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Embracing Plant-Based Living
One of the most accessible ways we can improve our health is with the foods we choose to consume. Studies have consistently shown that a diet rich in plant-based foods can have a profound affect on wellness, including minimizing risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar, reducing inflammation in the body and decreasing the risk of cancers.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
People often think a plant-based diet means vegan or vegetarian. However, the term “plant-based” actually suggests the diet primarily consists of whole foods derived from plants. Although some people still consume small portions of fish, poultry and meat, a plant-based regimen is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts.
Vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, ﬁsh and seafood, while the slightly more restrictive vegan diet also eliminates dairy and eggs. However, there are variations of plant-based and vegetarian diets, and even minor dietary changes that can have a big impact.
For example, many discover health benefits from simply boosting their plant-food intake while eliminating (or, even reducing) refined foods, red meat and dairy.
Plant-Based Living is Achievable
Despite having a piqued interest in a plant-based lifestyle, many people are hesitant about taking that first step. To help dispel some of the myths associated with plant-based living, we caught up with award-winning Public Health Nutritionist Tracye McQuirter. The best-selling author of Ageless Vegan and By Any Greens Necessary, served us a bountiful dish of vegan wisdom!
According to McQuirter, who is also the founder of 10 Million Black Vegan Women, there are four areas people perceive as challenges when considering a plant-based diet journey:
- Concerns that the food won’t taste good
- The cost will be expensive or inaccessible
- A plant-based diet requires specialty products
- The food choices are socially isolating
“To demystify what eating plant-based food means, I tell people they’re already eating vegan foods. If you eat fruit, vegetables, beans, grains and nuts — these are all vegan foods. If you prepare your food with oil or flour, or fresh or dried herbs — these are all vegan ingredients,” McQuirter tells Upscale.
Why Plant-Based is More Affordable Than You May Think…
Studies have shown that households on plant-based and sustainable diets spend on average one-third less on groceries than those who eat meat.
“A plant-based diet means you’re eating more whole foods and not mainly spending on processed, packaged foods. It’s usually cheaper to cook with plant-based foods than meat and dairy products,” says McQuirter.
For instance, she points out that when you’re making a stir-fry, the entrée might consist of onions, garlic, ginger, fresh or frozen vegetables, and dried or fresh seasonings. Instead of adding chicken, beef or shrimp, you would swap them out for almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, chick peas, black beans, grilled tofu or tempeh.
A major component of plant-based eating is limiting refined foods. Research shows that omnivores don’t consume adequate fiber because of a diet made up of processed foods such as white rice, white flour, white pasta, white bread, white pastry products, french fries, cookies and muffins.
“Just because a food is ‘vegan,’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy. We need fiber. It acts like a broom in your colon and sweeps out the bad stuff. You want to eat whole grains because the fiber, vitamins and minerals are still intact. You can only get fiber in your diet from plant-based foods,” McQuirter explains.
When shopping, look for fiber-rich, nutrient-dense alternatives to processed foods such as brown rice, black rice, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, spelt, whole wheat, oats or barley. McQuirter offers a free, downloadable African American Vegan Starter Guide, which has tips for purchasing groceries.
Eating Plants Can Be Pretty… Well, Pretty!
McQuirter organizes a 21-Day Vegan Fresh Start. Participants are surveyed before and after the challenge. Many report clearer skin, more energy, and mental clarity — nearly one-third say they have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Some reduce their medication, while others are taken off medication, all together.
Seventy-percent of women lose weight — with some dropping as much as 15 pounds.
Emphasizing the significance of this outcome, McQuirter says, “This is really important because most black women experience unhealthy weight. Eighty-percent of us are carrying extra weight. Fifty-percent are experiencing obesity.”
McQuirter offers advice to anyone concerned about how they may be perceived by others as they lean into a plant-based lifestyle: “Deciding to shift to plant-based eating is very personal. Treat your journey as you would any other self-care practice such as exercise, meditation, dance or relaxation. You needn’t worry about whether other people in your social circle are going plant-based or vegan because it’s really all about you,” she says.
Additional resources to support your plant-based goals include: The Afro Vegan Society and The Black Vegan Society. Both organizations host events, food festivals, educational workshops, provide guidance, and more.