Over six years ago, my now partner invited me over for a casual, friendly dinner. He cooked. Dinner. With dessert. It was delicious, wholesome, and healthful. We talked and talked for nearly six hours.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
What I didn’t mention was that it was a low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based meal.
Since moving back home to California and moving in with my partner, I have kept to a mostly plant-based diet. Yes, my partner still cooks the meals in our household, for which I am eternally grateful. Because I’m terrible at feeding myself. Before we moved in together, I was subsisting on microwavable Amy’s gluten-free mac and cheese, and other things that were ostensibly good for me because they were “organic.”
I’m not zealous about my diet, but I do try avoid straying too far for too long. Sometimes I enjoy a bit of imported Italian Parmesan with a Super Tuscan or Iberian Manchego with a Tempranillo. When I’m traveling, sometimes I have to choose between the meal with eggs and the meal with wheat (to which I am allergic). I also don’t judge my friends who order meat when we go out, nor am I offended by their meals.
There are many reasons to go plant-based, both personal and global. Here are the reasons I stick to a low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet (WFPBD).
1) Weight management. I’m no longer the spry teenager who could eat cheeseburgers and fries for lunch every day. Seriously, I look at what I ate 20 years ago, and I marvel at how skinny I was. Granted, I was also figure skating 10-15 hours a week, but even so, my metabolism was much faster then than it is now. Alas, as I approach my late-30s, I can no longer indulge in too many fatty treats without seeing or feeling the consequences soon after. The whole starches and protein-packed legumes in the WFPBD keep me energized and strong without the extra saturated fat of meats. But don’t take my word for it. Go check out Forks Over Knives for some dramatic and inspiring health transformations.
2) No calorie counting. I was never into calorie-counting to begin with, and I’m not detail-oriented or meticulous enough to do so. But I will say this: my partner cooks huge amounts of food. We don’t worry about calories, because there is almost no added fat in what he makes. It’s not a “no-fat” diet: we consume the naturally-occurring lipids in seeds, nuts, and avocados (because California)… just not a lot of them. The rest of our daily meals are bolstered with heaping piles of chickpeas, lentils, and other beans, as well as leafy greens, wild and brown rice, and whole-grain crackers.
3) Long-term disease prevention. A WFPBD can help prevent and even reverse heart disease and type-2 diabetes, and might even play a role in preventing some cancers (such as colo-rectal cancer). Several studies have shown even just reducing your consumption of meat can reduce your risk of these life-threatening illnesses. In addition, a WFPBD can also reduce inflammation and the pain of auto-immune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (just go easy on the soy products!). As someone with a mild auto-immune condition, and whose family has a history of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, the WFPBD just makes sense.
4) Plants are cheap. The average cost of one of our home-cooked meals is about $4-5 a person. And we could probably make it cost even less so if we bought dried beans and more bulk foods. UC Davis Integrated Medicine has a great list of ways to save even more with your plant-based diet, and shows how a plant-based split-pea soup can potentially save you 1/3 the price of one made with ham. Darshana Thacker at Forks Over Knives created a delicious, yet austere, plant-based diet on $1.50 a day!
5) Reduced water consumption. I grew up in California in the 1980s, in the middle of one of our historic droughts. Water conservation has been ingrained into my psyche. I can’t even stand it when people run the water while they brush their teeth. (Seriously, why are you doing that? That water is literally just going down the drain.) National Geographic’s guide to reducing water consumption says that someone eating a plant-based diet will “indirectly consume nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who eats the average American diet.” The 10-20 gallons saved by not showering every day or not flushing every time you use the toilet hardly even comes close.
6) Smaller greenhouse gas footprint. Replacing my decent gasoline-powered vehicle with a hybrid or plug-in isn’t a priority for me right now. Why part with a car that works fine and gets decent gas mileage already? But because I do feel a bit guilty about not investing in a more energy-efficient car, I know that my WFPBD helps reduce my greenhouse gas emissions in other ways. In fact, in 2011 the USDA found that a single 10,000-cow dairy farm in Idaho produced 3,575 pounds of ammonia, 33,092 pounds of methane, and 409 pounds of nitrous oxide per day.
7) Overall sustainability. In addition to conserving water and reducing my carbon footprint, a plant-based diet is just more environmentally sustainable. According to a report from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “the US livestock population consumes more than 7 times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population,” and “the amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet.” That’s a lot of land that could be used to feed humans or that could be returned to nature as open space.
8) I just feel better. After eating a plant-based diet for nearly six years, I just feel good. When I stray too far, eating too much cheese (which is nearly as addictive as opiates), consume too much oil or fatty foods, I feel sluggish and tired. When I return to my partner’s cooking, my body feels stronger, I have more energy, and I am (ahem) more regular. As a dance instructor and performer, I need to feel my best in the studio classroom and on the theater stage.
Of course, overhauling your diet is daunting and just not possible for everyone. But I do encourage my readers to reduce their meat consumption, and not just beef. Even just eschewing the meat once a week is great for your body and the planet. Do it for your heart, your health, and your environment.
Are you a plant-based dancer or athlete? What are your favorite recipes, tips, or tricks for eating well? Share in the comments!