How to Eat Plant-Based

In honor of National Vegetarian Day, I’m posting part of a magazine article I wrote last year …

Plant-based diets aren’t anything new—even if the concept is trending in 2020. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I used the word “trend,” but make no mistake, while the terminology is popping up everywhere from fast-food restaurants to local farmers markets, and world-wide everyone from big-name celebrities to high-profile athletes to everyday people are exploring the plant-forward lifestyle, this movement (if you will) is much more than a trend. En vogue, yes, but a trend? Nah, it’s much more than that, and people everywhere (myself included) are starting to consider making the trend a permanent part of their lifestyle.

But just how do you begin to explore a plant-based diet? Where do you start? And for that matter, why should you consider following a plant-based diet?

From fashion designer to whole-foods champion Harriet Birrell—known to her many followers simply as Natural Harry—is a plant-forward lifestyle advocate and successful cookbook author, and has more than a few practical reasons why a plant-based diet is good for your body, mind and soul.

“Lucky for me,” says the Australia native Birrell of her upbringing, “we ate a very basic diet of whole foods. We had very few treats or rather, healthy and whole foods were considered treats to us. I grew up on my grandparents’ farm 40 minutes from the closest big town so we tended to not have access to local shops and restaurants so most of our diet was homemade goodness, from scratch.”

But while she has always had a diet rich in whole foods with little to no processed food, she hasn’t always followed a plant-based diet. Nor has she always been a shining example of what most would consider healthy.

“I really began to disregard my health,” says Birrell of the years she spent working in the fashion industry in Melbourne, Australia.

“The high-pressure, high-stress environment caused me to focus more on convenience foods rather than whole food,” she says. Eventually, the lifestyle got to her and she left her job and city life behind to travel for six months. When she returned home, she took a leap of faith and turned her attention to what she says was always her original passion: health and wellness, and she enrolled in a 12-month online course at Integrative Nutrition. During that time she was quickly drawn to the organic, plant-based whole foods approach.

“It just makes so much sense to me that whole is better than processed, and variety, color and natural equates vitality and sustenance.” And, she says, after committing to a 100 percent plant-based diet, she began to take heed of the changes to her body, mind and overall well-being.

“I noticed an increase in energy and clarity of mind,” she says. “I have always been a swimmer but [after following a strict plant-based diet] was able to swim much farther and faster without tiring. It’s like I have more oxygen in my blood … if that’s possible.” Along with physical changes, Birrell soon recognized a sensitivity to processed foods and says there is a big contrast between knowing what good health actually feels like and what it doesn’t.

Birrell says she chose to walk this path because it makes her feel better—and looking after herself on a cellular level allows her to be at her best for the people she loves, which is why she continues.

“Arm yourself with the best recipes and books. Get in the kitchen and reteach yourself to cook plant-based whole foods … put music on and make mealtime cooking a therapeutic and fun experience. Enjoy it! And only make meals you enjoy and that satiate you.” ~ Cookbook Author and Plant-Based Recipe Developer, Harriet Birrell 

Vegan or plant-based? What’s the difference?

Veganism is a way of living, “which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” [VeganSociety.com] In other words, veganism isn’t just a way of eating, it’s a lifestyle. As for the diet part, vegans do not eat any animal products: no meats, dairy, eggs or honey. Similar to those who follow a plant-based diet, vegans eat a combination of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. However, a plant-based, or plant-focused, diet does not necessarily mean excluding all animal products, but generally speaking, those on this path do get 85–100 percent of their nutrition from plant products.

Vegan Creamed Spinach

I have been called many things in my life—some good, some bad … and sometimes completely and totally unjustified. I am not, for the record, a weird eater. Nor am I picky. I just happen to know what I like and what I don’t like. I might be the only breathing human who likes canned […]

On Being a Flexitarian

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