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Fuelled By Plants

My mum used to always say “Eat your veggies!”, never “Eat your meat!” Eating more vegetables has never been more popular and there is a growing community of people who have adopted a whole food plant-based lifestyle. But what exactly is a whole food plant-based lifestyle and how does it differ from veganism? Why is it up and coming? Why would you choose a plant-based diet? Finally, and most importantly, how do you begin to make that change?

A WFPB (whole food plant based) diet is not dissimilar to a vegan diet and many areas will in fact overlap, however, the focus tends to be on the nutrition and eating a well-balanced diet with as little processed food as possible. Veganism is centred on a cruelty free world for animals which is more of a philosophy.

Whole foods are fruits, vegetables and legumes which have not been processed; a simple example is wholewheat bread. The grain has not been broken down, processed or bleached to make white bread. Seeds, nuts, whole grains (pearl barley, quinoa, couscous, brown rice), fruits and vegetables should make up most of your plate. And what about protein? There are ample plantbased proteins including pumpkin, chia and hemp seeds, lentils, peas, beans, and tofu products, to name but a few. Some people still eat small quantities of meat and fish, which is entirely a personal choice. The bottom line is to eat as much nutritious food and as little processed food, as possible.

Processed food could be ready meals, chips, sweets, jarred sauces, pizzas, fast/fried food and processed meats like hot dogs, salami and sausages! It is not rocket science to know that most of these products are full of chemicals, artificial sweeteners, high-levels of sodium and more. Some of these foods can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. However, the most dangerous substances are carcinogens which have the capacity to cause cancer, which also depends on your genetics, environmental exposure as well as the level and duration of exposure to the carcinogen.

Meat and dairy are high in saturated fats and can contribute to cardiovascular issues. Some farmed animals are fed medication like antibiotics which enter the human system through consumption, as well as contamination in the waterways. At the end of the day, we all want to remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible, so it goes without saying that we should endeavour to eat healthier products to reduce the risks of serious illnesses.

So enough of the doom and gloom… How does our health benefit from eating a plant-based diet?

Plant based foods contain phytonutrients which are nonnutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. They are non-essential nutrients, meaning that they are not required by the human body for sustaining life. It is well-known that plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves, but recent research demonstrate that they can also protect humans against diseases. There are more than a thousand known phytochemicals. Some of the well-known phytochemicals are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy and flavonoids in fruits.

A plant-based diet is higher in fibre; women under 50 should eat 25g per day and women over 50, 22g. Those that rely on a heavily meat and/or processed diet can often struggle to meet these recommended daily amounts (RDA). Fibre is essential to maintain a healthy digestive system and balances healthy gut bacteria. Really you should be pooping every day!! Too often we put down bloating to be a ‘woman’s issue’ but it often due to low fibre intake. Or if you do eat meat, make sure to fill at least half the plate with vegetables also!

It is no secret that fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, including A, B, C, D, E, magnesium and zinc, all contributing to a healthier mind and body. The real jewel in the crown of vegetables is cruciferous. These babies are full of sulforaphane, a naturally occurring compound in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. Sulforaphane has antioxidant & anti-inflammatory properties and may help lower the risk of cancer. It is activated only when vegetables are chopped or chewed and the highest levels of sulforaphane are found in raw vegetables. That’s not to say we all need to start chewing on stalks now, but I always try to have one portion per day. If not, I take a supplement.

We have heard the nitty gritty but how do we implement changes to have a plant-based lifestyle?

I think a really important factor is your mindset as to why you are changing to a plant-based lifestyle. This is going to be your motivation. For me it was my health. As a two-time colon cancer survivor, I want to do everything in my power to enrich my body and mind with as much nutritious food and cancer fighting goodies, not the opposite which could potentially cause me more harm.

This is a breakdown of some of the steps I took, which is by no means exhaustive:

  • Replaced cow’s milk in hot drinks and cereal with a PB milk (soya high in protein)
  • Bought a vegan butter or margarine (I use Flora)
  • Stopped eating eggs, but I still eat cakes etc. with dairy in them
  • Stopped eating meat
  • Stopped eating fish
  • Started a B12 supplement (vital if not eating meat / fish)
  • Eliminated baked goods with animal products
  • Stopped eating sweets with gelatine and reduced the intake (refined sugars were a bit of a problem for me!)
  • Reduced all processed foods and cooked most my meals using WFPB products

Obviously, I added a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes as I got rid of other ingredients. I do buy some organic foods but if they can be peeled, there’s no need for them to be organic as the chemicals are in the peel. Berries carry the most pesticides, so I make sure I thoroughly wash them and all non-organic fruit and vegetables. It was a natural process that I took my time with, and I tried not to put too much pressure on myself. I was quite strict with sugary foods initially as I wanted to get rid of cravings. I found that if I didn’t drink my recommended daily water intake that I would crave sweets.

But what does this mean in layman terms? How has my life changed?

Cutting down sugars and eating foods to nourish my liver has supported the balance of my hormones. I do not have painful periods anymore. Although I am currently on preventative chemotherapy (to prevent another recurrence), my body has kept me going. The chemotherapy passes through the liver and yes, I do have nausea and tiredness due to the medication, but I have noticed a significant difference in my recovery. As I have routine blood tests done, my oncologist checks for renal, liver and haemoglobin functions (plus a bunch of other stuff), all of which are in the normal range. We want to be ‘normal’ when our bloods are concerned! I don’t get bloating, I have daily bowel movements, I have more energy and my moods are much lighter!

Maybe you are thinking ‘what about protein, I just love the taste of meat, eating out will be a pain, my family eat meat, I love cakes’…to name but a few. Don’t worry, these are all perfectly normal reactions. I also had them, but I changed and so can you! Remember, you cannot undo a lifetime of eating habits overnight but once you get your head in the game, you will never turn back!

I have talked about food predominantly but other reasons to change to a plant-based lifestyle are ethical and environmental. I feel happier knowing that no animals suffer for me to eat, and learning more about the meat, dairy and fish industries has opened my eyes to unnecessary cruelty. Raising animals and trawling for fish and seafood is massively contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and I feel as an individual, I have a duty to take responsibility and protect the future of our planet.

So, if you are a woman who is keen to start a plantbased lifestyle, but you feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start; I offer support, accountability, recipes and mindset tips with the transition. I have started a private Facebook group – Plant Based Lifestyle for Women – which is a personal and safe community. You can pick my brains there and chat with other women on a similar journey. If you prefer Instagram, I am @plantbased_joanna.

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