More and more of our readers have been asking us what eating a plant-based diet entails. While we try our best not to be militant when talking about our food choices, we love it when people express an interest in moving away from meat, eggs and dairy. So, it gives us a ridiculous amount of pleasure to present: Eating a Plant-Based Diet for Beginners (and Curious Omnivores). Enjoy! 🙂
Our Plant-Based Story
We weren’t always the picture of glowing, outdoorsy good health (we used sit in bars and drink tequila)
Meat and dairy played a big part in both of our lives as kids and continued to do so well into adulthood. It was only in our very early thirties that Sporty and I finally decided to stop eating red meat.
I don’t know what exactly prompted the decision, although I do have a very clear memory of biting into a frankfurter and suddenly wondering what it was made of. Maybe that’s what sparked the change, I’m not sure.
I mean, it’s not like health was even a consideration back then. We smoked, drank large quantities of alcohol and ate a seriously unbalanced diet that favoured sugar, white bread and German sausages.
Our first real foray into a healthier way of eating was after I discovered Dr Andrew Weil’s book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health (thanks Oprah!). The book proved to be a lot like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.
Dr Weil was merely the jumping off point however; since then we’ve read and watched countless movies and books on the subject of health and wellness. We’ve tried all sorts of diet plans, from the protein-obsessed gym bunny diet to going completely raw.
We also swung back and forth between eating animal products and eschewing them and then eating them again. Finally, about five years ago we made the decision to go 100% vegan.
A Disclaimer (of Sorts)
Just because you read it on the interwebs, doesn’t mean it’s true
We’re not doctors or dieticians or experts on nutrition (if we’re experts at anything, it’s coffee and chocolate). What follows is just our thoughts on a way of eating that has served our health and our bank account well.
If you’re keen to follow us down this path (yay, please do!), then you can inform yourself by reading the books and blogs, watching the movies and listening to the podcasts that we’ll share with you in the final instalment of this epic series.
Swapping to a plant-based diet isn’t rocket science. You eat more fruit and vegetables and less animal products, until eventually you’re eating only plant-based food.
Normally, when suggesting someone adopts a new lifestyle habit, it’s recommended that they consult their physician first. If the lifestyle habit in question is, say, hiking the Appalachian Trail in your eighties or swimming the English Channel when you’re in your seventies, by all means, go get a physical.
But seriously, you don’t need your doctor’s permission to eat more carrots and less rump steak. Besides, you only have to watch a movie like What the Health to see that the medical profession may not always have your best interests at heart.
Western medicine certainly has its place. You can drink all the kale juice you like, it’s not going to reattach that severed finger or set that broken leg. I just think we need to start taking a more active role in our healthcare instead of leaving it to someone else. One of the best ways to do that is by learning how to listen to our bodies.
That way, when something does go awry we’ll be better equipped to figure out the best way to solve the problem. And that includes knowing if it even needs input from a medical specialist at all.
Right, enough with the boring stuff, if you’ve got half a brain (you’re reading this blog, of course you do) you’ll know to take whatever we say with a pinch of sustainably sourced Himalayan salt. Let’s move on.
What Even is a Plant-Based Diet?
You may think it’s all about rabbit food, but there’s more to a plant-based diet than meets the eye
Let’s start by looking at what exactly a plant-based diet is. For many, it may seem obvious. But then, on the other end of the spectrum, we still have people asking if we eat fish or eggs. So let’s go ahead and clear that up once and for all.
What a Plant-Based Diet Includes
A plant-based diet includes anything that —as the name implies— comes from a plant e.g. vegetables, fruit, legumes (beans, lentils, split peas, chickpeas, etc.) and grains (rice, quinoa, barley, oats, etc.).
What a Plant-Based Diet Excludes
It excludes anything that is derived from an animal e.g. meat (beef, pork, chicken, fish, seafood), eggs and dairy (cheese, yoghurt, milk, ice-cream, cream). Sporty and I also exclude honey from our diet, however, not all plant-based advocates do.
The Wild Cards
You can always tell by how fakey pants something looks if it contains dodgy ingredients
It’s a little bit trickier than that, however, as there are some wild cards (e.g. sugar) that technically should be considered plant-based, but due to the way they’re produced, aren’t always.
By making it a habit to read the label on the back of a product and familiarising yourself with the terms, you’ll soon learn what is vegan and what isn’t.
For example, you may think wine gums are vegan (they’re just sweets, right?), but they contain gelatine. A lot of candy also contains shellac (a resin secreted by the female lac bug) and carmine (a pigment produced from some scale insects). Check out this list for more hidden animal products.
Learning how to read nutrition labels is useful for more than just spotting non-vegan ingredients however. It also helps you understand other crucial information, such as the amount of sugar, fiber, etc. lurking in the snack you’re about to ingest.
That’s in for this instalment. Next week we’ll look at whether a plant-based diet is healthy and if you’ll lose weight on it. We’ll also address the question of protein. Prepare yourselves, it’s gonna be a humdinger.