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The what and why of plant-based

In the month of January, it's common for people to take steps towards new year resolutions. Campaigns such as dry January and Veganuary attempt to give an extra boost to those trying to be healthier.

Maybe you've seen posts about Veganuary, and questions have popped up like "what exactly does it mean to be vegan?" or "what's the big deal about eating plant-based?" This is my attempt to answer those questions for you. If you still have questions after reading this email, feel free to reply - I'm here to help!

What is a whole-foods, plant-based diet?

For starters, a whole-foods, plant-based diet (WFPB) is based on a number of eating principals. The basic principles for this lifestyle aim to:

  • emphasize the intake of whole, minimally processed foods

  • reduce, limit, or eliminate animal products

  • focus intake on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts

  • exclude added sugar, enriched flour, and processed oils

  • source locally grown and organic food whenever possible

There are different variations of the WFPB diet. Here is a brief outline of each:

  • Vegan: Excludes all animal products, especially meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy

  • Raw: Same exclusions as veganism as well as the exclusion of all foods cooked at temperatures greater than 118°F

  • Lacto-vegetarian: Excludes eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry (Includes: milk products)

  • Ovo-vegetarian: Excludes meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy (Includes: eggs)

  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: Excludes meat, seafood, and poultry (Includes: eggs and dairy)

  • Pescatarian: Excludes meat and poultry (Includes: seafood, eggs, and dairy)

Following a WFPB offers many rewards. Did you know that following a WFPB diet is associated with reduced risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension? Here’s more information about each of these:

Obesity Most of the world's population live in countries where obesity kills more people than being underweight. Health consequences of being obese include increased risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, and cancer of the breasts, prostate, liver, and colon.

Type 2 Diabetes Diabetes is considered the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. Conditions associated with diabetes include blindness, amputation, and kidney failure. Type 2 diabetes is preventable.

Heart Disease Cardiovascular disease (CVD) - disorders of the heart and blood vessels - is the leading cause of death globally. Four out of five CVD deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes. Risk indicators include high blood pressure, increased glucose and lipids in the blood, and obesity. Indicators are associated with lifestyle-related factors, including an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.

High Blood Pressure Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition that causes stress on blood vessels and forces the heart to work harder. High blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’ because most people do not experience symptoms. If left untreated, one could experience a heart attack or heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and cognitive impairment.

Research has confirmed the health benefits of following a WFPB diet. Studies show that a plant-based diet can help to lower body weight and reduce your LDL cholesterol. The best part, it’s never too late to start!

Transitioning to a WFPB diet may seem daunting, but you can start gradually. Start by eating more of the plant-based food you already enjoy. This can be done easily by adding a larger portion of your favorite veggies to meals you currently make.

Next, pick one or two of your favorite meals to keep in your weekly rotation. Find new ways to tweak these meals to accommodate your WFPB diet. For example, if you can’t miss taco night, try using beans or tofu instead of beef. You can gradually adjust the recipe according to how your tastes change.

A plant-based diet doesn’t have to be boring. Get creative and think beyond salads!

If you'd like some help transitioning to a WFPB diet, sign up for Firefly's Whole Foods for Whole Health coaching program. To celebrate Veganuary, you receive 15% off if you start this month. Learn more here.

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