Your Diet or the Planet
One noticeable addition to the wave of January “diet” hype this year, is the BIG push towards plant-based diets for environmental reasons. Some T.V outlets, in particular, seem determined to push this message.
Undeniably the research into the impact of certain types of farming in different parts of the world, along with unsustainable levels of deforestation is having an impact on the planet we call home. The United Nations Environmental impact of consumption and production report makes for sober reading. Agriculture alone accounts for 70% of the global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 14% of the world’s global greenhouse emissions.
This is barely scratching the surface of what will undoubtedly become the most politically and ethically charged debate of the new decade. That being said I’m not an environmental scientist, I’m a nutrition coach and a Fitness Professional and, in many respects approaching this vastly complex topic from a much simpler starting point is perhaps a little easier to get your head around.
While deciding to change your diet for the good of the planet is a very noble thing to do, it’s not very realistic for the many people that I work with on a regular basis, or at least not straight away. Let me explain…
I have seen people try to change their lifestyles and diets for a multitude of reasons. Often, it’s to be a better role model to their kids, to counteract a health scare, to boost confidence and of course, to lose weight.
Despite all these important and valid reasons to adapt their diets and lifestyle the same all too common sticking points can occur.
• Lack of cooking skills
• Lack of healthy meals in a home cooking repertoire
• Poor time management for meal preparation
• Lack of structured lunch breaks for eating while at work
• Too many sugary drinks and not enough water
• Very low intakes vegetables and fruit
Each of these areas, of which this list is far from exhaustive, is vitally important to a successful lifestyle change in the long term. If we look a little closer then cooking, meal prepping and of course, fruit and vegetable intake are the unavoidable components of a successful and healthy plant-based or Vegan diet.
The very essence of a pant-based diet is to reduce or remove animal products from your diet and in turn increasing fruits, vegetables, pulses, beans, nuts and natural forms of plant-based nutrition. This is also where the benefits of this type of diet lie. Adopting this type of diet overnight means it’s easier to fall into an uncomfortable middle ground where your diet is made up of processed plant-based meat substitutes or Vegan fast foods which are rapidly plugging the vacuum on our supermarket shelves and our favourite delivery apps.
Like Dairy-free and gluten-free before them, Vegan and Plant-based are quickly becoming synonymous with being healthy by default. This is misguided, processed and manufactured plant-based food are still going to be unhealthier than whole foods. Equally, I would say that most of the people I work with don’t get a regular five a day, fruit and vegetables, with vegetables being the bigger challenge. I would also say that most would not consider a meat-free meal on a regular basis.
On its own, this should be a pause for thought. However, a well-balanced plant-based diet also requires time to adequately educate yourself to avoid the long-term health pitfalls and, the requirement to plan your meals adequately means that plant-based diets are very unlikely to reach the mainstream population this Veganuary.
So, where does this leave us when considering making the leap to a more plant-based diet such as Pescatarian (eats fish), flexitarian (eats meat occasionally) or a fully Vegan diet (eats no animal products)?
A plant-based diet in which ever form you choose can provide you with the balanced nutrition needed to lead a healthy life if you are prepared to put in the time needed at the outset. If you feel strongly enough to move your diet in this direction for environmental or ethical reasons, then allow yourself the time needed to do it well and to do it properly.
Despite the importance of the environment and climate, my many years working with people on lifestyle change has taught me that rapid overnight changes almost never stick for the majority of people, regardless of the motivator.
Start with a few meat-free meals each week and experiment with new plant-based cooking books. Build a repertoire of healthy plant-based meals over time and experiment with new foods and ingredients. Take time to seek out good education and learn how to fit these lifestyle changes around your own routine and family life.
Finally, you may never feel that you can make the switch to a fully plant-based diet and that’s ok. It is unrealistic to think that everyone should or needs to. We would all benefit from eating less meat from a health perspective and adopting some regular plant-based meals into your weekly routine along with purchasing higher welfare meat is going to be a positive step in the right direction for your health, the environment and supporting our farming communities here in the U.K.
I don’t feel that the pressure we are seeing currently to make this switch is the right basis to make such sweeping and dramatic changes overnight. Lasting change in my experience takes more time and if you are serious about making the switch then give yourself and others some breathing space to do it well.