What Is A Plant-Based Lifestyle…And Why Should You Care?

 Breadfruit, salad and rice and peas in Negril, Jamaica

Breadfruit, salad and rice and peas in Negril, Jamaica

You’ve probably heard the term plant-based, but do you know what it really means? I myself have been vegetarian for decades but didn't start calling myself plant-based until very recently. There are already so many meat free diets to keep track of (vegan, vegetarian and lacto-ovo vegetarian, etc.) but I like the term plant-based because it is simplified and more inclusive. Plant-based lifestyles can even include meat-eaters! I wanted to dissect what it means to lead a plant-based lifestyle. I prefer to say "lifestyle" instead of “diet” because it is more positive. Diet sounds like something negative and temporary, and just thinking about the word “diet” makes me hangry. Please keep in mind the opinions below are my own and should not be taken as professional advice. I am not a health-care provider or expert, just someone who cares a whole lot about what I eat!

The future is about a plant-based diet, even for the meat-eaters. –Jamie Oliver

 I know I said I started cutting out sugar, but, when in Rome!

I know I said I started cutting out sugar, but, when in Rome!

Forks Over Knives explains “A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.” In case you were wondering, tubers are underground plant stems that store nutrients, like potatoes, yams, ginger, taro, jicama, artichokes and cush-cush (a type of yam).

So, now here is why I love plant-based lifestyles so much. I stopped eating meat when I was about 7 years old. I wasn’t enjoying meat and when I found out that I could live without it, I literally became vegetarian overnight. However, that is not realistic for most people. I am not trying to push an anti-meat agenda, but there are a lot of benefits to slowing down on animal-consumption, both for you and the earth. The great thing about plant-based lifestyles is you don’t have to change your whole life overnight. You can slowly phase out animal products and incorporate more plant-based, whole grain foods into your daily life, one meal a time.  

Any person who perceives Nature as primarily a source of wisdom and health is not likely to lend a hand in its destruction. -Jim Nollman

 One of my all-time favorite meals in Paros. Carrots, potatoes and melt-in-your-mouth artichokes

One of my all-time favorite meals in Paros. Carrots, potatoes and melt-in-your-mouth artichokes

My move from vegetarian to plant-based has been amazing. Once I stopped eating so much processed protein and soy and switched to a plant-based diet, I started feeling dramatically better even without tracking how many grams of protein I was eating. I started using a B-12 spray which assists with the formation of healthy blood cells, energy, metabolism and DNA synthesis and I immediately got back the consistent energy I had been missing since giving up meat. Instead of tracking my calories, I cut out sugar and processed foods. I now eat until I am full and then stop. I started reading ingredients and was turned off by packaged foods containing harmful and complicated-sounding words. I have so much more mental clarity compared to even 6 months ago that I barely feel like the same person. My skin cleared up naturally, for the first time in 15+ years! I have more confidence about my body, my stomach is leaner and I lost a little weight. Check out this article in Men's Fitness about losing weight on a whole-food, plant-based diet. 

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. - Hippocrates

Okay, but HOW can you move to a more plant-based lifestyle? It may be easier to focus on all of the beautiful, colorful foods you can still eat instead of what you can’t. Start building your meals around vegetables and fruit instead of using them as side dishes. If you are worried you won’t be full, eat more! Plant-based foods have less calories on average, so you can eat more without feeling guilty. You will probably be surprised by how full you get from consuming whole foods and how much better your body processes it (and realize how irregular your body was before). If you think you absolutely can’t give up meat, start eating it in moderation. Maybe save it for special occasions or, at the least, start buying local, sustainable meat to lessen the negative effects on the environment.

It was really easy for me to give up meat once I was conscious about what it was. I have been without it for so long that I think it’s kind of crazy how obsessed with meat our culture is when we're so focused about health and being earth-friendly. A lot of people tell me they eat meat because it is an American tradition, but what is traditional about meat today? We have all seen the conditions under which fast food meat is raised, so I don’t need to go into the gross details. Meat is filled with antibiotics and served by underpaid workers who most likely depend on government assistance, and then mindlessly consumed in front of a tv screen. Every link in the chain from the factory to your house contributes to suffering. If you hunt or catch your own food, or are a farmer who makes a living by giving animals a good life and then selling it to your community, that is worlds away from what fast food chains are doing. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't a lot of morals in the meat industry, there are only profits. It is very easy for me to practice a plant-based diet because my conscious is clean about what I spend my money on and put into my body. 

 Italian oranges

Italian oranges

I am not trying to change the world or push an agenda. If anything, I  would love for people to at least be conscious about what they are eating and how their choices affect the world around them. A plant-based lifestyle just makes sense to me and the changes I've made haven't been expensive or time-consuming. I decided to spend a little more time shopping for fresh foods and cooking, and a little less time glued to my iPhone and Netflix. I feel okay spending a little bit more on locally-grown food when the money stays in my community, and a little less on packaged foods that lack nutrients and contribute to the global waste problem we have created. We buy in bulk, cook at home, shop at affordable Trader Joes, use in-season produce, garden during the summer, and make our own coffee and snacks. We have started juicing every morning and have more energy because of it! My Instant Pot has saved me SO much time and work, and there are endless plant-based recipes specifically for the Instant Pot. 

Living a plant-based lifestyle does not have to be expensive or take more time, it is just a more conscious style of living. It might take a while to get it right, which is why I recommend small, daily changes. Forgive yourself for mistakes. It's not diet, it's a lifestyle and you have your whole life to figure it out! Your body and the world will thank you for it!