If I am going to eat a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet. I want to be compared to a giraffe. They eat leaves from tall trees. Very selective, very elegant. You can laugh at this but being a person of very short stature, it sounds glamorous.
Plant-based eating is another divisive topic, as if we needed another. The term vegan has lost its allure in favor of plant-based eating which seems to be less offensive.
The terms 'plant- based' (PB) and 'whole food plant-based'(WFPB) are new buzz words. Depending on where you are in your food journey, you may embrace or hate them 😋😝. I believe they became popular to replace the term vegan/veganism which has the reputation of being elitist. Does plant-based sound less judgemental? Who knows, but the bottom line is if you are eating a plant-based diet it is a tool in your arsenal to help people and the planet become healthier.
What do these terms mean? A plant-based diet means exactly what it says. It is a diet composed strictly of plants, devoid of meat. Plant-based as opposed to just plant diet allows for some level of deviation. A WFPB diet is a stricter version of a PB diet. It involves eating only unrefined plant products. For example, sugar is PB but would not be eaten by a person following a WFPB diet. Likewise with white rice vs whole grain rice. Wheat flour may be vegan but is refined, so would not be included in a WFPB diet.
You are probably getting the idea that a PB diet is not necessarily healthy and that is absolutely correct. I could remain PB without touching a fruit or veggie. Am I going to be healthy - probably not. So, don't equate the two. The hope is that, if you have made the commitment to be WFPB or even just PB, you care about your health.
People who feel unable to follow this eating style blame those of us who do for being difficult and snobby. " I don't want to go out to eat with them because they are a PIA about the menu and never want to go where we do." This is a sentiment I hear often either directly to my face or behind my back. I know I am doing what I believe in my heart is the right thing so as long as that is the case and I am not hurting anyone else, I have to either ignore these comments or use them as an opportunity to educate others, since this is my job as a health coach.
Adults choose PB diets for multiple reasons. Two of the main motivations are 1) health reasons and 2) environmental concerns. For me it is both but for others it might be one or the other.
One other distinction that is important. Vegetarians don't eat flesh from animals but will consume by-products such as dairy, eggs, cheese, and leather goods.
There are many reasons why this lifestyle is chosen for health reasons. Here are some:
1. Your doctor suggests or forcefully recommends changing your diet. This may be due to risk factors such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure but it might also be about your weight. Obesity is an epidemic in the US which leads to may of these diseases. It has been shown that switching from a heavily meat and fat dominated diet to a plant-based diet reverses many of these conditions. It is worth trying before investing in a lot of expensive and questionable medications!
2. You may realize that you are not feeling your best and have become restricted in your activities. Maybe you are carrying around extra weight.
3. A routine medical test scares you.
4. You have been influenced by family or friends who have chosen this lifestyle.
5. Your profession requires you to be fit.
6. Your family history is fraught with medical conditions you are trying to avoid.
Plant-based eaters may or may not choose this lifestyle for environmental reasons.
Livestock grown for human consumption creates greenhouse gases in large quantities. Pasture-fed animal consumption is the best option but it requires large grazing lands.
Since most people buy their meat, chicken, and fish from their local grocery store, the sources are questionable. Many of the big meat producers raise their animals inhumanely- in very unhealthy close quartered pens.
Eating seafood has its own problems including; overfishing, climate change, which is killing fish, trash dumped in our waters (all fish have some plastic in them), fishing boats and cruise ships polluting our waterways and fish contaminated with heavy metals. Man-made fish hatcheries are very controversial.
Livestock also produces milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and other dairy products that we love to consume. We use animal skins for leather goods, furniture, etc. Animal fats make food taste good. After all, breast milk is very high in fat so our bodies crave fat. It is a necessary component of our diet. Fortunately, there are healthy plant-based fats such as avocados. Animal fats like lard and butter are considered saturated fats, which are not recommended in a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats that come from plants, such as all of the plant-based oils is it's own topic and is covered in more detail in https://www.healthwellth.com/post/super-basic-food-knowledge-fats.
More and more people are turning to alternative ways of eating to avoid the problems plaguing our food chain. Nothing is perfect but it's a matter of pros vs. cons.
NO SUCH THING AS PERFECTION... that's for sure!!!
If you choose this lifestyle for medical reasons, you may feel it is ok to wear garments, shoes etc. made from animal based products. Even things like gelatin are made from cow hooves. You have to scrutinize labels and do some research if you are like me, and want to avoid animal related products in your entire life.
With that said, it is also important to note that our economy is globally driven, which means that much of the produce and other non-meat food items we buy are coming from locations far and wide. It is critical to eat as much from local sources as you can and only supplement with imported foods or those that come from far away. This is very difficult to do, especially if you live in a cold-weather climate. It gets old to live on apples, potatoes and cabbage all winter. Eating food that has traveled a distance to get to you has environmental impacts of course. Transportation, water, spoilage, climate control , labor are all very expensive and polluting. So again, not perfect. It is just that this is a better alternative to eating meat.
A DIFFICULT JOURNEY
First I want to admit that transitioning to a WFPB diet can be very challenging. A friend of mine, who was overweight and had risk factors for heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure was counseled by her doctor to transition to a plant-based diet. She has made great strides in this area, losing weight and greatly reducing her meat intake, but she can't quite give up animal products. Part of the reason is that vegetables are not her favorite thing. It is hard to be a plant-based eater without eating veggies and fruit. I am lucky that I love almost all veggies and fruit. Believe it or not one fruit I do not care for which I admit is strange is watermelon. I love all types of other melons but not watermelon - go figure. I am sure many of you have heard stories of WFPB eaters who 'only eat bacon'. Bacon is the holy grail of meat products but also one of the most unhealthy!
I recognize that meat and potato eaters may have a harder time but it is worth the attempt. Is quality of life as you age important to you? If you can focus on the long-term rather than getting discouraged in the short term, you will be setting yourself up for success. There is also a lot of help available to get started and progress. Most experts I have read indicate that the most successful technique for migrating to a WFPB diet is to allow yourself a gradual transition over time. For example, maybe you can start with eliminating meat-based breakfasts in favor or oatmeal or porridge with other grains and some fruit. Maybe it would be easier for you to substitute one dinner a week with a WFPB dinner to start. More about tackling these challenges in the next post.
I was lucky. It was easy for me to transition to a plant-based diet because I ate very little meat to begin with. My first Thanksgiving without Turkey was the hardest day. It has been over 1.5 years now since my conversion ( it was not a religious experience for me, HA!) and although it was a bit strange at the beginning, I am now loving every minute of it and learning so much about this lifestyle. I must admit that for the most part I do love to cook so I experiment a lot with combinations of food I never would have guessed work together. I follow several plant-based experts and chefs who cook plant-based meals and I have learned so much from them. If you don't like to cook, this is still a very easy lifestyle to maintain due to readily available pre-wrapped and prepared products (of course, as always, plastic wrappings and bags have environmental impacts as well so it is a bit of a vicious cycle).
Let's face it - we make hundreds of decisions a day and half of them involve balancing one choice against another. If you are interested in things discussed in this blog, you are probably trying your best to balance what works for you, vs. what is good for the planet and others.
In my next post I am going to discuss the subtleties of plant-based eating that are as varied as deciding to be plant-based in the first place. In addition, I will discuss recipes, more about challenges, pitfalls and how to reduce the fear associated with eating this way. Gotta start somewhere!!
While I am composing my next episode, here are some resources that have helped me become WFPB.
Furman, Joel "Eat to Live", Little Brown and Company, NY, NY, 2011
Pollan, Michael, "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Penguin Books, 2006
Both of these authors have written many book and all of them are good.
Game Changers - Netflix
Kiss the Ground- Netflix
What the Health - Netflix
Cowspiracy - Netflix
Plant-pure Nation - Amazon Prime
Forks over Knives - Amazon Prime
Good Recipe Sites (this is in my opinion only, experiment yourself with others)
Minimalist Baker - minimalistbaker.com
Forks over Knives- forksoverknives.com
Monkey and Me Adventures - monkeyandmekitchenadventures.com
Healthy Vegan Eating - healthyveganeating.com on instagram
Rainbow Plant Life - rainbowplantlife.com
Cooking with Chef AJ - lots of videos on youtube
Happy watching, reading and thinking! So much to learn, it's always a good thing.