The Benefits of a Plant-Based Lifestyle & How to Choose Plant Alternatives
People are becoming increasingly conscious about their everyday lifestyle choices – which includes the growing trend of adopting plant-based diets.
When people think of “plant-based,” they might think of vegetarianism; a diet that doesn’t include eating meat, or veganism – where one refrains from eating any animal product (meat, milk, eggs and ingredients like honey). There are also “flexitarians” who occasionally consume animal foods, “pescatarians,” who continue to eat fish… and the list goes on.
But with plant-based diets, it’s less of a “diet” and more of a lifestyle. The focus is essentially making fresh, unprocessed plant-sourced foods central to meals and snacks, focusing on fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, whole grains, legumes and beans.
There is no denying that our food choices matter, and there are several great reasons for people to move towards more plant-based lifestyles. Many are motivated by environmental concerns, to help lessen ecological impacts related to livestock agriculture that can damage ecosystems and contribute to climate change.  For others, the choice is based on animal welfare.
Then there are the health benefits. A diet that emphasizes whole, unrefined, unprocessed high-quality plant foods means a natural increase in fibre, vitamins, minerals, plant-based antioxidants and phytonutrients. It’s no wonder improved health is a natural effect of plant-based eating.
An example of this is the Mediterranean Diet, which consists primarily of vegetables, beans, fruits, grains, along with fish and small amounts of eggs, chicken, dairy products and eggs. This diet has been studied for its relationship to longevity and reduced risks of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Other benefits linked to plant-centric eating include stabilized weight and blood sugar and improved digestion.
A wide variety of whole, natural foods provides essential nutrients for a balanced diet. For the most potent nutrition, shop for unprocessed and organic foods and look for local, in-season produce for the best quality, freshness, and reduced ecological impact.
Protein may be a concern for some but including a variety of sources in your meals help ensure that ample amino acids are consumed. Protein-rich plant sources include nuts, tempeh, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and whole grains. Plant-based protein powder supplements offer convenient ways to incorporate more protein into your daily routine. Look for sprouted or fermented supplements for better digestion.
Some other micronutrients that may be of concern when cutting down on (or out) animal sourced foods include vitamin B12, iron and vitamin D, depending on an individual’s personal constitution. If you’re thinking of making a switch to a more plant-based diet, consider consulting a Registered Holistic Nutritionist to help you identify any potential deficiencies in your diet and recommend appropriate supplements based on your individual needs.
One common concern about shifting the diet is missing some favourite foods. Fortunately, there are many plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products.
- “Meat analogue” is a term used to describe plant-based versions of ground, sausage, nuggets, deli slices and a variety of other foods that would otherwise be made from meat. More and more companies are making products that put flavour and nutrition front and foremost.
- Tofu and tempeh are less-processed meat substitutes made from soybeans and provide complete proteins.
- Firm or extra-firm tofu are best for cooking in savoury dishes, and soft or “silken” versions can be used in puddings, smoothies, desserts or for dishes like tofu scramble in place of eggs.
- Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and has a firmer texture that allows for it to be cut thinly and stand up to pan frying and grilling. It takes on the flavour of marinades beautifully and can also be purchased “pre-seasoned”.
- Seitan is another high-protein meat alternative made from wheat gluten that is versatile for many cooking purposes. It can be found in different flavours and formats including ground, sliced, loaves, cubes and cutlets.
- Many recipes are also available online for making your own veggie burger patties with beans, peas and other plant proteins, and even sweet potato jerky!
Milk & Yogurt
- There are a variety of milk alternatives made from soy, coconut, oats, cashews, almonds, and other nuts available as sweetened and unsweetened. Nut milks are also simple to prepare from scratch at home by soaking raw nuts, blending with water, and straining, requiring just a few simple pieces of equipment.
- Dairy-free yogurts have also risen in popularity and are made from plant-based sources such as oats, soy, and coconut. These can be found in individually-packaged servings for a great grab-and-go snack and have the benefits of probiotics that support a healthy gut.
Butters & Cheese
- Plant-based spreads are easy swaps for butter and can be used interchangeably. These are made from coconut, olive oil or a variety of other plant oils and have creamy, melting textures for topping toast and all of your cooking and baking needs.
- Plant-based “cheeses” have come a long way from the early rubbery versions. Now a wide variety are made from nuts, nutritional yeast, coconut oil that are worthy of a fancy cheese plate or everyday use, including cream cheese-style spreads and easy-to-melt mozzarella versions – perfect for topping pizzas.
If meat is still a part of your plant-based lifestyle, change the way you think about your consumption habits. Instead of making it central to the diet, serve smaller amounts or use it as a flavourful garnish to complement a meal. Look for products from local, ethical, small-scale farms when shopping for meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, as they operate with a focus on animal welfare and environmental consciousness.