benefits of being plant-based. [vegan mofo day #1]

three grains and legumesWelcome to the first From the Ground Up post for Vegan Mofo (or, Vegan Month of Food)! 

Vegan Mofo is a rad online event in the month of September, highlighting awesome vegan bloggers around the world, who try to write as much as possible about the glory of being plant-based for 30 days. I am thrilled to participate this year! [If you're using Twitter, check out @veganmofo and #veganmofo for content throughout the month. The Vegan Mofo website, too, has the full list of participating bloggers.]

I have some fun recipes and healthy living posts coming up in the next month, but wanted to lead off with a little intro to why I eat the way I do - and why I feel this approach can be valuable for anyone looking to increase their whole-life well-being, physical health, and mental clarity. 

I decided to cut all the animal products [meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and animal fats] from my life in 2009 after years of battling issues with digestion, weight management, and mood. The shift in my life was incredible: everything from my physical being to my emotional being changed. I began to devour books and articles on living this way. A friend introduced me to The China Study by Dr. Colin T. Campbell, one of the biggest proponents of vegan eating of the last two decades. (Read this book. It will change your life.) The more I read, the more invested I found myself in the ethical, environmental, and health implications of being plant-based. As far as nutrient density (that is, number of essential nutrients per calorie), plants are where it's at: we get more from plant-based foods than we do from animal foods, and often with less monetary expense. (Not to mention the impact on the planet is far lower when we produce more plants than animal products.) Four years later, I feel incredibly fortunate to work with my clients to help them make the best choices possible for their unique lives, incorporating as many plants as possible. 

mikiodo130615_amyheight_0742_LRBeing plant-based is more flexible than many people realize! We can experience the advantages of this way of eating by making nutritious foods from the ground the focus of our meals rather than an afterthought. Working in more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans helps us reap a ton of fabulous health benefits:

  • Lower body mass. More colorful vegetables means lower BMI and an easier time keeping weight in check. (Not that weight is the be-all, end-all of health, but a healthy weight keeps us at a lower risk for ‘lifestyle’ diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.)
  • More antioxidant activity: that is, a better fighting chance against potentially free radicals floating around the body. Fruits and veggies are a great source of antioxidants. They take the brunt of attacks from these toxic compounds, rather than allowing our cells to be attacked. Consistently replenishing our supply of antioxidants by eating more plants means we can better defend against damaging compounds.
  • Better skin. The skin is a pretty good indicator of what’s going on in the body. If the skin is red and inflamed, chances are, so are the organs (and inflamed organs can’t perform their roles as well). Plants help us stay hydrated and help flush toxins from the system. Clean system means clear skin.
  • Better digestion. All of that awesome plant-based fiber keeps things moving: consider kale and broccoli like a little scrub brushes for the inside of your intestines.
  • Lower cholesterol. Cholesterol is an animal fat; as humans, we naturally have it in our bodies. It becomes problematic when we add too much additional cholesterol from our diets (ie. animal foods). More focus on plants means less room for flesh foods, which means the relative amount of cholesterol in our systems decreases.
  • Better nutrition. Pretty obvious, right? The more variety we have in our diet of foods that provide whole, useable nutrients, the more likely we are to have our nutritional bases covered. Eat from a spectrum of plant foods to avoid deficiencies (much easier to do than with a box of Triscuits).
  • More energy. Plants take less energy to digest than animals. Think of all you could do with the energy you save when more of your meal is easier to break down. 

How to do it? Easy-peasy. Here are some tips that helped me when making the transition to a vegan lifestyle:

Be aware of how many plants make their way into your shopping basket. (Hint: they should outnumber everything else.)

Fill at least half of your plate with things that came from the ground.

Check out a farmers market. (NYC has a ton: visit GrowNYC's website to find one near you!)

Experiment, experiment, experiment. Try new veggies and whole grains and determine which ones you like. Make those the center of your meal.

Wishing you a great start to September! Check back for more #veganmofo fun -- there's some great stuff coming up (including recipes for black eyed pea mash and vegan sugar-free fudge, what to do with chia seeds, a vegan baby food review, and how to encourage your omnivorous family to eat more plants.)

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