Guest Post: Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

I have a guest poster this week:  Sheli from Nutritionista Abroad.  Sheli is a wife, a dog mom, a dietitian, a cook, an occasional baker, a health and fitness enthusiast, a wannabe yogi, and a new expat. She blogs about nutrition travel and is passionate about helping everyone discover how amazing it feels to nourish our bodies.

Why choose a plant-based diet?

There are many different reasons people chose to adopt a plant based lifestyle but whatever the reason, the health benefits of making this change are undeniable.  One reason many yogis choose this lifestyle is because they honor the Ahimsa Principle, one of the eight limbs of yoga. This principle is the practice of nonviolence and encourages you to do no harm. This applies to all beings of the earth, including animals.

Middle Eastern Bean Salad

There are many great documentaries available that dive into each of the reasons why someone might chose to live a plant-based lifestyle – health, environmental, and ethical. I’ll stick strictly to the health benefits. But first, I’d like to address one big issue many people cite as a reason not to follow a plant-based diet, and that is protein.

Where do you get your protein?

Many people believe that you must eat meat and animal products to meet your protein needs. This is a complete myth. In fact, an excess of protein in your diet can lead to healthy problems, such as kidney disease. Digesting meat is also very difficult on your gastrointestinal system. There are many high protein vegetarian, and even vegan foods. Many vegetarians choose to include yogurt, eggs, milk, and cheese in their diets, all of which are also good sources of protein.

Vegans have lots of great options too. Lentils, all types of beans, quinoa, rice, oatmeal, chia seeds, hemp or soy milk, edamame, spinach, nuts, peanut butter, tofu, and seitan are all excellent sources.

To calculate your protein needs, simply multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8. For example, a 60 kg person would need 48 grams of protein per day. This requirement can easily be exceeded by including:

  • 1 cup oatmeal + 2 Tbsp peanut butter = 14 grams
  • 1 cup lentils = 18 grams
  • 1 cup quinoa + ½ cup black beans = 28 grams
    • Total protein intake = 60 grams

There are many food combinations that will allow you to reach your protein needs, the above is just one example. There are also an endless number of ways to flavor lentils and quinoa. Pinterest is a great resource for recipes but a simple Google search will provide many options as well.

Weight Loss and Type 2 Diabetes

Studies have shown that people who adopt a plant-based diet can lose more weight than those who eat a diet including meat. One study showed that weight loss occurred with the adoption of the plant-based diet alone. This means that the participants made no changes to their exercise routine and they did not count any calories or have any diet restrictions other than animal products.  A plant-based diet can also decrease your risk of developing diabetes and even reverse the disease. Plant based diets are very high in fiber, which helps to stabilize blood sugar. Fiber helps to keep you full, which means the more fiber you eat, the less calories you will consume. This lower calorie diet will lead to weight loss, which will also decrease your risk of developing diabetes, and help your body regulate blood sugar.

Heart Health and Lower Blood Pressure

Cholesterol is made in the liver, therefore only foods from an animal have cholesterol. We do not need any dietary cholesterol – our own bodies can easily make all that we need. Vegetarian diets are very low in cholesterol and vegan diets are free of cholesterol. Plant-based diets are also very low in saturated fat and salt. Studies have shown that replacing animal protein with plant protein lowers blood cholesterol, even if the amount and type of fat ingested is the same. Studies have also shown that by eliminating meat from the diet alone participants could lower their blood pressure. When meat was reintroduced to their diet, blood pressure quickly rose back to pre-study levels. By increasing the amount of fresh vegetables and fruit in the diet, this generally leads to a reduction of processed foods. This lowers the daily sodium intake, which also has a positive effect on blood pressure.

Lower Cancer Risk

Plant-based diets are full of antioxidants from the recommended amount of fresh fruits and vegetables. Colon cancer is also linked to high dietary intake of meat. Breast and prostate cancers also occur less often in those who follow a plant based diet. Research is ongoing to examine further effects of adhering to a plant-based diet on other types of cancer.

Where to Begin

If you’re not sure where to start, it can be helpful to begin by adopting a ‘flexitarian’ diet initially and work your way up to excluding more animal products as you feel comfortable. This will help prevent any feelings of being deprived of foods and help you make this a long-term lifestyle change.

You could begin by choosing a meal each day that will not contain any meat. Perhaps for the first week you’ll choose a plant-based breakfast each day. The next week, you can build on that and make both breakfast and lunch plant-based meals, and continue until you have eliminated the desired level of meat and animal products that you wish to reach.

Changing your diet can seem like a daunting task, especially in social situations. But, in most cases, it’s much easier than you might think. Most menus have vegetarian options. If you don’t see any on the menu, just ask your server. The number of vegetarians is rising rapidly so chances are you won’t be the only one wanting more plant-based options.

There’s no better time to start than now. Choose something you can start with today and build on that. You’ll begin experiencing all the benefits of a plant-based diet and you’ll never go back!

Here are some recipes from Sheli’s website…give them a look…they sound so delicious!!!

High Protein Pumpkin Granola

Lemon Almond Bread

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