What Happens to Your Body When You Start Eating Plant-Based
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
There’s so much scientific evidence about the power of plants. All those geeky stats make a pretty overwhelming case that most of the industrialized world is overfed yet undernourished. You don’t really need a study though - of course what you put in your body will affect how your body works.
How did we get to a place where we don’t know how to feed ourselves properly? So many different diets being offered, and so many people trying to figure out which one to follow and confusion reigns supreme.
Every other living creature on the planet seems to instinctively know what they should eat, they just know what keeps them going and living well everyday. We seem to have complicated things so much, and created entire industries that ask and tell us ‘what is the best diet’. A question our foraging ancestors seemed to figure out instinctively.
Why We Don't Always Choose "Healthy"
Eating the right foods is difficult for us to do because the choices are hard. We got into this situation through having the best of intentions to grow enough food for increasing populations decades ago. Then we kept innovating and tried to make things ‘easier’ and 'faster' with TV dinners, convenience foods and cost cutting.
Industry learned how to make food 'crave worthy' and packed a lot of things into overly processed foods that touch on addiction points in our brains. After all, we do have an urge to keep eating to keep us alive, and we seek out those sugary and fatty tastes. Those tastes helped us find the most nourishing food when scarcity was a problem. But yet our stomachs are only made to hold an average of 4 cups of food.
We became accustomed to eating foods that have outsized combinations of sugar, fat and salt. These foods have a lot of calories and hardly any nutrients for the space they take up in our stomachs.
The end result seems to be that we forgot what real food is.
What we know about “the healthiest diet” is that it is centered around the idea of lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grain, nuts and seeds. And drinking plenty of water. It's more an eating style or theme than diet. Plants should be the ‘focus’ or the emphasis of what we eat. We know it could include very small amounts of other items, yet we know that when we deviate from plant foods being the lion’s share of our calorie intake, we are not healthy and nor do we live as long as we could.
Collectively, we've eaten pretty poorly for several generations. So what happens to your body when you eat plant based? What changes will occur when you switch your diet to plant based?
What Happens To Your Body With A Plant Based Diet
Better Bowel Function
Taste Buds Become More Sensitive
You Have More Energy
Your Mood Is Better
You Are More Productive
You Sleep Better
Read on for an in-depth look into how your body will react when you transition to plant based eating.
Weight Loss & Better Bowel Function
We know that a high intake of fiber contributes to better health. Those who study Stone Age nutrition think our ancestors ate up to 100 grams of fiber daily. Currently the average American eats 15 grams of fiber.
It's due to not eating enough whole foods and too much animal and processed foods. Animal foods have zero fiber. The fiber in highly processed foods is also low or non-existent. Much of the industrialised world eats in a similar way.
A plant-based eating pattern will have high nutrient density and be high in fiber. This means that natural weight loss can occur.
Fiber moves through your digestive path slowly, so you feel full longer. Nutrient density is the amount of nutrients in your food compared to the amount of calories you consume. It’s a ratio comparing nutrition to calories. If, on a per-calorie basis you eat more nutrients, then your body gets what it needs with less calories and functions more efficiently.
Vegetable oil or even olive oil would not be called a nutrient dense food. If you compare the amount of nutrients in 100 calories of olive oil to the amount of nutrients in 100 calories of uncooked broccoli, the broccoli will come out on top. The 100 calories of olive oil is approximately 1 tablespoon and 100 calories of broccoli is approximately 2 cups.
That 1 tablespoon of olive oil has about 14 grams of fat and no fiber or other vitamins and minerals. The 2 cups of broccoli has 10 grams of fiber, 330% of the RDA of vitamin C, 97% the RDA of vitamin A and several other nutrients.
Considering that the average stomach holds about 4 cups of food at a time, the broccoli will fill half your stomach, while the olive oil with the same amount of calories would not be felt at all…so you eat those calories from the oil and your stomach doesn’t even know it’s there! That’s why it’s so easy to overindulge in nutrient-poor food. It usually doesn’t fill you up, so your brain doesn’t get the message that you’ve had enough.
This is one reason that once they transition to a largely whole foods plant based diet, most people lose excess weight.
You may, as part of the transition notice that your bowel function changes a bit due to the increased level of fiber. You may become more regular and healthy or you could for a short amount of time experience bloating and loose stool. Again, that’s due to the increase in fiber. You may not be used to eating some of these healthier foods and your gut bacteria will need to adapt. If you went full-on with adding a healthy amount of beans and lentils, you may want to take a step back and start with a small amount, increasing gradually as you build up the good bacteria to digest the new foods. Your body should adjust if you gradually add the new foods.
New Taste Buds!
Your taste buds will adjust to the change in your diet - and in a good way! The average person has about 10,000 taste buds that are constantly dying and being regenerated about every two weeks. It's worth noting that as you age, starting around age 40, not all of them get replaced, so older adults typically have around 5,000 taste buds. Therefore food will not taste as strong as when you were younger. Remember when you were 5 and you tasted your dad's coffee for the first time?! Yea, that's it...
Once you are no longer eating foods that have an abundance of fat, sugar and salt, you will notice that other foods that you used to think were plain or boring now taste better than ever. If you had a sweet tooth before, or craved fatty foods, that will be tamed or significantly toned down on a whole foods plant based diet.
The reason for this change, is that you are moving away from 'crave worthy' overly processed products. Food developers and companies spend a lot of time and money to make sure something tastes good. It's actually gone beyond just making sure the taste is good though. It's become a way to hyper-pack over processed food with irresistible fats and sugars, so that we keep going back and spending more money on their products.
One reason I love and cook with a lot of sauces, dressing, condiments and spices is that much of our aroma and flavour preferences are built upon seasonings and spices. In cooking and making a meal, it’s about how the food tastes. It's really not about what the item “is”.
The plant-based world has so many diverse flavours and combinations to start before you top the food with anything! Making food fast, easy and even more varied further happens with the magic of sauces and spices. This is my biggest time saving process-hack in the kitchen, the use of sauces, spices, toppings, sprinkles, etc!
Energy, Mood, Productivity and Sleep
Most people feel more energetic, and even don't feel the need to drink so much coffee after they decide to follow a plant based lifestyle. They don’t have the typical afternoon lull and they have more consistent energy throughout the day. This is in-part due to eating less sugary snacks. Without processed sugary snacks, your blood sugar doesn’t spike and crash and pull your energy level up and down with it.
It also is because your body is able to digest plant foods much easier than animal foods. When your body is so busy trying to digest a heavy steak, a lot more of it's energy is going towards that task and you don't feel as energetic.
Your mood and your productivity improves too. Reducing consumption of animal products has been shown to improve your mood in as little as two weeks. Longer term studies of at least five years have been done too. These have shown the protective effect of the antioxidants and phytochemicals in plant foods are great for our brains. They reduce inflammation in brain cells and help balance our neurotransmitters. Dopamine and serotonin are two neurotransmitters we often read about. They are known for regulating our moods and the plant compounds generously consumed with a whole foods plant based diet help keep them balanced.
Serotonin also helps regulate our sleep. In addition, isoflavone, which is found in soy products, when consumed in higher quantities is shown to aid in helping you sleep longer and better.
Besides the often touted positive effects of a plant based diet to our health for things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, the changes that you'll notice more overtly in your day-to-day life listed above can really help you live your best years ever when you switch to a plant predominate way of eating.
This article, along with The Top 8 Reasons for Eating Plant Based and 8 Common Questions Every Plant Based Eater is Tired of Answering lay out some of the reasons Dalip and I switched to a plant based lifestyle. We truly feel more energetic and alert and are happy that we slimmed down our waistlines by eating more plant based foods in a strategic and planned out way.
I've learned to make even more things than I made before, and all the little known tricks for getting the most nutrients out of the food that I buy. We feel really confident that what we are eating matches up with the science and knowledge about the best known foods for human nutrition.
Stay tuned for more, as we delve into mixing our nutrition knowledge with practical culinary knowledge to help you better manage getting more plants on you plate!