Remember when vegetarians were thought of as tree-hugging, long-haired hippies who got a strange satisfaction out of depriving themselves of good food? Well, times are definitely changing. There’s been a quiet movement underway for the past few years, and it seems to me that plant-based diets are really starting to appeal to the masses.
According to recent statistics compiled by the Vegetarian Resource Group, almost half of all Americans eat a vegetarian meal at least once per week, and about 9 million American adults (4% of the adult population) consider themselves to be vegetarian (no meat, poultry, or fish) or vegan (no animal products at all). Whether it’s a result of the Meatless Monday push, or documentaries like Food Inc. or Forks Over Knives, or the endorsement of numerous celebrities, Americans seem to be embracing the plant-based diet, and good for us! Literally. Here’s what, why and how to jump on the bandwagon, and with the start of a new year, there’s no time like today to get started.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
You don’t necessarily have to go the vegan route and eliminate all animal products. Many vegetarians still enjoy dairy foods and eggs, and some occasionally eat fish. You should do what you feel is right for you. At a minimum, a plant-based diet means eating more whole plant foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less animal products.
Why Eat a Plant-Based Diet?
Personal reasons for following a vegan or vegetarian diet vary and can range from environmental or social reasons, cost, or health. Whether you choose to go all out or just work on eating more fruit and vegetables, there are (at least) 5 important reasons to choose more plant foods and less animal foods:
- The health benefits are significant, which means a better quality of life. Thousands of research studies show that individuals who eat less meat and more whole grains and whole fruits & vegetables are at lower risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and many types of cancer.
- Do you ever question the quality of our food supply? Most processed meat (and processed food in general) is handled by way too many people and contains ingredients most of us can’t even pronounce. Did you catch the story about what’s in chicken nuggets? Whole plant foods and grains, organic and locally-grown (if you can get them), are definitely a cleaner and safer way to eat.
- Animal farming and processing has a tremendous impact on our environment and is one of the leading drivers of climate change, as shown in these graphics. Eating less meat is one way we can all do our part for the environment.
image from thegatesnotes.com
- A plant-based diet is generally lower in calories and fat, which means less of you! Because plant foods are lower in calories and higher in filling fiber, individuals who eat a vegetarian diet have an easier time maintaining a healthier weight.
- Last, but definitely not least: you’ll glow! Ask anyone who eats more whole plant foods and less processed foods and meats, and they’ll agree – you just feel and look better. Hair, skin, nails, weight, you name it. Ask anyone who looks younger than their age and they’ll tell you it’s their diet.
How To Start
Make a commitment to join the Meatless Monday movement, and skip meat at least one day each week. Start by trying some new meatless recipes and get in the habit of making one or two each week. If you need more inspiration, check your local adult education center and sign up for a vegetarian cooking class.
Every time you shop, make it a goal to fill most of your grocery cart from the produce department and the whole grains section. Choose a variety for both meals and snacks. Try to skip the beef entirely, and when buying chicken, fish, eggs or dairy, try to buy organic and buy less. Before long, you’ll realize the more healthy plant foods you eat, the better you’ll feel, and the easier it will be.