Plant-Based Diets to Embrace the Yoga Lifestyle
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Perhaps you’ve recently taken up yoga or maybe you’ve been practicing for years. Regardless, you find yourself reaping the benefits of regular practice; you feel lighter, more energized, and more grounded.
Having experienced all these positive effects, you may be interested in learning more about how you can live out a true yoga lifestyle.
Well, what if we were to tell you that it may be simpler than you think?
Beyond the practice of asanas, a yoga lifestyle encompasses the philosophy about all aspects of how we live our lives. Ancient yogic texts talk about the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which describe all aspects of living a yoga lifestyle.
One of them is yama, the ethical behavior towards others. And part of yama is ahimsa, commonly known as “nonviolence”.
Therefore, probably the easiest way to take a step towards adopting a yoga lifestyle is to pay attention to what you consume daily.
Choosing to eat plant-based isn’t only a service you do to yourself. It also impacts others through the power of living by example, promotes nonviolence, and helps the environment.
If you are interested in incorporating a plant-based diet into your lifestyle, in this article, we’re sharing insights on the types of plant-based diets, their benefits, as well as how to ensure a smooth transition.
But First, What Is the Connection Between Yoga & Plant-Based Lifestyle?
Vegetarianism and yoga have a strong connection. Yoga originated in India, a country that has a long-standing vegetarianism tradition.
Also, several of the yoga principles support a plant-based diet.
Ahimsa – commonly referred to as “nonviolence” and part of yama - is an ancient concept originating in the Vedas, the ancient Indian spiritual and philosophical wisdom. It is also part of the first of the eight limbs of yoga and a foundational principle of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
And while not harming our peers is part of all spiritual practices, ahimsa applies to all sentient beings, as well as the Earth. Therefore, a truly yogic lifestyle is one that has the least negative impact on the environment around you.
This is why many yogis embrace a plant-based lifestyle. By choosing to be plant-based you renounce the mistreatments of animals and also help Mother Earth.
More so, you are also practicing this act of non-violence towards yourself by choosing to eat healthy plant-based foods that will positively impact your health and wellbeing.
Types of Plant-Based Diets
Most of us already have heard of vegetarianism or veganism. But what exactly is a plant-based diet?
You’d be surprised to know that there isn’t an official or formal definition for the plant-based diet. However, most nutritionists agree that a plant-based diet is any type of eating plan that is based primarily on plants.
There are four main types of plant-based diets which we describe below, as well as some popular variations.
Photo credit: Wonderland Healing Center
A vegan diet excludes all types of animal products and by-products. This means, meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are excluded, as well as using honey or wax. More so, those opting for a vegan lifestyle would also choose not to wear wool, leather, or use products tested on animals.
This is one of the most restrictive types of plant-based diets.
Vegans rely on whole foods to get their nutrients. The colorful plates comprise whole grains, fresh and cooked vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, spices, herbs, and oils.
Most often, vegans aim to “eat the rainbow”. Red, orange, yellow, green, and blue fresh produce all offer different nutrients and help to keep a healthy diet.
However, even a vegan diet can lack nutrients. After all, French fries are vegan and there are a lot of vegan fast-food options available, too.
That’s why sticking to a whole-foods plant-based diet is important. Supplements may be needed as some vitamins are notoriously hard to get on a vegan diet (but not impossible).
A stricter variation of the vegan diet is to be raw vegan. This means foods should be eaten raw or heated at temperatures below 104–118°F (40–48°C). Raw veganism relies heavily on raw vegetables, fruits, and nuts including juices, smoothies, salads, and superfoods. It also makes use of the dehydrator to “cook” foods such as raw pizza or crackers.
Photo credit: Yoga on Kos
Probably the most popular form of a plant-based diet is the vegetarian eating style. It is less restrictive than a vegan diet, and, depending on the variation you choose, you may be able to eat some animal products.
Ovo-lacto vegetarian diet excludes meat (including fish) but allows eggs and dairy. This is what typically is referred to as a “vegetarian diet”. Most people choose it because they want to improve their health.
Variants of ovo-lacto vegetarian are: ovo vegetarian – which includes eggs but excludes meat, fish, and dairy – and lacto vegetarian – which excludes eggs, meat, and fish, but includes dairy.
Most people choose the variants based on allergies and intolerances.
Because it’s less restrictive than a vegan diet, there might not be the need to take supplements. Still, not everyone who eats vegetarian also eats healthy. So, the focus should still be on whole-foods and ideally, organic animal products from sustainable farms.
Typically considered a variant of vegetarianism, a pescatarian diet excludes all types of meat, while allowing fish, seafood, and shellfish.
It is a plant-based diet as it still relies mostly on plants. Some pescatarians exclude dairy and eggs, while others do not.
Pescatarian is one of the most flexible forms of a plant-based diet. For those who need an intermediate step before switching to a full plant-based diet, this is a great option.
Do note that it is also potentially harmful as your food may be exposed to heavy metals. Some fish species are considered safer options, though (including salmon and rainbow trout).
Children, pregnant women, and women who try to conceive should be careful and limit the amount of fish they eat.
Because it doesn’t exclude many foods, a pescatarian diet doesn’t need to be complemented by supplements.
The most flexible of the plant-based diets is flexitarian, also known as semi-vegetarian.
And while it doesn’t actually prohibit animal products, it is still based mostly on plants. It does, however, allow small amounts of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Just like pescatarian, some people choose to be flexitarian as a way to transition to more restrictive plant-based diets.
This type of plant-based diet still comes with the health benefits, while being permissive with the type of foods you can eat. And, if you make sure to eat a variety of foods, you won’t need to use supplements either.
The Benefits of Plant-Based Diets for Yogis
Plant-based diets are linked to healthier body weight and a lower risk of certain diseases. The Mediterranean diet – which is centered on plants – is well known for promoting longevity and better mental health.
If you are interested in improving your health, you are most likely already moving towards a plant-based diet. And if you also want to enhance your yoga practice, you should know that a primarily plant-based diet helps to maintain a healthy weight, increases flexibility & energy, decreases inflammation in the body, and plenty more.
Below, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of plant-based diets:
Yoga practice requires energy. To be able to stay focused and present you need to feel great.
According to Ayurveda, food plays an important role in how you feel. This, in turn, affects your energy.
Eating foods directly from the earth creates more energy. Heavy foods – such as meat – offer low energy.
»READ MORE: How Do Ayurveda & Yoga Intertwine?
Improved athletic performance
A plant-based diet is low in free cholesterol and saturated fat. This helps improve blood thickness, which means more oxygen will reach your muscles. The result is improved athletic performance, which helps you flow effortlessly between asanas.
Also, a plant-based diet is rich in antioxidants. They neutralize free radicals that are responsible for muscle fatigue and impaired recovery.
To reap up the most benefits, make sure to include blue-colored foods in your diet, such as blueberries, blackberries, black currants, plums, figs, dark-colored grapes, eggplant, purple potatoes, purple cabbage, purple salad leaves, and black beans
Vitamins A and E – which can be found in a variety of foods, including nuts, seeds, carrots, broccoli, and leafy greens - play a big role in promoting healthy skin.
That’s why you’ll often hear someone say that their skin has cleared once they gave up meat and dairy. The change is, indeed, remarkable when switching to a plant-based vegan diet.
Better muscle definition and tone
When switching to a whole-foods plant-based diet, the change in gut bacteria alone promotes healthy weight loss even without calorie restrictions. You’ll reap up the best and fastest benefits when you choose to switch to a vegan diet.
A lower fat percentage translates to better muscle definition and tone.
Not to mention that, lower weight means you are more flexible and energetic on and off the mat.
You’ve probably heard already that a plant-based diet will reduce inflammation and promote good health.
Inflammation is an immune response. Whenever something bad happens in the body or to the body, the cells are signaled to repair it, causing inflammation. This is the case when inflammation is good because it repairs the damage.
However, when the inflammation persists – because of something you ate that provides no benefits – the same cells are called into action only to mistakenly harm the body. This is the inflammation we all want to avoid. Typically, it is triggered by animal products, sugar, and highly processed foods.
Sticking to a whole-foods vegan diet is the easiest way to lower the inflammation in the body. This will also help lower joint and muscle stiffness.
Aside from eating the rainbow, don’t forget to also include in your diet anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, ginger, and red hot peppers.
A non-violent way of eating means good karma. By choosing to avoid harming sentient beings, you also avoid the guilt associated with their suffering.
You will feel happier and peaceful. This, in turn, will improve your overall mood.
Tips for a Smooth Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
So far, in 2020, a record number of 400,000 people joined Veganuary – a month-long challenge to stick to a vegan lifestyle. In previous years, 250,000 (in 2019) and 170,000 (in 2018) people took the challenge.
Recently, plant-based diets have seen an increase in popularity among celebrities and influencers, and a lot of plant-based food alternatives are now easily available.
That said, to benefit from a plant-based diet remember that you need to eat mostly whole-foods. Fast-food is not healthy even if it’s plant-based.
But omitting animal products overnight is not realistic for most people. Here are some easy steps to take to ensure a smooth transition:
1. Add more plant-based foods to your current diet. Whether you choose to replace dinner with a plant-based meal or eat plant-based an entire day (#meatlessmonday anyone?), it’s a good start towards a healthier life. Something as simple as adding a big vegetable salad to lunch will make a difference.
2. Cut down meat and ultra-processed foods. Get rid of meat and replace it with plant-based protein. If you’ve always done Taco Tuesday, replace the beef with mushrooms or tofu mince. Pizza night? Switch pepperoni for mushrooms, zucchini, and eggplant.
3. Have a plant-based breakfast. If you’ve always loved smoothies, replace cow’s milk with plant-based milk. Your oats will also be delicious with plant-based milk. And don’t forget to add fruits, nuts, and seeds. If you feel adventurous, try tofu scramble.
4. Keep your meals fun. You don’t need to be a wizard in the kitchen. Anyone can throw together a colorful salad – remember the rainbow we kept mentioning above? Plus, there are a lot of plant-based recipes that take 5 to 15 minutes to whip up.
5. Be curious to discover new plant-based foods. Yes, it’s great that we can now find a lot of plant-based burgers, yogurt, milk, and cheese. But we are referring to fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. If you already eat rice, why not try bulgur or amaranth? If you’ve never had a quince, maybe it’s time to try one. And what about those chia seeds?
Starting as a flexitarian pescatarian and then slowly getting more restrictive is a great way to allow yourself and your body to adapt to the new lifestyle.
If your ultimate goal is to be vegan, it may be easier if you spend some time getting used to a vegetarian diet first.
Are you interested in switching to a vegan diet? Join a vegan yoga retreat and learn how to reconnect with yourself, enjoy delicious food, and go deeper into your yoga practice.