil’s advocate. There are a LOT of sources of inflammation in our diets, and it’s not just meat! Gluten, processed foods, sugary foods, foods that are excessively high in carbs, and alcohol also lead to inflammation. So please don’t take this post to attack meat as the end all be all of disease. That’s not what I’m saying at all. If you eliminate animal products, and eat a diet of chips, candy, and other processed foods, you will still be unhealthy! It’s important to look a the whole picture here.
I always thought that by buying organic, no hormones-added dairy and meat made it okay to drink. Wrong. Especially when it comes to milk. Even organic milk has tons of hormones in it. (Ugh. What?)
The reason: Cow’s milk naturally has significantly higher levels of estrogen and progesterone in it because a dairy cow has to be consistently pregnant in order to produce enough milk. Think about it–when you’re pregnant, your hormone levels are off the charts. It’s not any different with cows. Not to mention, the nutrient makeup of cow’s milk is made for just that–baby cows. NOT humans. Especially not baby humans. (See below.)
Therefore, regular consumption of milk and other dairy products can affect everything from premature maturation in young girls (hmm…no wonder why little girls are getting their periods at age 9 these days?) to infertility, to aiding the growth of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast and ovarian cancer. (Source and Source.)
Animal proteins and cancer risk:
If you’ve watched the documentary “Forks over Knives” you’re already familiar with The China Study. Which was a 20-year study that was done spearheaded by Dr. Colin Campbell in cooperation between Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.
Long story short, it concluded that animal based proteins such as those found in dairy and meat (but not plant-based proteins) were one of the leading causes of cancer, and in lab tests, found that Cancer development could essentially be turned “on” or “off” in lab rats by controlling their intake of animal-based proteins.
I’ll leave it at that–because I’m definitely not here to spur an argument about what research is correct or incorrect–but their website is quite helpful in giving you an overview so you can make your own conclusions!
Eggs and colon, rectal, and prostate cancer:
Eggs are kind of the grey area. Are the harmful? Are they healthy? I don’t really know the answer.
Some studies say they are, in fact, harmful, such as when the World Health Organization conducted a study spanning over 34 countries that found eating eggs is associated with death from colon and rectal cancers. The study says, verbatim, “Egg consumption was significantly and positively correlated with mortality from colon and rectal cancers in both sexes.” (Source.)
Additionally, something to alert your husband to–a 2011 study funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that eating eggs is linked to developing prostate cancer. The study states that “Men who consumed 2.5 or more eggs per week had an 81% increased risk of lethal prostate cancer compared with men who consumed less than 0.5 eggs per week.” (Source.)
CAVEAT: These studies are several years old. There are MANY more studies with results that indicate that eggs are extremely good for you. One thing to keep in mind though, is that a lot of these studies are funded by companies who have an interest in selling more eggs.
Sadly, I don’t have an answer. I love eggs so much. They’re easily the hardest thing for Neal and I to give up, but we’ve cut down on our consumption of them significantly after reading the research that came out of these and many other studies with similar findings. Do we still eat them on the weekends? Yes, but I don’t eat them every day for breakfast anymore, like I used to–I opt for a protein smoothie instead.
Benefits of a plant-based diet:
HAPPY NEWS! The benefits! Hooray–there are lot’s of them.
Obviously based on the above, you can gather that the main benefit of a plant-based diet is avoiding all of those scary health concerns, but there are a couple others too.
You Feel Really Good Overall:
Overall, I just FEEL really good. I have a lot more energy in general. I’ve noticed that I don’t need caffeine as much as I used to. I sleep really well and for whatever reason it’s not as awful to drag myself out of bed in the mornings. Also, I don’t experience crazy PMS symptoms anymore, and that’s obviously a big win. (Neal’s note: “for both of us” ?)
I’ve been a pretty clean, healthy eater for awhile now. So the whole weight loss reason really wasn’t really even on my radar. Therefore I have been really surprised at how much more effective it has been at keeping weight off.
If I’m being honest, I would probably not eat as healthy if maintaining a certain weight wasn’t a priority for me. I feel most confident when I feel good in my clothes and when I look good in them. I’m certainly not wanting to come off as vain, but it’s the truth. I’m not ashamed of it!
I worked my butt off before my wedding. I wanted to be in the best shape of my life. What other excuse will I ever have to do so? I was pretty careful about what I was eating. So during that time I ate the cleanest I’ve ever eaten in my life. I thought for sure I would gain it back after the wedding, especially because I wasn’t keeping up with my vigorous 4-5 day per week Orange Theory workout schedule.
Will the weight stay off?
After switching to plant-based diet the majority of the time, I was shocked at how easy it has been to keep weight off, even with reducing how much I work out in a given week.
Again, I’m not one that monitors my weight super closely. How I feel overall is far more important to me than being a specific jean size. I don’t even own a scale, so I go strictly off of how my clothes fit, and I am absolutely swimming in the jeans that I bought just 3 months before my wedding. (Ever wonder why I wear these damn Abercrombie jeans so much? Because almost all my other pairs are too big! ?)
My point in telling you this is that I’ve never had to worry about gaining weight less. The only change I made in my “eating clean” pre-wedding diet and the diet I’m eating now is that I have eliminated meat, dairy and eggs. Think about it. Even when you’re eating clean, meat is a still your largest source of fat. Plus it’s not the good kind, like avocado, either! So it’s no wonder when you eliminate it, you automatically lose more weight.
Doing a more plant-based diet has taught me so much more about nutrition.
Eating this way certainly requires more research than the animal-protein-heavy diet that most people eat. I’ve learned how each food is different, how it benefits your body, and now understand what people mean when they say “food is medicine.” You learn to listen to it and pay attention to what it needs at a given moment. I honestly think everyone should go on a plant-based diet for some time in their life JUST for these benefits. It has taught me to eat based on what is good for me, not to eat based on the reduction of carbs, calories, or anything else like that.
Cons of a plant-based diet:
Update: The original version of this post did not include a con’s section, but I decided to add one in after I’ve been doing this for a significantly longer amount of time AND based on some new findings I’ve discovered. I wanted to make sure they were represented in this post and something that everyone should be aware of. This hasn’t changed my decision to eat mostly plant based, but I did think it was good to share.
Plants can be toxic, too: Here’s the scary thing, even if something is organic, it doesn’t mean there might not be toxic levels of lead or arsenic in the soil the plants are growing in. At the risk of you thinking I’m a total hippy, the Earth is becoming a very polluted place, and sometimes, there’s honestly nothing we can do to avoid ingesting chemicals and pesticides that will harm us. It’s kind-of overwhelming.
For example, I was previously using Vega Plant-Based Protein Powder every morning in my smoothies, and then this study by the Clean Label Project came out showing how many harmful chemicals are in so many protein powders simply because of the soil they are grown in. The study showed that Whey protein has significantly less toxins in it obviously due to the fact that it’s derived from animal products. Yes, animals eat toxic plants, but the toxins are far more diluted than when you’re eating the plants themselves.
On the flipside, we know the effects that animal proteins (i.e. whey/casein proteins that make up most protein powders) have on the body. (Which I outlined above.) So what is the lesser of two evils?
What the heck do we do now? Is something like a bone broth protein derived from organic, grass-fed beef in fact healthier and less toxic? Pesticides or animal proteins?
The short answer is I don’t think there is a clear answer. You have to do your research and come to your own conclusion.
That being said, I think think the lessons here are:
A. Always do your research. Don’t buy the first thing you see on Amazon–narrow a few down, research where they come from, where they’re produced and how they’re made.
B. I think at the end of the day, if we have the common goal of consuming less animal protein (and make sure the ones we do consume come from reputable, clean sources) and more plants (again, making sure we can buy the best available)–we’re still going to be much better off at the end of the day than if we’re eating steak and potatoes every night.
Do the best you can, with what you have, is my motto with pretty much everything, and it definitely applies here, too.
Getting enough protein is by far the biggest challenge:
Is it very doable to get the protein you need on a plant based diet? YES.
Is it AS easy as it would be on a meat-based diet? Not exactly. It really depends on your food preferences.
Coming from the girl who isn’t huge into beans and loathes tofu, this continues to be the biggest issue for me, so protein shakes are my go-to to ensure I get enough protein. (But then this whole protein powder upset happened that I referenced above and now I’m on the hunt for a better one again. UGH. It’s frustrating).
Other nutrients you need to pay attention to: You also need to ensure you’re getting enough iron (this article is a great resource on that), as well as calcium (this is a great resource for plant-based calcium!) as well as a Vitamin B-12 supplement, as discussed in this article.
Pssstt…this striped long-sleeve tee is reversible! I wear it several times per week! ?
How to eat plant-based diet:
Okay, so now that we’ve gotten past the dark and scary part, let’s move on to the fun part, right? FOOD! Hooray!
Like I mentioned above, eating plant-based is actually fairly simple–and if you’re eating healthy and clean already, it’s actually a much easier transition than you would think!
What you can’t eat on a plant-based diet:
Things that comes from a mother:
If it’s an animal, feeds a baby animal, or comes from an animal, generally steer clear.
Things made in factories:
Avoid processed foods as much as you can. A couple indicators: if it’s made in a factory, or it’s located on the inside perimeter of the grocery store, it’s probably not good for you. Of course, there are a few exceptions like healthy crackers or healthy pastas. However most of the time, it’s best to steer clear.
What you can eat on a plant-based diet:
Pretty much anything else. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, tubers, and legumes are the dietary staples on a plant-based diet. This supplies your body with tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals it needs to function well (and they’re likely nutrients you aren’t currently getting when you’re filling your body up with meat and dairy products before reaching for the good stuff!)
If you’re already used to eating clean, a plant-based diet is honestly so much easier than you would think. Eating this way also supplies your body with lot’s of protein and calcium it needs (because they are naturally occurring in lot’s of veggies, legumes, and grains, believe it or not). However, this is something you need to be MORE mindful of tracking, to ensure your body is getting what it needs, but it is doable.
Easy Plant-Based Recipes:
Like I said, I really don’t advocate for eating any of those fake meat or fake cheese products that A. Taste terrible and B. are processed and not good for you anyway. I also hate tofu, tempeh and generally anything that I would’ve classified as a “hippie food” as an adolescent. I’m not sure I’ll ever come around to them. Still, my point in telling you this is that I don’t eat this stuff and I don’t expect you to either. You can cook a really delicious meal without meat (and without the “faux chikkin” garbage) and not notice the difference.
I have a few “staples” in my back-pocket during the week. I’m not even sure I’d call most of them “recipes”–because I rarely measure anything! But whatever you want to call them (more like “hacks” actually!) here are some of my favorites to make on a weekly basis:
Veggie burger tacos:
Chop up and sautee one veggie burger patty per serving, along with onions and peppers if you’d like. I use a cast-iron on medium-high heat so it gets extra crispy and gets that chewy-ish texture of beef. (I don’t love the beany-like texture of a lot of veggie burgers, so this combats that.) Spoon mixture onto warm corn tortillas and top with your favorite hot sauce or salsa, TJ’s “cruciferous crunch” cabbage slaw dressed with some lime and some diced avocado. For an asian twist, use TJ’s Thai Sweet Chili veggie burgers and toss the slaw with their peanut dressing, and dress with sriracha and cilantro. SO. GOOD.
At the beginning of the week, batch roast a bunch of your favorite veggies. I love to do sweet potato ribbons which you can buy pre-sliced, cauli, broccoli, and squash. Then save to use in bowls and salads all week. I toss the cruciferous crunch mix with goddess dressing (also from TJ’s) and mix up a batch of brown rice (from the frozen section, ready in 3 minutes!) with their green dragon hot sauce. Throw it all together with the veggies, and you’ve got a delicious bowl full of flavor and crunch!
I buy both TJ’s red lentil sedanini and brown rice/quinoa fusilli. Both are also gluten free, and actually have a lot of health benefits (especially the lentil pasta, it has a ton of protein!) I really like the texture of both of these. Note: the red lentil kind is NOT good leftover and needs to be served immediately, otherwise it gets a bit gluey.
I like cooking it until al-dente and then sauteeing with olive oil, kale, garlic, and red pepper flakes, or making plant-based cream sauce with veggies (it’s actually astonishing how creamy and good it is! Even Neal didn’t believe it wasn’t cream!) I like to top with plant-based parm–I am a cheese SNOB and I actually almost fell over when I tried it because I was so shocked at how much it tasted like the real deal.
I also love the blog Cookie and Kate–her recipes are my favorite–they’re always so flavorful! (And she’s good for plant-based beginners because she doesn’t try to shove all the tofu and tempeh and all the veganness down your throat.) Her minestrone is great and her white bean hummus is too!
What are some of your favorite plant-based recipes?