Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t eat the cow, eat what the cow eats?” This may sound good in theory, but the shocking reality is that conventional cattle farms feed their livestock an alarming array of so-called foods that is anything but wholesome or healthy. According to the book, “Food, What the Heck Should I Eat?” written by Mark Hyman, M.D., “many factory farms are willing to feed their animals whatever it takes to fatten them up as quickly and cheaply as possible…” Hyman continues, “it’s not only legal but common for producers to feed their cattle all sorts of sugar, candy, Kool-Aid powder, potato chips, and molasses.” In today’s article, I want to outline the reasons I switched to a plant based diet, and why you might consider doing the same.
What is a Plant Based Diet?
There is no formal definition for a plant based but it includes minimally processed fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. The key here is that these foods should be eaten in their most natural state, without excessive processing and without added chemicals. Hence, you will often hear this way of eating as a “whole food, plant based diet.”
Here is a more detailed look at the foods you will enjoy:
Fruits: Unlike some diets that ban certain fruits because of the number of calories they contain, all fruits are welcome and encouraged. Bonus points for all berries, from blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, to more exotic berries such as goji berries and acai berries.
Vegetables: All vegetables are welcome in this diet too and the bonus points this time are awarded to cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, and similar green leaf vegetables.
Beans, Nuts and Seeds: Meals based on garbanzo, kidney, pinto and/or black beans make a great alternative to eating meat (more on my aversion to meat later). Nuts such as peanuts, almonds and cashews, and seeds such as sunflower, chia and hemp, are all included in this diet.
Whole Grains: Eating minimally processed whole grains are an important part of a plant based diet. This includes foods such as brown rice, oatmeal, cracked wheat (also known as bulgur), barley and buckwheat.
Food as Medicine
Being a person who respects strong, science-based evidence, I am truly impressed with the overwhelming amount of data that has been collected over the last 40 years regarding food’s ability to not only prevent disease, but to actually reverse it in some circumstances.
In the book, “How Not To Die” by Michael Greger M.D., he describes in detail the incredible role that food plays in the prevention and treatment of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S. In one example, he describes the amazing power of turmeric, a spice very popular in Indian dishes, as an anti-inflammatory agent. Studies have shown that turmeric may work as well as, if not better than, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers used for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.
You can’t read a book like this and not conclude that we, as humans, should really eat to live and not live to eat. If you need more convincing, Dr. Greger founded the website NutritionFacts.org in which he details much evidence regarding the advantages of plant based diets. And it’s worth mentioning that all the money he makes from his books and his website are donated to charity – this guy is the real deal!
My Beef with Beef
It’s hard to deny that meat provides us with plenty of nutrients, especially protein, B vitamins, and iron. In fact, animals provide the only natural source of Vitamin B12 which is essential for maintaining healthy nerve and blood cells.
But the problem I have with eating not only beef but poultry, pork and even seafood, is two-fold:
Conventional Farming Methods
Some livestock farmers have resorted to factory-farming, in which they view their animals as simple commodities that need to be produced and sold as quickly as possible. As a result, they are confined to cages, crates and pens, which severely limits their ability to move. To cut costs further, they redefine animal feed to include such disgusting things as recycled animal waste, plastic fillers, and cheap grains that contain GMOs and pesticides. And then there are the antibiotics and hormones routinely injected into them. Umm, no thanks!
Meat Substitutes are Better
I have been amazed at the versatility of lentils, beans and tofu in creating hearty, satisfying dishes that don’t leave anyone wanting for more. Their nutritional value is unquestionable and meals that incorporate these items are often quick and easy to make.
8 Ways to Get Started with a Plant Based Diet
As a person who really dislikes wasting anything, especially food, I couldn’t bring myself to simply toss every taboo item in the house. Instead, I decided to transition away from meat while increasing the amount of plant based foods in my diet.
Here are some tips that helped me to ease into a plant based way of life:
1. Switch to plant based milk. Milk made from almonds, oats, soy and rice are very commonly found on grocery shelves these days. For baking, almond milk is likely the best choice and can be used in identical quantities to cow’s milk.
2. Discover green smoothies for breakfast. My food processor and blender have never been used as much as they are these days. It’s easy to search for smoothie recipes online and I always make sure to include a leafy vegetable such as spinach or kale, and a tablespoon of ground flax seed in each smoothie. If you’re not a fan of vegetables for breakfast, I assure you the taste gets lost amongst the other yummy flavors.
3. Make a meal out of a salad. A leafy salad can easily become the centerpiece of your meal with the addition of quinoa, beans, or tofu along with your other favorite veggies.
4. Have healthier snack choices readily available. Snacks have been a weakness for me as I tend to reach for something quick and easy, which usually means grabbing for things like crackers, string cheese or tortilla chips. These days I plan a little better and reach for fresh fruit, soy based yogurt and healthy nuts or seeds.
5. Consider a meal delivery service. The meal delivery craze has heated up in recent years and these services now offer something for every palate, including plant based diets. I recently signed up for a subscription to Green Chef using a coupon I received in the mail and have been quite pleased with the quality and quantity of food so far.
6. Understand your motivation to change. This may sound simple but it really helps to know why you want to do something before setting out to achieve it. Your motivation is what will keep you out of the fridge late at night and enable you to think more clearly about everything you put near your mouth.
7. Deal with meat eaters living in your house. If you live with carnivores like I do, you will need to discuss your diet changes with them to come up with a solution that everyone can live with. For instance, I make a plant based meal every evening that others may also enjoy as a main course or they can have it as a side dish with whatever meat they feel like having.
8. Eating a plant based diet while traveling. If you travel for business, you likely find yourself constantly staring at menus. The good news is that many restaurants now cater to a wide variety of tastes. And fast casual restaurants have become very popular which is great as they enable you to build your own salad, burrito, pizza or whatever.
Other Benefits of a Plant Based Diet
In addition to the amazing health benefits already mentioned, I have found that following a plant based diet has enabled me to lose weight. I have lost 5 pounds over the last 7 weeks that I have been eating plant based. While this may not seem earth shattering, I am quite pleased as weight loss was not my intent. I have not starved myself in any way and I don’t try to control my portions.
My new diet also allows me to live my values more fully. I am happy that I’ve made a change that is better for my health, my family’s health, and the health of the environment.
“I believe true peace is achievable when your thoughts, your words and your actions are all aligned.” ~Unknown
Have you or someone you know switched to a plant based diet? Feel free to let me know how it’s going!