One trend in dining that has grown more than others over the last several years is the plant-based diet. While it may seem like a change of pace for many in rich, Western societies, eating a plant-based or plant-forward diet free of processed foods has actually been the norm for most people throughout history.
Dietary changes are never easy, and looking ahead to a diet of only fruits, nuts, and veggies might seem daunting. If you think you are giving up burgers and steak for a life of hummus and lentils, it is good to know that healthy eating and a healthy plant based diet can be delicious, as well as help prevent the dangers of coronary heart disease.
There are many reasons people choose plant-based or fully vegetarian diets. This can be for ethical reasons, environmental concerns, or simply because they are worried about their health. Plant-based diets rich in whole foods, whole grains, lentils, leafy greens, and legumes can help provide health benefits for people concerned about a wide range of conditions including:
Even if cardiovascular disease isn’t an immediate concern for you, other health issues can still be addressed by switching to a plant-based diet. Many people who are interested in changing their diet to avoid obesity or just for a little healthy weight loss have found that eliminating meat from their diets can have positive effects. The lack of fats and protein from nutrient-dense meats can help you lower your calorie intake, but if you are working out to lose weight, you should exercise caution. Some studies have found that high-protein diets rich in lean meats and fish can help build muscle mass, which can speed up your metabolism and help you burn fat faster.
One of the most consistent challenges for people on a completely plant-based or vegan diet is getting the full spectrum of proteins that are available in animal products. You can still get the full slate of amino acids required to keep you healthy without eating meat, fish, or poultry, but it is definitely more difficult and takes a bit of planning. Some nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids can be harder to come by in the plant kingdom, but it is still possible to fit them in.
Some nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium—which many people get from animal foods and dairy products—are readily available in a vegetarian diet. Antioxidant-rich foods are also very common in the fruit and vegetable food groups. With the addition of whole grain cereals, you can end up with a diet entirely composed of plant foods that meets all your nutritional needs, including replacing the protein sources some nonvegetarians are reluctant to give up.
Some people are not convinced that a fully vegan diet is for them. Even a vegetarian diet without the occasional bit of meat or fish might seem a touch dull to some. If you fall into this category, the Mediterranean diet might be for you. This diet—which is heavy in healthy fats, low in dairy products, and contains only a small amount of meat and fish—can help lower your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions that can be related to unhealthy dietary patterns.
Even if you aren’t ready to make the jump to a fully vegetarian diet, switching out some items on the menu can have profound health benefits. This can include swapping simple carbs like white bread or white potatoes for quinoa and brown rice. Tossing some black beans into your tacos instead of carnitas can be a small step toward a lower risk of obesity and other chronic diseases.
If you are wanting to eat a more healthy diet but don’t feel like a diet of vegan substitutes and veggie burgers is your thing, there are other options. Some people even adopt what is known as a flexitarian diet. This sort of diet is based on a vegetarian diet, but can include some animal foods occasionally. Typically these occasional indulgences will be fish and lean red meat to keep the health benefits of avoiding some less healthy meat dishes. Other steps toward vegetarianism are the pescatarian diet, where fish is on the menu, or the ovo vegetarian option where most animal products are off-limits, but eggs are still on the menu.
Ensuring you are getting a vegetarian diet that is filled with a wide variety of plant proteins is difficult, but it can be done. For people who are unfamiliar with this kind of diet, consulting a dietitian or nutritionist can be useful in getting new dietary patterns established. It may feel restrictive at first not to eat meat, but once you have gotten your head around what it takes to get your essential nutrients covered without the occasional burger, the ways to mix and match interesting foods out of the remaining food groups can seem endless.
There is no free lunch, though, even if it is a lunch of some chickpeas and leafy greens. A vegetarian meal plan may help you avoid an increased risk of high cholesterol while you age, but you can put yourself at risk of vitamin deficiencies if you are not careful. Making sure you are getting the full spectrum of nutrients and vitamins you need on a plant-based diet is possible, though, and with a little planning you will find that your new meat-free life can be as delicious as it is healthy.
Losing weight is never easy, and simply cutting the meat from your diet is not likely to be the only step you need to take if you have an ambitious goal of losing a significant percentage of your body weight. Pairing your diet with your exercise and other lifestyle goals is essential to ensuring you are getting the nutrients you need while still maintaining a caloric deficit over time.
There is one set of people for whom a vegetarian diet may not be an option at all. If you have undergone a bariatric procedure such as a gastric bypass, you may not be able to get enough calories in your diet by only eating vegetables. The nutrient density of animal protein sources like fish and lean meat make them a crucial part of your diet if you are facing the severe caloric restrictions of a post-bariatric surgery diet.
The complications and restrictions of a traditional bariatric surgery have long been a problem, but thankfully more weight loss procedures are being developed all the time. Minimally invasive procedures and reversible solutions like the Spatz3 gastric balloon can provide ways to restrict the size of your stomach without permanently altering your digestive tract. This has been added to other proven options such as endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG), which provide compelling alternatives for individuals who need to lose weight, but may not be good candidates for gastric bypass surgery.
If you are interested in learning more about the many different procedures, medications, and other options available for weight loss, request a consultation at True You Weight Loss today.