WHAT ON EARTH IS IT?
Simply put a plant based diet includes lots of:
- Whole grains
It's basically any living edible crop that is grown from the ground or falls from the tree.
Research shows that consuming meat and dairy products can likely lead to increases in weight gain, inflammation, risks in high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers.
Adopting a well balanced predominantly vegetarian diet with lots of variety on the other hand offers an abundance of complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals with little saturated fat.
There are correlations between adopting this way of eating in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle factors resulting in improvements and sometimes a reversal of some of these health effects. So if you have any one of these issues perhaps this might be a good thing to do for your body.
We now live in a society of abundance. Everything is readily available, quick and convenient. Excess is normalised. Some of us eat animal derived food twice a day almost everyday of the week without even realising it. From a processed ham sandwich for lunch to lamb cutlets for dinner.
It's no wonder the number one cause of death is heart disease.
Results from research studies have reported:
- The incidence of ischaemic heart disease deaths is as much as 24 per cent lower for vegetarians than for meat eaters
- Vegetarian diets are generally higher in dietary fibre, antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals - all factors that help control blood lipids and protect against heart disease
- People with colon cancer seem to eat more meat, more saturated fat and fewer vegetables than do people without colon cancer. High protein, high fat, low fibre diets create an environment in the colon that promotes the development of cancer in some people. A high meat diet has been associated with stomach cancer as well
- In general, vegetarians maintain a lower and healthier body weight than non-vegetarians
DOES THIS MEAN I HAVE TO BE VEGAN?
The answer is no you do not. It's all about eating mostly plants. Animal products aren't off limits. You can still eat meat, fish or dairy from time to time but the aim is to avoid letting those wonderful indulgent items crowd out your plant source intake.
Some followers don't eat any animal products and others eat small amounts from time to time. This is where plant based eating is different to being a vegetarian or vegan. It's flexible. Just make sure your plant intake far outweighs your animal intake and when adopting any diet change, go slow. Allow your body to adjust. Perhaps you may like to try cutting out red meat, then chicken, then eventually fish in stages completely. Or you might like to keep one of these animal sources in your diet indefinitely but limit it to just once a week or once in a while. Whatever it looks like to you, the aim is to adopt healthy eating habits that improve your overall health, not create strict rules.
As with any change to your eating pattern you do need to plan it well to ensure you incorporate key dietary essentials. Going vegetarian or vegan does not make you healthier if you do not eat well.
- Protein - plant protein sources include whole grains, legumes such as lentils and certain vegetables. However, soy remains the highest quality plant based source of protein. Getting a large variety of all of these different sources will ensure you get enough protein in your diet
- Iron - non-haem iron from plants aren't absorbed as well as haem iron from animal sources. But you can enhance the bioavailability of legumes or dark leafy greens with Vitamin C rich fruits such as lemon, lime or orange
- Zinc - eat from a wide variety of nutrient dense foods and include legumes such as kidney beans
- Calcium - to avoid deficiency include calcium fortified soy milk or foods. Other good sources of calcium include figs, some legumes, vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, almonds and sesame seeds
- Vitamin B12 - seaweeds such as nori or chlorella provide some of this vitamin. Fermented tempeh can too, although the Vitamin B12 found in this can sometimes be inactive. You can also take a supplement too to avoid risking deficiency
- Vitamin D - this is easily obtained by getting enough exposure to the sun which remains the largest source of this vitamin
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids - if you don't eat fish you can obtain these by consuming flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans
Failure to plan well may lead to states of deficiency, a lack of energy and development of other potential issues. Unfortunately many vegans can find themselves falling into this state without knowing how or why it happened. Understanding the science behind it changes that.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Eat mostly plants
- Have variety
- Eat the rainbow
- Consume with balance and moderation in mind
- Fresh is best
- Eat whole foods not processed foods
- Move regularly
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Eat with freedom - if your body craves it, reward it
ALWAYS SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
As with anything, this information is general and not specific to your situation.
If you do this, it is best handled under the guidance of your GP or a specialist in functional medicine such as a naturopath or dietitian who can do a full physical exam to work with your individual case. You may have underlying health issues that you are unaware of.
It's also important to remember no one diet fits all. Working out what foods work for you is a process and a lifestyle.
Be careful not to develop a negative association or food disorder doing this. It is purely there to jumpstart your gut health journey and give you more awareness of your body.
Eat with freedom!
Anne-Sophie Rayment, Nutritional Advisor.
- J. Mann, Vegetarian diets: Health benefits are not necessarily unique, but there may be ecological advantages, BMJ 2009;339:b2507
- F. B. Hu, Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: An overview, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78 (2003): 544S-551S
- H. Chen and co-authors, Dietary patterns and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and distal stomach, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 75 (2002): 137-144
- P. K. Newby, K. L. Tucker and A. Wolk, Risk of overweight and obesity among semivegetarian, lactovegetarian and vegan women, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 81 (2005): 1267-1274
- Journals sourced from: E. Whitney, S. R. Rolfes, T. Crowe, D. Cameron-Smith, A. Walsh, Understanding Nutrition: Australian and New Zealand Edition, (2011), 1st Edition, Cengage Learning Australia Pty Ltd