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What's so great about plant-based

I've been eating a mostly vegan diet for about 10 years, and while in that time it's become a lot more common to avoid eating animal products, I'm still occasionally asked "why." There are three primary reasons people choose to eat a plant-based diet: 1) for their own health, 2) for the animals, or 3) for the environment. I happen to be someone who eats vegan for all three reasons.

When I was prescribed multiple prescription drugs after surviving a heart attack at 31 years old, I knew there had to be a better way. In my research, I learned that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet can prevent, halt, and even reverse chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Vegan diets are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds. They are also more abundant in potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E. All great reasons to make the transition.

According to the World Health Organization, about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by factors within your control, including diet. Research also suggests that eating at least seven portions of fresh fruits and vegetables per day may lower your risk of dying from cancer by up to 15%. Vegans may also have up to a 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease. As a bonus, people who eat a plant-based diet tend to be leaner than those who don’t, and the diet makes it easier to lose weight and keep it off without counting calories.

I love animals, so the more I learned about animal agriculture, it was a no-brainer that I would stop contributing to a system in which innocent creatures suffer in terrible living conditions before being slaughtered. I won't go into the details here, but if you want to educate yourself about the industry that raises animals for food, there are several documentaries and resources to check out. One of my favorite organizations, Farm Sanctuary, has a lot of educational resources on their website here.

Vegans have a lighter environmental footprint than meat-eaters. A plant-based diet places much less stress on the environment, because producing calories from plants is vastly more efficient than getting them from animals. Plant-based agriculture uses much less water, land and chemical inputs overall, and results in far less pollution. Animal agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Rainforests are being destroyed to make room for cattle ranches, and drinking water is being contaminated around the world by sewage and waste runoff from animal farms.

You may be thinking that a whole-foods, plant-based diet is going to be hard work or boring, and that avoiding animal ingredients limits your options - think again! This way of eating provides an opportunity to become a more innovative cook. As you try and work with new ingredients, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for food.

Sure, if you cook the same veggies the same way day after day, you’ll get bored. The same is true with any food. Think of this experience as a flavor adventure. Food allows you to travel and experience a variety of cuisines from the comfort of your own home. Trying a plant-based, whole-food diet is your opportunity to explore and expand your palate.

Food is an incredibly personal and intimate part of who we are. What we eat is wrapped up in our culture, social relationships and upbringing. Because of this, our habits around food can be the most difficult to change. If you've tried making changes to your diet on your own, you know what I mean.

That's why I created Firefly's Whole Foods for Whole Health Group Coaching Program. Designed to meet you where you are, this program will help you create a healthy lifestyle that gives you more energy and helps you feel better in your body by creating an environment where you have support while incorporating more whole, plant-based foods into your diet. There are two options for the four-week program: Fridays at 12 p.m. MT starting September 30 or Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. MT starting October 4. Apply now by filling out the form here.

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