The diet game is a multibillion-dollar industry. Year after year, weight-loss franchises, food companies, pharmaceutical firms, the diet-book industry, and dietary-supplement suppliers play into our insecurities and our desire for the fastest change with the least amount of work. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to live a healthier life. Diet change must live alongside lifestyle change for wellness success, and that takes effort and time. I’ve eaten a plant-based diet for decades. Food luminaries such as Michael Pollan, movies like Food, Inc. and Forks Over Knives, and scientific studies are thrusting this diet into popular culture. I can assure you that, unlike so many other food fads that have raged into our culture and just as quickly disappeared, a plant-based diet is not a trend. Whether you are interested in decreasing your risk of lifestyle-related diseases, helping the environment, or seeking a more life-sustaining way of eating, embracing a plant-based diet is a great way to start your journey toward change.
A plant-based diet focuses on whole foods derived from plants. In simple terms, your diet amplifies dark leafy greens, vegetables (cooked or raw), fruits, beans, peas, lentils, seeds, and nuts. While adding in these nutrient-dense foods, a plant-based diet is further defined by minimizing processed foods, unhealthy oils, and animal products. There are various types of plant-based diets, and leaders in the field have varying opinions regarding what combination of foods makes for the best plant-based diet. Regardless, the type of plant-based diet is mostly defined by the percentage by which you decrease animal products. The three most common plant-based diets are the vegan diet, the lacto-vegetarian diet, and the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. The vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat, eggs, and dairy products. The lacto-vegetarian diet excludes meat and eggs but includes dairy products. The lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet excludes meat but includes dairy and eggs. However, you do not have to completely exclude animal products to reap the benefits of adding nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based fats and proteins into your diet. Any step toward a plant-based diet, whatever the combination, is worth exploring to better understand the potential benefits for your health.
There are a number of benefits to eating a plant-based diet. The two most prominent reasons affect both your health and the environment. In regards to your health, studies show that by following a plant-based diet, you may cut your chances of getting heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, compared to a diet that includes significantly more animal protein. And when it comes to the environment, a report released by the Environmental Working Group calculated that the agricultural practices necessary to produce animal products are the highest output of industrial greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases directly impact the temperature of the environment, thus altering the global climate. On top of increasing your potential life span and the life span of the earth, eating a plant-based diet can be cost-saving; buying whole grains, beans, legumes, and nuts as the base of most meals costs less than buying animal protein.
Making the decision to add more healthy foods into your life seems easy. The hard part is where to start when making a lifestyle change. For the best advice, I enlisted the help of the team behind the entire Candle Cafe trio of restaurants (Candle Cafe, Candle 79, and Candle Cafe West in New York City) and the authors of the cookbooks The Candle Café Cookbook, Candle 79 Cookbook, and their latest cookbook, Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe. Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza, the founders and visionaries behind the vegan Candle Cafe restaurants and cookbooks, and their chefs, Angel Ramos and Jorge Pineda, are true experts in helping people discover the joy of plant-based cooking and eating.
- Stock up on good food. The Candle Cafe team suggests starting your journey with a trip to your local grocery store or health-food store to stock your refrigerator and pantry with all the necessary ingredients to set you up for success. Buy dark leafy greens, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, seeds, and nuts. For more specific suggestions, take a look at the suggestions from the Candle Cafe team on how to build plant-based pantry.
- Gather great plant-based recipes. Once you’re surrounded by the right ingredients, it’s time to gather the best recipes. My favorite everyday plant-based recipes are compiled in Victoria’s Favorite Plant-Based Recipes. For holidays and celebrations, check out the recipes in Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe. These healthful recipes are a great way to infuse health and wellness into the holidays. Truthfully, these recipes are also some of my favorite everyday recipes—there is no need to wait for a holiday to enjoy!
- Cook. Build a new go-to repertoire of plant-based recipes. Start slow by trying one new recipe a week. Involve your family in the process by asking them to rate the recipe. It may take a few weeks, but soon you will have plant-based recipes you and your family love.