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When Kunal Mutha, founder of Only Earth, a plant-based beverage brand, switched to plant-based diet two years ago, he could feel a positive change in his health. His palpitations improved and the frequency of him having to use the inhaler for his asthma came down. As a training triathlete who has completed a few Ironman triathlons, he also feels lighter and recovers faster after long workout sessions.

Mutha is part of the bandwagon in support of the plant-based diet movement. Consumer researches globally point to how switching to a whole food plant-based diet could be a solution to the rising health crisis of chronic diseases and in also solving the planet’s climate problem. According to a recent research study by Oxford, plant-based foods have proven as an effective diet to prevent, manage and even reverse diabetes. A research study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, US, found that people on plant-based diets are less likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure than meat eaters.

A Healthy Start

The idea of plant-based foods started in 2018 when some of the world’s top kitchens gave out vegan meals and saw a spike in sales that indicated demand. Fast forward to 2020, when the global crisis of Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns made people prioritise health and well-being and reassess what they eat and its impact on the planet. Says Simrun Chopra, deep health coach and founder of Nourish with Sim, “2020 was the year many people discovered plant-based products and when new products were added to menus and supermarkets–from burgers and bakeries to pizzas and pastries.”

A plant-based diet, as the name suggests, focuses on whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices and everything that comes from plants. These food sources are high in fibre and bioactive compounds which are anti-inflammatory in nature. The reasons to opt for such a diet range from personal health and animal rights to environmental concerns related to factory farming. A holistic approach to better living, it’s friendlier alternative to a nutritious lifestyle with no room for desserts, fast food, processed means, and refined grains.

More than a Fad

Effective in weight management, a plant-based diet supports the immune system as plant foods reduce inflammation and have essential nutrients that you can’t get from other foods. According to nutritionist Lovneet Batra, “The vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body in balance so that the immune system can function at its best. The same tiny phytochemicals and antioxidants that boost your immune system also go around the body neutralising toxins from pollution, processed food, bacteria, viruses and more.”

The increased demand for a plant-based diet is a direct result of growing consumer awareness about their eating habits. As plant-based foods have amino acids and are also rich in natural nutrients, fibre, polyunsaturated fatty acids, oligosaccharides and carbohydrates, they help keep a check on cardiovascular diseases, cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and other health issues. Explains Sahil Mehta, founder, MuscleXP, a nutritional supplement brand, “A plant-based diet is suitable for everybody as it consists of proper proportions of healthy and clean foods.” If the diet seems a bit intimidating, smaller steps can always work. Like picking up one meal that you enjoy in the day and keeping it plant-based only, or by cutting down on meat and processed food intake, or shifting to a plant-based breakfast first. Recommends Chopra, “Understanding your food taste and keeping it healthy and wholesome is important. Some products marketed as plant-based might be highly processed and excessive in sodium and avoiding these is key. Also, keep your meals fun and focus on foods that you enjoy and are easily accessible to you. Add flavours that you like and keep the food taste as per what you like.” The diet change can work wonders if done right. Taking inputs from nutritionists could help as they can calculate how much of which food is needed and what essential nutrients to be covered.

The nutrients that might be missed while on a plant-based diet are protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3). Those who have a sensitive gut and cannot tolerate high fibre diets should consult a nutritionist before shifting to such a diet. Following a plant-based is often a personal choice, but while trying to shift, do consider your genetic make-up, activity levels, pre-existing medical conditions and any nutritional deficiencies or food allergies.

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