According to the Vegan Society, a whopping 450,000 people committed to a meat-free month in January 2020. The same source predicts that 2021 will see even more of us try out plant-based diets in the New Year.
There’s a wide variety of reasons why people choose to ditch the dairy (or part with the poultry, or say bye to the beef…I could do this all day).
One major factor is the impact that a plant-based diet is said to have on the environment.
In 2019, University of Oxford researcher James Poole said that if 350,000 people took part in Veganuary 2020, ‘this would save as much greenhouse gas emissions as moving 160,000 cars from the road, or about 400,000 to 500,000 single flights from London to Berlin.’
Of course, another reason to choose a meat-free diet is empathy for the suffering of animals.
The HSA reports that in the UK alone, approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered every year for human consumption. While legislation to improve living conditions for animals is improving, there is still a long way to go.
A third reason people adopt a plant-based diet is for its health benefits.
An increasing number of studies support the idea that going vegan can:
“Yes, yes,” I hear you saying, “We know all this.” And you probably do. However well-intentioned Veganuary enthusiasts begin, adopting longer-lasting habits in this regard is a whole different playing field. Many of us worry about the long-term effects of omitting certain proteins from our diets.
This is especially true of fitness fanatics. Those of us who lead very active lifestyles and regularly participate in high-intensity exercise (such as weight training, running, muscle-building, etc.) may be concerned about what cutting back on meat and dairy products can do to our regimen.
Whether you’re considering a 30-day stint in the Vegan space or are hoping to make an even bigger life change, you’ve come to the right place!
We’ve reached out to 16 experts in the fitness, nutrition and wellness industries for their thoughts on common misconceptions about vegan diets. Pull up a chair, make yourself a delicious vegan snack (Plant Sumo is only a phone call away if you’re feeling indulgent) and let our contributors put the myths to rest!
A plant-based diet is amazing for…
A plant-based diet can benefit anybody, even fitness buffs – especially if their diet needs improvement.
When planned properly, a plant-based diet can lower inflammation and also get vitamins and nutrients that you’ve been missing out on.
It can also give you more variety and try out new recipes and ingredients that you never would have imagined.
By starting a plant-based diet, it also can motivate you to change other lifestyle habits as well. It can get you to drink more water, get more sleep, and being more active. All of this compounds into other aspects of your health and fitness.
There’s this myth in bodybuilding that if you’re a vegan, you can’t grow muscle. I don’t even know where this started, but it’s completely not true.
To grow muscle, you need to be in a caloric surplus and eat a lot of protein. We all know this, right?
But, while everybody knows that meat has a ton of protein- people forget that plant-based foods are a massive source of protein as well!
Did you know in one serving of lentils, there is 230 calories and 18 grams of protein? That’s comparable to chicken and steak! Plus, lentils are way better for your wallet than chicken, considering you can buy a pound of lentils for literally $1.
However, the vegan diet has been starting to become incredibly popular in the bodybuilding community, and it’s not for the reasons you might think.
Many bodybuilders that switch to the vegan diet rarely switch back. It’s a known fact that red-meat and other fatty foods can cause you to feel worse throughout the day. And I’m not talking about the plaque buildup in the arteries or health problems, I’m talking about the actual mood changes. Most people report that when they eat a ton of red-meat or the typical bodybuilder diet of lots of dairy every day, they just feel horrible. When they switch to the vegan bodybuilding diet, it’s a night and day difference in their mood and energy in the gym.
And the fact is, these plant-based foods are very good for your body and don’t have serious health problems attributed to them. There’s a reason that you’ve been told vegetables are good for you since you were a kid, they weren’t lying!
You can still grow muscle on a vegan-based diet, and you might even find yourself never looking at meat, milk, or eggs ever again after you switch just because of how much better you’ll feel!
As a fitness competitor, I’m always looking for quick and easy ways to increase dietary protein in order to build muscle and stay lean. (see my weight loss journey here!) It’s important for me to get protein from a variety of sources in order to optimize muscle growth. The USDA recommends that eating protein from a variety of foods will increase nutrient intake and health benefits.
Some of my go-to protein sources I always have in my gym bag include:
There are so many other foods you can use to meet your health and fitness goals. It’s absolutely possible to get all the protein you need to fuel your workouts and build muscle, even with a busy schedule.
Eat Plants and Build Muscle
As a figure competitor, getting enough protein to build muscle can be difficult, especially if you’re on a plant-based diet. However, there are many plant-based options that provide a decent amount of protein. The top five plant-based foods with the highest amount of protein are:
Why focus on a plant-based diet? Many studies have shown that eating a plant-based diet has many benefits, including:
Ready to get started? Moving to a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult. Begin by making one meal plant-based and then two meals and so on. Most importantly, see how you feel as you add more plants to your diet.
One of the biggest myths that I tackle among my vegan coaching clients is that they must eat their body weight in protein grams to build muscle. This simply isn’t the case. First of all, the 1 gram per 1 pound rule is an inaccurate recommendation for even non-vegan dieters. For most people, this is a lot more protein than the human body needs even when doing intense exercise like weight training. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is just 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.33 g per pound. This means that a 140-pound woman only needs 46.2 grams of protein daily for basic body maintenance. If a person is engaged in exercise, then more protein is needed because of the increased muscle turnover, but not as much as most people assume.
Typically for vegans who are strength training or doing other intense exercises, a protein amount around 25% of their total calories is more than adequate for building muscle and supporting fitness training. If the fear of not getting enough protein is holding you back from fully committing to a vegan diet, then hopefully, this will eliminate that fear and allow you to go all the way!
One of the important principles of healthy eating is to focus on plant-based foods. Recent studies have pointed to the benefits of a plant-based diet, such as this research, which found that replacing animal-source proteins with plant-based proteins reduced the risk of premature death overall and death from cardiovascular disease. Plant sources of protein provide you with nutrients meat won’t, such as fiber.
Diets rich in plants support the gut microbiome and overall health. The gut influences mood and mental health, and a healthy diet helps to promote a healthy gut. Plant-based diets have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers and to have an inverse relationship with depression and other mood disorders. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods can increase inflammatory markers. Diets low in antioxidants may similarly promote inflammation. Plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables are a source of antioxidants and are important for health.
When you emphasize a wide variety of plants in your diet, you reap the benefits of all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they contain. And by focusing on whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and more, you’ll have less room for highly processed, highly refined products with minimal nutritional benefit. Unlike with those processed food products, focusing on plants means eating more fiber (most people in the UK don’t eat enough fiber), which keeps you fuller longer. Finally, eating plants instills the confidence that our environment can nourish us, creating a connection to nature and Earth that our modern, fast-paced society often lacks.
Movement and food go hand in hand. Eat the right foods, reduce stress. Eat the right foods, energize your body. Eat the right foods, and power through your workday. For many of us, 2020 has turned our kitchens into home offices. So, when done correctly, reducing stress, energizing your body, and powering through your workday should be easier than ever!
Since I teach hard-working bodies how to be their most productive and healthy when approaching their chair, desk, and tech during their workdays [www.instagram.com/jobufit], it is only appropriate that food also be a part of that puzzle #thanks2020. Below are three of my favorite movement-food combos:
Mid-morning, I pause for some good citrus like an orange. We click away all day on our computers, tablets, and phones, but how often do you think of your hands and fingers? Show your finger some love and back off the tech for a hot sec! Peeling an orange and taking a moment to eat it can help your hands work in a different way and provide your body with the vitamin C that can protect your body against mental decline.
My favorite energy-packed lunch is avocado toast. Nothing new here, but adding red pepper flakes to your avocado is a great way to boost your metabolism, decrease hunger, and decrease body pain. Not to mention avocados are a great way to get a little boost of blood flow to the brain. Who couldn’t use a little food help in creating sustainable high productivity the plant-based way?
In the afternoon, on occasion, I’ve been known to indulge a bit. After I finish a JōbuFIT movement routine [www.jobufit.com] (aka a mini workout, 100% workspace approved) and my metabolism is kicked up a bit, I chop a single serving of dark chocolate into tiny pieces and mix it with blueberries. Both of these bad boys can help improve memory. Blueberries also act against stress and inflammation. And dark chocolate is known to help with learning/retention ability and even boost your mood. I don’t know about you, but by the time my body makes it to 3 PM I welcome the mood boost!
These aren’t the only plant-based foods that can help make you your most productive. But they may be things you already eat, or they may be a good place to start if you feel your energy begin to drop. Long story short, have a productive workday, and skip the crisps, eat something that helps your body and brain.
There are many benefits when it comes to eating a plant-based diet. From lowering your cholesterol to increasing energy and mental clarity. A plant-based diet is also anti-inflammatory, so it can reduce symptoms of asthma, joint pain, or even stomach upset.
It lowers cholesterol by omitting saturated animal fats from your diet, which is typically a major contributor to high cholesterol. Your energy increases because you are eating cleaner and may start to eat more raw foods, which have more enzymes that result in better energy output. Because you are no longer eating dairy or meat, two highly inflammatory food categories, this aspect of a plant-based diet will naturally reduce your inflammation, resulting in the benefits I noted above. One of the easiest ways to switch to a plant-based diet is to make 1 to 2 modifications a week as you convert. I.e., remove dairy and honey one week, then meat and eggs the next.
All people can benefit from the health effects of adding more plants to their plates. A plant-based diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and it’s no wonder that research has found that this type of diet can reduce your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes as well as help keep your weight in check. Following a plant-based diet can also help you live longer. A win-win!
In my research, I have found over 20 benefits of the plant-based diet backed up by scientific evidence. From lowering asthma in children and cholesterol in adults to providing higher fiber and antioxidant intake while preventing or reversing heart disease and diabetes, the plant-based diet is a powerful tool for positively impacting your health and the environment.
With the rise of chronic diseases caused by lifestyle choices, a plant based vegan diet is arguably the best option for the future. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can cook plant based, save time, and maintain your budget.
Plant-based eating may seem like the latest, hottest thing, but it’s actually been around since the beginning of time, as many populations ate diets mostly based on plants in many parts of the world. In fact, traditional, indigenous diets based on mostly plants are linked with greater longevity all around the globe. As we shifted our diets to highly processed foods and high animal foods intake, we have increased our risks for numerous conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Eating more whole plants—beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds—is a way of eating linked with optimal health in study after study.
When we eat these foods, we gain a symphony of complex nutrients—fiber, healthy fats, slow-digesting carbs, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory action—so it’s no wonder that we find health benefits associated with eating this way. In addition, whole plant foods can literally make you feel better!
They are linked with better mood, happiness, and less depression. These are the foods that feed our gut, and help keep our microbiome and immune system thriving. They help keep our brains clear and our vessels functioning. They help reduce inflammation in the body, lessening chronic pain and symptoms of arthritis. Plants help us live longer and better lives.
Arguably one of the most important dietary decisions an individual can make to improve their health and longevity is to strive towards striking a better balance between plant and animal-based protein intake. For most people, this means trending towards a more plant-based diet. The regular intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds is associated with a decreased risk of death and disease, and for good reason. These foods are high in fibre, potassium, magnesium and a wide array of antioxidant compounds which we know to be essential for good health.
But it’s not necessarily about dropping meat entirely, rather opening your eyes to the fact that plant-based protein sources can add real value to your life while still providing that protein and iron you need to thrive.
Tofu, for example, has a similar nutritional profile to eggs – and 1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds or 1 cup of cooked legumes both have a whopping 15 grams of protein.
Plant-based foods are no joke, and it’s time you considered incorporating more into your routine.
Whether you are regularly physically active or primarily sedentary, most of us aren’t meeting recommended intakes for fruits and vegetables. Including more whole food plant-based meals in your dietary plan is a simple way to increase your fruit and veggie intake. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, certain essential vitamins and minerals, and non-essential but beneficial phytonutrients.
Higher intakes of these whole plant foods in your diet may help decrease your risk of certain nutrition-related chronic diseases, such as heart disease. High fruit and veggie intakes are also linked to lower cholesterol levels and healthy blood pressure. With so many potential benefits to the body, there are many great reasons to be eating more whole plant foods.
Did you know that many of the Greek philosophers from antiquity preached about the importance of a plant-based vegetarian diet for pure energy and good karma? As a result, for speed and swiftness, many ancient Greek Olympic athletes consumed mostly fruits and vegetables. According to Allen Boom’s translation of The Republic of Plato, Plato declared, “The Gods created certain kinds of beings to replenish our bodies; they are the trees and the plants and the seeds.”
Hippocrates noted and witnessed that people who ate primary raw fruits and vegetables developed fewer diseases and maintained smooth digestive systems. He famously proclaimed, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”
There is a myth floating around in contemporary culture that a plant-based diet doesn’t provide enough protein for replenishing and building muscles in an active fitness lifestyle, when in fact many plants like oats, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts provide plenty of protein. After making the transition to eating a a plant-based diet four years ago, I’ve learned that a colorful variety of grains, legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables provides all the nutrition and good energy that anyone could ever need.
One unexpected advantage for me was improved digestion. Eating a plant-based diet improves gut health, so you can more easily absorb the nutrients from food that support your immune system. The increased fibre helps to move things along too.
I eat primarily whole foods, with a good amount of water each day too. There is nothing that would slow digestion, whereas meat and dairy are well known for stomach inflammation and discomfort. Now, I feel light, energised, and spend much less time in the bathroom! Plus, I still eat healthy brownies, ice cream and tacos. It’s a win-win all around.
If you suffer from bloat, constipation, or gas, I would highly recommend moving over to a plant-based diet!
Whether it’s for a month, a year or a lifetime, a plant-based diet is packed with benefits not only for the individual, but the planet as a whole. And the best part is that we don’t need to sacrifice our personal priorities (whether that’s your fitness goals, or your devotion to your taste buds) in order to do so.
If you’re considering giving Veganuary a go (or even overhauling your diet long-term), why not ease yourself into things by letting Plant Sumo take the reins? Our plant-based kitchen will deliver ready-made, gourmet meals right to your doorstep – taking all the stress out of healthy eating and making sure you don’t get ‘hangry’ while you’re at it!
You can also check our blog for recipe ideas, additional information and a wealth of tips to help make your Veganuary a surefire success!
Heather Wilkinson is a globe-trotting content creator and PR enthusiast who’s finally put down roots in her native UK. When she isn’t working, you’ll find her pretending to care about Minecraft for her son’s sake, while secretly reading the latest Ace Atkins novel (or sleeping – her second favourite past-time).