Plant-based diets have received huge media coverage lately and even January has been renamed Veganuary. There have been some major documentaries on the subject, and fast food chains are cashing in on the trend by targeting customers with plant-based options. One of the best things you can do for health is it to eat more plants. But some of the unhealthiest diets I’ve seen are vegetarian and vegan. Especially when this translates to living on veggie burgers and cheese on toast!
Moving to a plant-based diet is a great way to improve your health although it can be confusing to know where to start. These guidelines are based on the research of Dan Buettner, who studied the areas of the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives – the Blue Zones.
These are just guidelines which can seem like a big jump if you’re very new to plant-based eating. Rather than trying to overhaul your diet completely, try small changes and build them up over time. You could start with a daily green juice/smoothie, or base one whole meal just on plants. You could also try checking the ingredients of food products and aim to buy things with simple ingredients that you could make at home. Another great way is just to get inspired. There’s some incredible plant-based blogs out there, or treat yourself to a cookbook with images that will make you want to get creative in the kitchen. Here are some of my favourites: https://thepilateskitchen.co.uk/blog/2019/10/3/my-five-favourite-plant-based-cookbooks
The following is an excerpt from the Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet based on recommendations from the Blue Zones. Click below to get the full guide.
Meat- 2oz or less 3x a month
Meat is consumed sparingly in the Blue Zones. In the UK and US we tend to over-consume meat and make it the centerpiece of every meal. Whereas, in the Blue Zones it is more likely to be a small side dish, or a way to flavor food. A small chicken breast weighs 120g. So 2oz would be equivalent to half a chicken breast.
Fish- Fewer than 3oz, up to three times weekly
A piece of salmon for example weighs on average around 135-140g. 3oz is only 85 grams, which means you would be eating around 2/3 of a piece of salmon. It’s a lot less than you think especially as we’re told to eat more fish to be healthy.
Although you’ll find some sheep and goats milk in blue zone diets, they are not significant. Calcium is derived from plant-based sources e.g. one cup of cooked kale or two-thirds of a cup of cup of tofu provide as much bioavailable calcium as a cup of milk (consciouslifestylemag.com). Try swapping cow’s milk to soy or nut milk and reducing cheese consumption, which can be inflammatory to the body.
Sugar: 28 grams (7 teaspoons) of added sugar
This is a great yardstick if you want to have your cake and eat it too. Cutting out sugar completely has many healthy benefits, but so does drastically reducing your intake so you can still enjoy small amounts when you want. I went sugar-free for a couple of years due to health reasons but now I prefer to just eat it in moderation – I always have a large bar of dark chocolate in my cupboard.
Eggs: no more than 3 a week
Snack on nuts 1-2 handfuls a day
Eating a handful of nuts every day could add another two healthy years to your life. Add a bag of mixed nuts to your weekly shopping list and snack on them with with fruit as this reduces the sugar spike from the fruit..
Drink mostly water: about 7 glasses a day/ coffee, tea and wine in moderation
Drinking enough water is just about creating the habit. What would make the habit enjoyable for you? Filling a jar with lemon or cucumber and refrigerating it? Switching to sparkling water? What cues would reinforce this habit, drinking a glass of water when you wake up, or drinking water when you start to feel tired and before your reach for caffeine?
Daily dose of beans: ½-1 cup a day
This is one of the most essential parts of a longevity diet. Beans are an excellent source of protein and nutrients. It is estimated they could add four healthy years to you life if consumed daily. Residents of the Blue Zones eat at least four times as many beans as the average American. These include: black beans in Nicoya, Costa Rica; lentils, garbanzo, and white beans in the Mediterranean; and soybean in Okinawa, Japan.
Not only do they taste great in soups and stews: https://thepilateskitchen.co.uk/recipes/2019/10/24/spicy-red-lentil-and-butternut-squash-soup, but beans are very versatile and can be sneaked into all sorts of food for example, black bean brownies: http://thepilateskitchen.co.uk/recipes/2019/10/24/spicy-red-lentil-and-butternut-squash-soup. White beans such as cannellini and white kidney are very mild tasting and can be used in surprising ways: https://lumahealth.co.uk/recipes/2019/8/2/fully-loaded-breakfast-bars-recipe-from-my-new-roots-inspired-plant-based-recipes-for-every-season
Switch to whole grains
Oats, brown rice, barley and ground corn all feature heavily in Blue Zone diets. Wheat is not as common in these diets, and the grains used contain much less gluten. It’s easy to substitute these e.g. swap pasta to brown rice pasta, bread for fermented sourdough.
Eat Real food
Whether it is raw, cooked, ground or fermented, try to eat food which is not highly processed and free from preservatives.
95% of Blue Zone meals come from a plant or a plant product (Although in Loma Linda they are 100% vegetarian). Seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds are the basis of Blue Zone diets around the world. Oils are derived from plants too such as olive oil, avocado and coconut. In Ikaria, researchers found that middle-aged people consumed 6 tablespoons of olive oil a day cut the risk of dying in half. Use oil like butter and drizzle over vegetables or spread on bread.