Hold up! What is a 'plant based diet' anyway?
There's a lot of talk about plant based diets, most often supported and promoted by vegetarians, vegans, raw foodists, and some health coaches and professionals. But what is it exactly?
Plants. Sounds simple enough - but is that it? Do we just eat plants? Because I think of my balcony garden when I hear 'plants' , and 'salad' when I read 'plant-based diet'. Kind of sounds like deprivation, no flavour, and disappointment at meal times. Any body with me? Don't get me wrong I love salad, and my veggies, but is that it...forever?
Before I get heated emails explaining that plant-based eating isn't just salad, please be advised I do know that it is more than that. Let's discuss...
Despite being marketed as meat-free, vegan, vegetarian, and/or excluding most meat and dairy - I'd like to present an alternative option.
You see, to me, a plant based diet is exactly that. BASED on plants. If it was vegan, vegetarian or another - it should just say so. Forks Over Knives, Food Choices - these documentaries promote a plant based diet yet, Forks Over Knives says:
"The program is based on whole or minimally processed plants, primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers, and legumes. It excludes or minimizes animal-based foods such as meat (including poultry and fish), dairy, and eggs, as well as refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil."
That’s not plant based. That’s pretty much just plants only. Plus I'm glad they clarified the refined foods part - as most junk food and processed foods aren't heavily animal based... (chips, doughnuts, cake, pastries, soft drink, biscuits, etc……..they're pretty much plant based!).
Ok so, a plant based diet is good for all of us. Fruits and vegetable are rich in plant nutrients that help to keep us well, and functioning optimally. But being plant based does not mean no meat, no chicken, no pork belly (if you desire). It's serving that meat or vegetarian source of protein, WITH plants. And lots of them.
No matter what diet you try, or meal guide you buy, or weight loss product you read about (or try) - they all make you do one thing to be 'effective' = eat MORE fruit and vegetables. They should make up the bulk of your diet. Absolutely.
It's not hippy to eat salad. It's not macho to eat a burger. I've seen 3 year old girls eat a burger and steroid-fuelled weight lifters digging into salad. Scrap the stereotypes your family gave you, your friends gave you, your bully at school gave you. Fruit and vegetables are the basis of any healthy diet around the world and they will help save you from horrible, expensive chronic diseases that are currently plaguing our lives.
Farming meat VS plants
A very heated topic. One produces more carbon dioxide, one requires more water, one requires more food, one requires more space. What's better for our environment? I honestly don't have the answer for you as so much of the truth is hidden in confidential documents and politics. What I do know is that supporting local farmers helps reduce costs, and improves nutrient quality of our food, offering a more sustainable approach to our food supply, and more often than not, a more animal-friendly, ethical way of providing meat for us to consume.
How? Farmer's markets, local co-ops, enjoying food in season, swapping the extra veggies you grow with your neighbours veggies you don't, and supporting your local butcher.
Here's a little secret. I used to be vegetarian. I was a teenage girl who hated the thought of hurting animals so for one year I went without. Until, after that year, I got sick, my iron levels were chronically low and I was told by my doctor that I required meat to be well, as supplements didn't cut it for me. I still hate the thought of hurting animals. Feeding lots and abuse of animals is really not acceptable. Every body is different and if you can feel amazing on a vegetarian or vegan diet, then that's fantastic and I am thrilled for you. But for those of us whose bodies require the readily available nutrients from meat to function adequately - then I urge you to educate yourself on where your meat comes from, what happens to it and how it's treated.
Make the adjustment: Shop free range, organic, grass fed, and as sustainable and well looked after as possible. Your dollar changes the way big companies do things. You are the driving force for changing the way our food supply is provided to us. You demand, they supply. The more demand, the lower the price for us. Big companies aren't going to slow down anytime soon, but they will adapt to our demands because demand is what drives their bottom line.
Plant-based and paleo - can it work?
Grains are out, legumes and peanuts are out, sugar is out, and it's heavy on the meat right? Most of this is true, but it's not as heavy on the meat as you might think if it's balanced well.
The paleo diet if done properly, prides itself on:
- adding more vegetables to your plate
- sourcing meats from sustainable, ethical farmers and butchers
- appreciating and using more of the animal than just the favourite cuts - e.g. offal, bone marrow, etc
- eating seasonally, locally and organic as much as possible
- removing junk food, processed and packaged foods
- removing refined sugar and oils
- minimising dairy
Of course these diets are at polar opposite ends of the spectrum so finding the balance that works for you is key. However, in my opinion, as long as you know where your food is coming from and how it's looked after, and you pack your plate with loads of vegetables and some fruit daily - then a plant-based diet is a healthy one with or without meat. Paleo or non-paleo. Listen to your body and eat what makes you feel well. Focus on wholefoods, and ultimately, make the bulk of your food yourself or as close to homemade as you can.
That is what I call "plant-based" deliciousness, and will do you and your family a world of good, as well as help to look after the environment and the animals.