One of the most prevalent trends I see today as health & nutrition coach, is the shift to eating a plant based diet. I see a greater focus on eating more whole foods (which is optimal) and awareness that processed foods are contributing to the obesity epidemic. However, that being said, I still get a lot of questions about adopting a plant free eating style and I encounter many myths which include a lot of assumptions and information that simply isn’t true. So let’s clear up what I mean by a plant based diet first:
Vegetarianism: Most vegetarians don’t eat animal flesh however they may flex their diets to include seafood, fish and/or poultry. They opt for a mostly plant based diet however many do eat meat free processed junk foods that don’t have a lot of nutrition. It is absolutely possible to be a vegetarian and not be healthy. For most vegetarians, the conscious and purposeful choices they make about nutritional habits are what really define a vegetarian diet.
Veganism: Vegans abstain from eating all meat, fish, or fowl, as well as any other foods of animal origin such as butter, milk, yogurt, honey, eggs, gelatin, or lard, and any prepared foods containing these ingredients. Vegans typically avoid animal products in other domains too (e.g. leather products).
Plant Based Diet: Just like an omnivorous diet, a plant-based diet should involve whole, unprocessed foods, and the bulk of a person’s intake should consist of: beans & legumes, fruits & vegetables, whole grains, nuts & seeds.
We made the shift to a plant based diet this year. It wasn’t something we planned, but as my husband and I were focused on improving our overall health & nutrition, it just seemed like a natural choice for us. It shocked a lot of our family & friends who are definitely not on the same page. Probably shocked my parents most of all. You see, when I was growing up, our meals were meat focused. Vegetables were a side dish and often unappealing and forgettable. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s and really ‘going outside my box’ with new recipes that I started cooking them differently and even thinking about vegetables in a different light. Instead of being a side act, they started taking center stage in my meals and I started getting good at making them pretty darn tasty. There are a TON of great resources out there as well for both vegetarians and vegans, so it helps those new to the lifestyle to find recipes, tips and ideas so that they can create meals that the whole family will love.
From a health & nutrition perspective, a plant based diet is incredibly healthy for our bodies. In fact, I have found that as a vegetarian I make better nutritional choices consistently, I get more nutrients & minerals than I did previously and I feel better. I still have tons of energy, get in great workouts (yes I strength train + kickboxing) and I know I am doing good things for both my body and the environment. As an avid animal lover who is concerned about the impact our way of life is having on our planet, this is one choice I can make which I hope will make a difference.
For many people, they feel the same way. I see more and more people making the shift to vegetarianism – which is great – so I thought I would bust a few myths and give you the facts on a plant based diet so if you are new to the lifestyle or considering it, you have all the facts. It’s not for everyone and that’s okay. As part of my coaching practice, I love to help vegetarians & vegans successfully make sure their health and nutrition is on point.
Myth #1: Plant Based Diets don’t Provide Enough Protein
For athletes and body builders, they need about .8g of protein per pound of body weight daily for optimal results. For the rest of us, protein should make up 30 – 35% of our overall caloric intake. Both options are highly doable on a plant based diet considering the wide assortment of protein available in: beans, legumes, quinoa, nuts, seeds, high protein grains/carbs and minimally process plant based protein powders.
Myth #2: Plant Based Diets is just about Eating Salad for Every Meal
This couldn’t be further from the truth. While I do love a great salad, they are not the main or only option open to vegetarians or vegans. Our diet consists of a ton of variety including fruits, every kind of vegetable you can imagine, potatoes, protein enriched pastas, cheese & eggs (if you are a vegetarian), whole grains and more. I make delicious AF meals like: lasagna, pizza, chili, baked beans, protein bowls, tacos, Bolognese pasta … and the list goes on. If you are creative, resourceful & can use a google search bar you can find thousands of plant based recipes to make your mouth water.
Myth #3: There is no Proof about the Healthiness of Plant Based Diets
When the President of the American College of Cardiology makes a direct correlation between lowering your risk for heart disease and adopting a plant based diet, we should all start to listen. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.
Myth #4: You Lose Muscle Mass & get Weak on a Plant Based Diet
Currently there are athletes in every sport, at every level of competition, which follow a plant based diet. As I touched on above, with respect to more than adequate protein sources, there is no need to worry about not being able to either get fit and strong or keep your physique when you make the shift to either vegetarianism or veganism. Since protein is the key macro which helps people build & maintain lean muscle mass, there is no reason to worry about this myth.
Myth #5: Plant Based Diets are too Expensive
Honestly, its less expensive to buy groceries for a plant based diet than for a diet with lots of meat. Beans, legumes, vegetables and whole grains tend to be the cheaper things you can purchase and if you have a local market, you can save even more money by buying your produce from local farmers. There are lots of ways to be budget conscious and still get all the foods you need for a healthy, balanced plant based diet.
Myth #6: My ______ eats Meat & is Healthy and Happy
A plant based diet isn’t for everyone – no question. As a society, we are taught that meat is good for us and yes, there are a lot of nutrients that our bodies get from meat and meat products. However, we can get equally good sources of nutrients on a plant based diet PLUS lower our risks for so many common diseases that are so prevalent in our society today. In fact, the research shows that the longest living populations have adopted a plant based diet.
So why make the shift to a plant based diet? Well, it comes down to a number of factors really and you need to decide for yourself what the right eating style is for YOU. A well planned plant based diet is excellent for anyone, at any stage of life as it puts the focus on eating whole foods over processed, thereby giving our bodies the nutrients it needs to function optimally. In addition to the whole foods, plant based eaters should be careful to consume enough vitamin B-12, calcium, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.
Regardless of how you define yourself, including more plants in your diet can make you healthier, provide important nutrients, and help do your part to conserve environmental resources.