You are what you eat
2019 marks my four year anniversary of making the decision to no longer eat meat and pursue a plant-based diet. Growing up in South Carolina where fried chicken and BBQ are considered staple foods, “bidding adieu” to a cuisine that was placed on my plate since a young child was no easy feat. When I began this meatless journey, I first pursued a pescatarian diet until I was vigilant enough to become a vegetarian.
My family was very perplexed by my decision to forgo something I had been consuming my entire life. During family dinners, they would sarcastically say, “Oh, she doesn’t eat meat now,” with a funny connotation in their voices like my dietary choices were a running joke during my absence. It amazed them that during my pregnancy, I refrained from eating meat and they were shocked to hear that I do not plan to introduce animal byproducts to my son (while the choice is mine to make). However, once he is old enough to make his own food decisions, he can choose the two-piece and a biscuit meal at Popeye’s like his dad or he can pursue a plant-based diet like his mom.
This entry is NOT intended to criticize those who do eat meat. I am an advocate of people eating what you love and if it is meat, then do you! We are all in control of what we put in and on our bodies. This reminds me of the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Sean Carter, “what you eat don’t make me sh*t, where is the love?”
After the release of the eye-opening documentary “What the Health,” which describes in depth our nation’s health and how big business influences it; I discovered that many of my peers were transitioning towards a plant-based diet. What I also discovered was they were doing so without adequately preparing their mind, body, and spirit for the evolution required to sustain this lifestyle. Some people can stop eating certain foods “cold turkey.” My grandmother is the infamous Louise Goodwin and growing up on her delicious and authentic soul food which occasionally featured collard greens seasoned with fatback grease, string beans featuring a turkey neck or Sunday rib dinners. I had to do some serious soul searching to reprogram my mind and body to make this shift.
Who wants to eat BLAND food?
One of the most challenging elements of transitioning and sustaining a plant-based diet is learning how to prepare healthy yet delicious food. Most individuals shy away from healthier foods as it has a stigma of tasting unappetizing. While others believe that they will be raked over a coal should they. Healthy can sometimes be synonymous with bland, dry and dull and the foods considered as healthy can taste that way. Also, some people think they will be persecuted if they forego meat yet desire to eat it during certain occasions. Sometimes you will be forced to exercise flexibility with your eating choices. My husband and I travel frequently and many times when we are out of the country, I adapt to a pescetarian diet so that I do not starve. You can be fluid with your diet spectrum. Sometimes you want a chicken wing during the fall tailgates or omit diary except for those moments where you want a scoop of vanilla ice cream to accompany Grandma’s homemade peach cobbler or other days you may crave a heaping serving of mac and cheese with REAL cheese.
Another difficult component of this transition is not allowing yourself to get too hungry because it is much harder to make “healthy” food decisions when you are starving. I know, we have all been there at 9:30 at night and when despite all your dieting and healthier attempts, you find yourself eating a large Chick- Fil-A fry and a warm cookie because you are starving. Rest easy! Your journey to a healthier lifestyle has not hit rock bottom. This plant-based lifestyle DOES have great menu options and you will be able to make healthy food choices that are still delicious but align with your new dietary goals.
Benefits of eating a plant based diet
While “plant-based” does not mean strictly vegetarian, it does mean the foundation of the diet rests upon foods that come from the ground. Foods such as legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables as well as nuts and seeds. Listed below are some of the benefits.
Disease Fighting Power - Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables each day as part of a plant-based diet can have real benefits for lowering blood pressure and preventing a variety of chronic diseases. Additionally, the extra fiber and potassium intake can stave off heart disease and when whole foods replace refined carbohydrates then it helps individuals steer clear of diabetes. The potent phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables can also help ward off cancer. As it turns out, you need about eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 30%. Reducing hypertension, also known as high blood pressure can be significantly influenced by a plant-based diet. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that diets rich in fruits and veggies can work to lower blood pressure significantly.
2. Contains Vitamins & Minerals- Plant-based diets can include a variety of colorful foods, which are packed with a number of nutrients aside from the well-known vitamins and minerals.
3. Helps to Maintain a Healthy Weight- Overall, vegetarians seem to average fewer daily calories when compared to meat- eaters which may help them maintain a healthy weight. Due in part to the fact that plant-based foods usually allow you to feel fuller on fewer calories.