Lettuce Eat Plants: Whole-food, Plant-based Eating for Stress Reduction
Information about improving health and well-being is everywhere and nothing is more pervasive than the messaging around nutrition and healthy eating. Nutrition advice can be found directly on food, in cookbooks, on social media, in advertising, from our healthcare providers, and of course by way of celebrities – Does Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop ring a bell?
With so much information being consumed on a daily basis, it becomes difficult to assess the credibility and science (or lack thereof) behind the approaches to eating that are beneficial or actually harmful to us. So, how do you assess what works and what doesn’t? And how can you choose an approach that may actually reduce stress? Look no further than a lifestyle that embraces whole-food, plant-based eating.
Does whole-food, plant-based eating mean you’ll only eat kale for the rest of your life? The answer is no. A whole-food, plant-based diet includes whole, unrefined or minimally refined plants (Forks Over Knives, 2014). This could include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and root crops (e.g., beets, potatoes, carrots), and excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products, eggs, and highly refined foods (e.g., bleached flour, refined sugar, oil) (Forks Over Knives, 2014).
The Science behind Whole-food, Plant-based Eating
This way of eating is actually not foreign to us – from an evolutionary perspective, our ancestors thrived on this way of eating for thousands of years. Not only can this approach bring us back to our ancestral roots, it’s delicious, satisfying, and has many health benefits including (Tuso et al., 2013):
lowered Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels;
reduced reliance on medications to treat chronic disease; and
lowered heart disease mortality rates.
In addition to physical health benefits, whole-food, plant-based lifestyles can also impact our mental and emotional health and well-being. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep and appetite, mediate mood, and inhibit pain is mainly produced in your gastrointestinal tract (approximately 95%) (Selhub, 2015). This means that your digestive system not only digests food but can also guide your emotions (Selhub, 2015). When you eat a diet high in processed or refined foods, studies have shown that levels of anxiety, perceptions of stress, and mental outlook may suffer when compared with individuals who did not eat or ate less of these foods (Sarris et al., 2015). Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet can impact the inflammation throughout your body, leading to improved mood and energy levels (Selhub, 2015). Happy tummy, happy mind!
A Beginner’s Guide Whole-food, Plant-based Eating
While many of us know that eating well is one of the key components to maintaining balance in overall health and well-being, it may feel intimidating or even expensive to modify your diet. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. We’ve compiled some strategies you may consider using to Ease-ily promote a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle:
Start Small - Making small changes to your diet can have big impact. To begin, consider limiting the amount of processed foods and meat you’re eating on a daily basis. Instead of having meat at both lunch and dinner, only have meat at one meal – or embrace #meatlessmonday. Instead of reaching for that sugary snack in the afternoon, have a piece a fruit or some crunchy vegetables. In time, your body will begin to crave these foods and want to ditch the refined sugars and animal products for good.
Get to Know Your Plants - What’s cool about a whole-food, plant-based diet is that there are so many new (and delicious) foods you may learn about and want to try simply by making the switch. If you’re not a fan of a particular vegetable, learn about new and exciting ways to prepare it. You may cringe when you think about boiled vegetables but what about trying them roasted? Or on the BBQ? The way you cook your food can drastically change (and improve) the way it tastes!
Consider Gardening - While gardening lowers our carbon footprint, it is also cost-effective, and can be a powerful stress reduction tool. If you’re embracing a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, growing your own foods can be a fun way to see your personal “farm-to-table” approach as you grocery shop in your own backyard – growing your own food is also possible in small spaces, including balconies!
Seek Out Inspiration - One of the hardest parts of making changes to your lifestyle is feeling uninspired. However, there are plenty of freely available, whole-food, plant-based meal plans and recipes accompanied by mouth-watering photos.
Some of our favourite recipes have come from:
Send us some of your favourite recipes or tag us on Instagram (@easeforwork) when you make something plant-based so we can try them too!
We hope that this guide will support you if you decide to embrace whole-food, plant-based eating as a tool for stress reduction. Remember, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Live life lighter,
Carolyn & Stephanie
Forks Over Knives (2014). What is a whole-food, plant-based diet? Retrieved from: https://www.forksoverknives.com/what-to-eat/#gs.JbQ8F3k
Tuso, P. J., Ismail, M. H., Ha, B. P., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. The Permanente Journal, 17(2), 61.
Selhub, E. (2015). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Retrieved from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
Sarris, J., Logan, A.C., Akbaraly, T.N., Amminger, G.P., Balanzá-Martínez, V., Freeman, M.P., ... & Nanri, A. (2015). Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(3), 271-274.