Going plant-based is the best thing you can do to save our planet while improving your health, and once you start experiencing the real benefits there is no looking back.
The recent 2020 Covid19 Global Pandemic has brought the World to a standstill. With most parts of the globe under Lockdown, this is the right time to revisit and reflect on our collective diet patterns and the global impact our ‘small’ and ‘daily’ choices are making. Its not only about the planet, but it also about us, this species called Homosapiens.
Killing or saving the planet with what we eat
On 8 August 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report where it described plant-based diets as a major pathway to deal with the entire climate change and global warming crisis.
What is the connection between eating meat and climate change?
Well, to put together the pieces very simply, more the demand for meat, more livestock will have to be farmed and fed. This increased demand requires more land which in turn requires clearing of forests by farmers through burning and deforestation. The main reason why Amazon Fires happened is because of this increasing meat demand by the developed countries. The Brazilian farmers are forced to meet the demand and provide ‘cheap meat’ at the cost of destruction of nature. Livestock farming causes the emission of the most notorious greenhouse gases- methane and nitrous oxide. Methane has 28 times more harmful effects on the environment than Carbon Dioxide.
The story does not end only with global warming as the side effect. Wildfires will be a more common phenomenon leading to decreased crop yields, water crisis, coastal degradation, decrease access to nutritious food yield. This will further impact the ecosystem, economic inflation and finally, human health, as part of the chain reaction. When we see the entire situation from the bird’s eye view, we are killing ourselves and the planet with our own dietary choices.
Coming back to pandemics, here is a pictorial representation of the forgotten reality:
Are Homosapiens biologically designed to eat and process meat?
No. We are not. And here is why:
- Digestion starts from the moment we start chewing our food. If we were meant to eat meat, our Canine teeth would have been way sharper (similar to fangs of Carnivorous creatures like Lions and Tigers) whose functionality is to tear apart the raw meat for ingestion. Now imagine yourself trying to tear apart a deer or a rabbit using your teeth and ingest the meat in raw form. Sounds gross right? Exactly. That is because we are not designed to intake this form of food as part the designated ecosystem.
- Carnivorous creatures have claws to grab and tear apart their hunt. Do we have the same?
- Coming to the main digestive function, carnivores have high amount of HCL or Hydrochloric acid (20 times more than us), to be able to digest the meat. Also, their intestinal tract is much shorter than the human intestinal tract. Why? Because when meat is in the stomach for more than 24 hours, it rots and starts producing toxins. An average human takes 72 hours to completely digest meat because of the long intestinal tract. Its grows fungus, produces mucus and causes constipation in the intestine until then.
What to expect in terms of physical nutrition requirement and health benefits of going plant-based
Lowered blood pressure/hypertension and a healthy heart
High blood pressure or hypertension can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (according to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. A study published in 2016 November in the Journal of Hypertension found that vegetarians and vegans had 34% lower risk of developing hypertension and related heart diseases. Saturated fats are important component of meat, which actively contribute to heart issues. Limiting meat intake, along with increased proportion of nutritious and wholesome fruits, vegetables and grains in the diet will do wonder for the heart health.
Reduced excess body weight/accelerating weight loss
The risk of obesity lessens with a plant based diet. The body is healthier when supplied with the right nutrients. The goal is to eat ‘healthy plant based diet’. The elimination or reduction of meat intake alone will not help in weight loss as well maintaining the overall health. Eating more plants can help you drop pounds. According to a small study published in March 2017 in Nutrition & Diabetes, 65 overweight adults who followed a whole-food, plant-based diet for one year lost 9.25 pounds on average.
Decreased risk of cancer
The American Institute for Cancer Research says the best way to source cancer-protective nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, is to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and some animal foods. And the same goes for cancer survivors.
Keeping the brain strong
A review of nine studies, published in 2017 in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found that eating an extra 100 grams of fruits and vegetables per day (about half a cup) led to a 13 percent reduction in the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. The likely reason: Fruits and vegetables are rich in polyphenols, which an article published in August 2018 in Nutrients notes are in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (aka, the cornerstones of a plant-based diet). Polyphenols may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and may help reverse cognitive decline, according to a review published in 2014 in Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology.
But where do I get my protein from?
This must be the most commonly asked question. People are surprised to learn that overconsumption of proteins pose a greater threat to health than not getting enough. In fact, a major culprit in many diseases, is overdose of protein. We become prone to cancer, cyst formations, stones, fibroids , unwanted GH (growth hormones), disturbed blood chemistry among many other diseases.
Protein is the building block which aids in the growth of human cells, tissues and muscles. It is needed for growth of the body, ie, a child requires more protein in its growing years compared to fully grown adults. Joining the list are also athletes and pregnant women who need more protein intake.
Our body’s natural need for protein can be easily fulfilled with a good and balanced plant based meal. It is almost impossible to follow a protein deficient plant based diet because nature has provided us with everything we need, and in the right quantities. When we eat animals for protein intake, we need to remind ourselves that they are herbivores and get their protein from plants themselves. It is not logical to go through a tortured animal to get a nutrient which is plant derived by the animal itself.
Effects of dietary choices on mental and spiritual health
If you are leading a stressful life, have signs of clinical depression, suffer from frequent anxiety/panic attacks or feel the absence of joy and love in your life while constantly in a state of fear or survival mode, then it is important to understand that there is a real, tangible, biological link between your gut health and mental health.
As a foetus, we have a little bundle of tissue called ‘neural crest’. While still in the uterus, this ball of tissue splits into two. Half of it turns into the central nervous system (the brain), and the other half turns into the enteric nervous system (the stomach). These two nervous systems are linked for the rest of our life by the vagus nerve, which is the literal brain-gut connection. The implication of this connection is very vast. Noticed how feeling hungry makes you irritated and angry? Noticed that feeling bloated makes you angry and sluggish? Mood is made in the gut. There is a constant bi-directional communication between the brain and the GI (Gut Intestinal) tract. The microbes in the gut communicate with the cognitive and emotional centres in the brain. 70% of the neurotransmitters like serotonin are made in the gut and sent to the brain via the vagus nerve.
Nutrition creates mood. You cannot expect to be happy and healthy by eating processed, junk and dead food.
As per Ayurveda
Food can be categorised in to three main types basis their ability to transfer the ‘Prana’ or Life force Energy into beings. It is due to this life force energy that we can be rendered as dead or alive beings.
The founder of The Satvic Movement and the author of The Food Book, health educator Subah Jain, defines these three categories as given below:
Satvic Food – Food of goodness
Food in this mode increase the duration of life, purifies ones existence and gives strength, vitality, health, happiness and satisfaction. These foods are living foods with life energy inside them. These type of food come straight from the nature without and human interference, eg, all fresh fruits, vegetables, whole fats and whole grains. When Satvik mode dominates our existence, we feel happy, satisfied and in control of our senses.
Rajasik Food – Food of passion
Foods in this mode stimulate arrogance, ego, restlessness, anxiety, anger, impatience, fear, uncontrollable desires, distress. Foods that are too bitter, salty, pungent, dry and hot are liked by people in the mode of passion. Such foods cause pain, distress and disease. This includes food with excess of salt, sugar, spices, vinegar etc. When Rajasik mode dominates our existence, we feel restless, anxious and angry.
Tamasik Food – Food of ignorance
Foods in this mode act as catalyst for laziness, tiredness, depression, lethargy, ignorance, apathy, inertia and illusion. Stale food (eaten after 5-8 hours after being cooked) and everything processed, packaged, bottled, canned, rotten (meat and fish) and foul smelling)food are Tamasik in nature. These kinds of food are dead and when we eat this food, we transfer the same death into our body in the form of disease. Stimulants of Tamasik mode are onion, garlic, tea, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, betel nut and betel leaf. When Tamasik mode dominates our life, we feel lazy, depressed and lethargic.
So now we know, that the food we eat directly affects our mental and physical wellbeing. We have the power to choose what we want to be and what qualities we want to bring into our realm of existence. Nourishing your soul with the right food- As weird as it sounds, it is the fact everyone needs to know. Life giving Satvik food will nourish your soul because they carry the life force within them.
But why would our soul need food? Because everything is energy. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It is transformed from one form to another.
Ever seen the factory farms and the living conditions the animals are kept in? The happy pictures of cows and chicken on product labels are just psychological manipulation to make consumers believe that the animals are happy and healthy. Imagine the fear, grief and terror a living organism goes through right before being butchered! These energies remain trapped in the flesh of their dead corpses which we later ingest. These energies don’t dissipate, but further transform as fear, depression and anxiety into our own emotional body, thus depleting our soul’s nourishment and degrading our spiritual well being.
It does not matter you are a spiritual person or not. It does not matter you practice meditation, read holy books or regularly go to places of worship or not. You are the embodiment of Mind, Body and Soul and depriving any one of the aspect from the required nourishment and care will affect your overall well being.
Practical tips to get started and go through the transition period
- Know your “why”
Be it for the environment, animal rights, weight loss or better health, it is important to know why you would make a certain lifestyle change. Not knowing your ‘why’ will only make you come back to square one with few failed attempts and a lot of self-loathing for not being able to stick to your resolutions.
- Transition slowly
There are ‘internet gurus’ who advice to turn vegan overnight and throw away all stocks of existing non-vegetarian foods. The human psychology and biology does not work that way. It takes approximately 21 days to form a habit. Even if you transition overnight, you will start craving for meat in next 2 to3 weeks. Gradually introduce no meat days in a week and then take the time for few months for the complete transition to no meat at all.
- Consult professional dietician
Every body type is different, which means, the nutritional requirement will also be different. Consulting a professional dietician will help you in setting the right note for the journey without the chances of mishaps (in this case you can read the mishaps as deficiency diseases).
- Be a Flexitarian
It is ok to not go by labels. It is ok to not completely given into the title of being a vegetarian or vegan. The idea is to do our best to protect our wellbeing and the environment. The less you contribute to the meat demand, the better it is. It is a completely personal experience and you should feel empowered to do what is best for your health.
- Remove temptations from your immediate environment
Be it the food stock in your fridge or your favourite eating outlet/food delivery service, manipulate the triggers around you so that you don’t get tempted.
- Experience the Satvik deliciousness
Last but not the least, explore the deliciousness and joy of clean food and lifestyle. Once you start experiencing the real benefits on your overall well being, there is no looking back.
Article by Sourabhi Das