Everyone has seen nutritional programmes and fad diets come and go. However, some meal plans make so much sense and provide so many benefits, they stand the test of time. One such dietary program involves plant-based nutrition.
As population continues to expand across the globe, determining how to feed this burgeoning population presents a serious challenge. Raising cattle and pigs for protein uses up a huge amount of arable land that could otherwise sustain greater plant-based food crops for human consumption, ethical concerns aside.
As increasing numbers of people turn to vegan and vegetarian diets for reasons from concerns of animal cruelty to a desire to increase their sustainability quotient, colleges and universities have begun incorporating plant-based nutrition courses as staples of their curricula.
Plant-based nutrition involves the majority of an individual’s food intake stemming from plant, not animal, sources. While many people automatically equate plant-based nutrition with vegetarianism and veganism, plant-based nutrition programs vary, with some actually including meat or dairy products in limited quantities for a variety of health needs and dietary reasons.
In addition to limiting consumption of meat products to a minimal level, plant-based nutrition programs focus on the consumption of whole foods over their refined and processed kin. Individuals following a plant-based nutrition program obtain the majority of their calories from raw or gently cooked vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts.
Most people following a plant-based nutrition program care deeply about choosing foods that encourage good health, therefore, they limit their consumption of refined, white flours and sugars as well.
Plant-based nutritional programs take many forms and can be tailored to accommodate individuals suffering from intestinal issues such as Celiac disease or Crohn’s. Both grain and gluten-free plant-based diets exist, although individuals following such plans need to take extra care to get adequate protein without the complex amino acids found in many grains.
Other plant-based nutritional programs cater to vegans who avoid eating or using any animal products whatsoever.
Plant-based nutrition programs benefit not only human beings but the planet earth as a living entity as well. Plant-based nutrition plans eliminate the need for factory farms where countless animals suffer and die in deplorable conditions.
Animal welfare enthusiasts who switch to a plant-based diet often do so in order to do their part to minimize the suffering of innocent animals raised in miserable conditions only to meet their end in the slaughterhouse.
Additionally, switching to a plant-based diet minimizes the environmental impact of mass food production. Raising animals produces agriculture runoff that flows into waterways and groundwater reserves, contaminating them with harmful pathogens.
Switching to plant-based nutrition could even help alleviate world hunger as well. Raising livestock uses valuable water, land and food resources that could otherwise be used to cultivate a vastly greater amount of food. Indeed, producing just one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain, grain that could otherwise feed hungry human beings.
Finally, human beings’ addiction to eating meat may prove hazardous to our health. Farmers pump animals full of antibiotics to prevent illness. These antibiotics lead to the production of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains, and when these strains get passed on to humans through the food they eat, it can lead to serious illness and even death.
While embarking on a plant-based diet requires no special training or certification, learning how to properly nourish ourselves with plants prevents possible malnutrition if done incorrectly.
Interested but not sure where to start? Those wishing to embrace a plant-based lifestyle can give up meat cold turkey or they can gradually reduce their animal consumption to no more than once per week or on special occasions only. Those uncertain if a plant-based diet will work for them can ease into the transition by spending just one week following a plant-based diet.
Discussing your unique health needs with a doctor is important, too. This is another area where plant-based nutrition programs could truly revolutionize the way we discuss and approach our diets.
With planet earth teetering on the edge of environmental catastrophe due to climate change, everyone has an obligation to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint, and switching to a plant-based diet offers one way to do so. Furthermore, switching to a plant-based diet prevents animal and human suffering alike by utilizing farmland to grow plants instead of raising cattle.
Whether you choose to go fully vegan or simply reduce your meat consumption, switching to a plant-based diet can ensure you get the nutrition you need to perform at your best while benefiting the world at large.
Kate Harveston is a vegan health and sustainability writer and the editor of women’s wellness blog, So Well, So Woman.