Updated: Dec 2, 2020
It's probably a good time to think about making the move to mostly or exclusively plant-based eating. There is so much buzz around plant-based foods right now...is it right for you?
Companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger and Oatly Milk have been in the news constantly, and their plant based meat products are making inroads to just about every store and shop (hello McDonald’s, Starbucks & your local grocery store!). These products are catering to those who now want to follow a flexitarian diet, people looking for a few easy ways to add more nutrient dense plants to their diet and eat less animal products.
Why the Change is Accelerating
There is so much overwhelming evidence and contemporary nutritional research clearly showing that a whole food plant based diet is the single, most important force for regaining and sustaining our optimum health - and our waistlines!
Many who grew up and came of age in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are now learning that the fast food, animal protein and processed foods they relied on have caused more harm than good over time. They now just want to figure out how to “eat more plants”.
How Nutritious Are The New Plant-Based Meat Products?
These new alternative plant-based products have their place as a ‘stair-step’ to a fully whole-food plant-based way of eating. They are part of the new diet for those just starting to switch to plant-based eating. They are for those who are saying ‘enough with all the saturated fats and processed foods’. Those of us (yes, we were guilty!) who knew we should have been eating healthier all along. Basically these stair-step foods are healthier than the meat and dairy they are replacing, but not quite as healthy as that bean burger you’d make at home from whole foods. But - you gotta’ start somewhere!
There is also the realistic balance we want to create in our lives between the healthiest choice of the moment and convenience. So these new and easy options help those looking for ways to begin reducing their intake of animal products and start experiencing the benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as those pretty far along the path of plant-based eating, but who might run into time-stressed moments!
Ideally, “whole’ plant foods are the best choice. There are so many delicious plants to eat and saver, but yet some would also like to begin with the similar taste of animal products, and for that we have new options coming out almost daily.
There are actually over 20,000 species of plants that are edible but yet we currently only eat about 200 of them, with only just around 20 providing about 90% of the food that the world eats. So if we think that plants are boring and limited, as a species we just haven’t yet made a good effort to try nature’s full abundance!
What Else Is Driving the Change?
We're hearing more about the connection between the way we obtain and eat our food and how that is directly tied to our three biggest challenges - the obesity epidemic, species extinction and the climate crisis.
The plant-based diet or eating movement grew out of a study done by Thomas Colin Campbell, a Cornell University biochemist who coined the term ‘plant-based’. In a nutshell, his 2016 book “The China Study” showed that a plant-based diet helps reduce the risk of certain cancers and diseases.
The study, and now many, many others, have shown that having a diet that is predominantly whole-food plant-based - and we are talking 90% on up here, with 100% being “golden” - is the healthiest diet for longevity and reducing risk of the top diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. That type of eating pattern also just happens to be the easiest and best way to reach and maintain one’s ideal weight. Most people are far below that 90% ideal. By getting a clear understanding of the reasons to go plant-based and the benefits it brings, you can gain perspective and confidence to move forward and build new habits.
Do you wish you had a beginner's guide to help you transition to a plant-based diet? Read-on and start with a brief understanding of the top reasons for eating a plant-based diet.
The Top 8 Reasons to Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Reach and Sustain Your Ideal Body Weight
Enjoy Smoother and Healthier Skin
Maintain a Robust Immune System
Significantly Lower Risk of Cancer, Diabetes and Heart Disease
Reduce Chronic Inflammation Throughout Your Body
Live a Longer Life with Lower Incidence of Age-Related Dementia
Past Pandemics are Linked to Eating Animals
Contribute to Fighting The Climate Crisis
Let’s have a look at each of these reasons in a little more depth below.
1) Reach and Easily Maintain Your Ideal Body Weight
Those who eat whole-foods plant-based typically eat about 1,000 calories per day less than those eating an animal-based diet. They also on average weigh 30 lbs less.
Those who make the pivot to plant-based eating typically feel and see the benefits quickly. They have a lot more energy and they feel more alert as they loose weight. The renewed energy they feel gets the dopamine in their brain going, so they don’t turn to overly fatty and sugary foods for that same feeling. Focusing on nutrient-dense foods helps keep them at their optimal weight naturally.
So how did I start eating plant-based in Hong Kong? Dalip and I embarked on our plant-based journey over time. We were pretty much pesco-vegetarians in the past. Though I ate a raw food diet for about a year and a half back in 2008, I never really was a huge meat eater before that. You could say that I used to like a little cheeseburger on the side with my ketchup! I have always been the condiment queen. That part hasn’t changed!
A couple of years ago, when I began to seriously study nutrition, we really started to pay attention to how much fish and cheese we were eating, as well as foods that were processed. We’ve cut all that out for the most part except once in a blue moon when we may be out for dinner somewhere, which is what I’ve read from sources like Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Michael Greger fit into what currently is thought of as optimum nutrition. We probably eat out once a month or even every other month this past year! I pretty much always cook at home now, especially with covid-19 and trying to maintain social distance.
We each dropped about 20-25 lbs when we went 90% plant-based, and feel more energetic than we ever have.
2) Have Smoother and Healthier Skin
Other outward results of plant-based eating include smoother and healthier skin. Studies show that if we eat a lot of green and yellow vegetables, we could end up with fewer wrinkles than if we don’t. I really love that bit of knowledge!
It’s also been shown that vitamin C, found in oranges, tomatoes and bell peppers, helps our bodies create collagen, part of what our skin is made of.
And then there is sun damage. Broccoli and the cruciferous family of vegetables are foods you should eat regularly for many, many different benefits. One compound called sulforaphane has been shown to protect against UV damage from the sun.
3) Maintain a Robust Immune System
Getting all the fiber, vitamins (like A, B, C, D & E), minerals (like calcium, iron, potassium and zinc), antioxidants and plant chemicals that build a strong immune system is easy with plants. Not so much with animal-centric eating.
Meat, diary and eggs do not contain fiber or many of the vitamins that we associate with a healthy immune system.
It’s been shown that 70% of our immune system is in our gut and the scientific evidence in the last 10-15 years shows a deep connection between fiber and our immune system…and there is no fiber in ANY animal products.
4) Reduce Your Risk of Cancer, Diabetes and Heart Disease
Here’s more good news about all that plant-fiber! There are many things you can do to reduce your body’s risk of getting cancer. Not getting sunburned, not smoking cigarettes. But did you know that it’s been shown that the estrogen in cheese causes cancer and that the casin in milk causes cancer? In fact, in 2018 Canada took dairy off it’s list of recommended foods. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is also working to get warning labels on cheese now. The saturated fat and estrogenic hormones in dairy have been specifically shown to increase breast cancer risk.
And you’ll be cutting out so much saturated fat when you eat mainly plants that your risk of diabetes and heart disease are both significantly lower.
The fiber in plants is a key reason your daily calorie intake is reduced (see above #1). Fiber moves through your digestive system slowly and you feel full so you don’t overeat. When you eat all or mostly plant-based foods, your stomach just doesn’t have room for so much food. Therefore you are unlikely to be overweight, which lowers your risk of chronic lifestyle diseases.
That increased amount of fiber that you eat will especially reduce your risk of colon cancer, the third most commonly diagnosed cancer (in the US) and the most common cancer in Hong Kong.
5) Reduce Chronic Inflammation in Your Body
Studies show that chronic inflammation can trigger our immune system to attack healthy parts of our body, and that can result in diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This attack is like a heightened response to a perceived threat. Inflammation comes naturally (and helpfully) to our bodies to handle threats like infection or stresses. It is what helps our bodies heal a cut or fight the flu. But if our bodies are always in this heightened state of ‘fighting’, the chronic inflammation starts to fight against the good cells and turns them into cells-gone-haywire like cancer cells.
This overreaction and chronic inflammation is associated with an animal-centred diet.
Some recent studies showed that phytochemicals, which are found only in plants may provide more health benefits beyond what the familiar vitamins and minerals do for us, particularly by fighting inflammation in our body. They are what allow our eyes to see the rainbow of colours when we step into the produce section of our local grocery store because they give plants their color. They also are the properties that give our food flavour and aroma. They are some pretty magical chemicals, found only in plants.
6) Live a Longer Life with Lower Chance for Age-Related Dementia
Studies show that the longest living populations and those that are the least dementia-prone as they age have a predominantly plant-based eating pattern.
The studies also point to foods that are rich in antioxidant vitamins as being a key part of prevention. This is because antioxidants protect against free radical damage and our brains are very susceptible to that. Antioxidant vitamins are found in plants and include vitamins A, C and E.
Polyunsaturated fat, one of the so-called healthy fats includes omega-3 fatty acid. It is found in plant foods like flaxseeds, almonds and algae (seaweed, euglena and astaxanthin are good examples).
7) Past Pandemics Are Tied to Eating Animals
For millions of years in human history, there were no epidemic diseases. Nobody had flus or colds or measles. These diseases only came about when humans started to domestic animals about 10,000 years ago.
Even then, these viruses were not as prevalent and certainly not happening as often as they do today. They’re now occurring every five years or less. What has changed? We changed the way we raise animals with intensive animal farms. We are putting more and more animals closer together under the same roof. Often over 10 million birds are raised on a single farm. This allows viruses to spread and mutate and adapt. The viruses are then much more likely to jump from one species to another.
In fact, future infectious diseases are considered one of the two greatest threats facing humanity (see #8 below for the second). The conditions that animals are raised in are conducive to the spread of disease, and the more intensively humans farm them to meet a rising meat demand, the more at risk we are for another pandemic.
8) Contribute to Fighting The Climate Crisis
A healthy, balanced diet goes hand-in-hand with a sustainable and abundant food system. Most animal agricultural practices harm our environment. The burning of down of The Amazon is mostly done to create cropland to grow feed for animals.
Adopting a plant-based diet will help reverse and eliminate much of the world’s currently harmful animal agricultural practices. And the cool thing is, we’re not making a nutritional sacrifice to take action on the climate crisis. A plant-based diet, with its many different types of plants just happens to be the way our bodies need to be fed for optimum nutrition. And it also is the best way to feed the 10 billion people the world is projected to have in 2050, while reducing the climate footprint of our current agricultural practices.
Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, meat and dairy alone account for 14.5% so they carry a huge carbon footprint. On the other hand, emissions from plant foods are 10 to 50 times smaller than the emissions from the production of animal foods.
With agricultural crops, farms in the US have become huge operations that mainly grow corn and soy. We’ve lost so much diversity with the current way our society eats and lives. Farms used to be smaller and grew more diverse crops, which were healthier for us and the planet. We’ve changed it all, and without realizing what those changes meant, we are harming ourselves and the planet.
If you look at how the corn we grow is used, it looks like this:
Less than 10% - eaten by humans
35% - converted to ethanol to drive big cars
45% - fed to animals to grow red meat and poultry
15% - goes into manufacturing, mostly high fructose corn syrup
So the big footprint made by a single crop like corn is not even made to feed us.
There are actually more benefits than the eight listed.
These are some of the most important reasons to adopt a plant-based eating pattern. Although I use both terms, I usually prefer to use the term ‘eating pattern’ over ‘diet’ because I think the word ‘diet’ is overused. Diet often implies a short-term fix or adjustment to hit a goal. Then, when the goal is reached, the “diet” is typically stopped and the cycle starts over again.
An eating pattern is a lifestyle. We can become aware of what we are eating, how we feel when we eat certain foods, and we can make conscious choices about what we put in our bodies everyday. If we choose plants, there are not a lot of rules or calorie counting. It’s pretty easy to understand what is a whole food plant and what is not.
This leaves us free to focus on flavour combos, blending the tastes of sweet, sour, spicy, salty and umami. “What to eat” becomes easy. Your time and efforts that would have been put into counting calories or carbs can be put into learning how to make the ultimate plant-based lasagne or hearty stew.
Stay tuned to the blog to learn more about the plant-based lifestyle benefits and the things you can do to take control over your nutrition through the culinary arts (that’s a fun and fancy way to say “learn how to go plant-based with your own kitchen” ! :) As with most things, where there is a process and a system, a habit and/or skill will be born, and we’ll show you the step-by-step guide to a plant-based lifestyle.