“Of all the diets recommended over the last few decades to turn the tide of these chronic illnesses, the best but perhaps least common may be those that are plant based.”

Naming your eating habits

There are vegetarians (no meat), vegans (no animal products) and more recently, plant-based diet eaters.  Rather than defining the diet with what is not included, those who follow a plant-based diet focus on what is included. A plant-based diet is heavy on vegetables and includes fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts,  Processed food is minimal when following a plant-based diet.

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THE RESEARCH

A plant-based diet (not specifically with the label vegan or vegetarian, which is not specifically considered healthy) has been shown to mimic medicine – hence the saying, FOOD IS MEDICINE.  Eating close to the ground has been found to be more nutrient dense and to lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.   Meat consumption has been linked to obesity, mortality and heart problems.

COMPLETE PROTEIN

What do you eat for protein? This is the question that vegans, vegetarians and anyone who is following a plant-based diet will field.  It is a myth that it is hard to obtain protein if you do not eat meat.  Proteins are made up of amino acids, of which there are 20. There are 9 amino acids that cannot be sourced from the body, which are called the essential amino acids, that we must obtain from food. A complete protein contains adequate amounts of all 9 essential amino acids.  A few plant-based foods can stand alone as a complete protein, most notably quinoa, while many others can be combined to make a complete protein.  Some examples of food combinations and stand alone foods for a complete protein are below.

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NUTRIENT CONSIDERATIONS FOR PLANT BASED DIET

IRON The iron found in plants is not as bioavailable as the iron in animal products.  Look to eat kidney beans, black beans, spinach, raisins, cashews, oatmeal,  and cabbage

B12 and D  Vitamin B12 is needed for cell division and blood formation. Since B12 comes from bacteria, this is a Vitamin that those eating a plant-based diet should consider supplementing. Vitamin D is a common deficiency meat-eaters and non meat-eaters alike.  This is another vitamin to supplement. Find more about Vitamin D here.

CALCIUM Those eating a plant-based diet must do the research to optimize nutrients. Mustard and turnip greens, bok choy and kale are sufficient sources of calcium.  Spinach and various other greens bind to oxalate which prevents calcium absorption.

FATTY ACIDS  Similar to the amino acids, essential fatty acids must come from food.  Fats are made up of fatty acids.  Two well known essential fatty acids are linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).   Omega-3, which includes DHA and EPA, has been shown to be anti-inflammatory.  Omega-3 fatty acids also support a healthy brain function, and are connected to hormone production and mood.  For a plant-based diet, focus on the omega-3.  Sources of Omega-3 are ground flax seeds, chia seeds, help seeds, flax oil, and walnuts.

While a plant-based diet has been shown to be superior for health, it is clear that careful planning must be conducted to be sure that nutrient intake is adequate. It is recommended to work with a nutritionist if you are starting a new way of eating.

Sources
Nutritional Updates for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets
Mercola

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