For a variety of reasons, plant-based lifestyles are becoming more and more common. Some people want to reduce their carbon footprint, others are convinced that a plant-based lifestyle is better for their health, and others are concerned about the plight of the animals. No matter what reason you have for looking into a plant-based diet, it’s important to understand how they work.
Obviously, a plant-based diet is, well… plant-based. However, a “plant-based diet” is simply not the same thing as a vegetarian diet and certainly isn’t the same thing as a strict vegan diet. One of the things that makes a plant-based diet so attractive is that it is significantly more balanced than similar alternatives, which makes it healthier, more sustainable over the long term, and more attractive to people who are less ideologically driven.
The main thing you need to know is that a plant-based diet can be just as healthy as a diet based on animal protein – if not more. However, it’s important to do your research before embarking on any kind of diet like this. If you don’t you can find yourself making profoundly unhealthy choices. After all, a diet of nothing but potatoes might be “plant-based” but it’s certainly not healthy.
Understanding the Basics of Plant-Based Eating
As stated above, a “plant-based diet” isn’t vegetarianism… and it isn’t veganism… so what is it?
One way to explain it is to say that veganism and vegetarianism are two types of plant-based diets, but there are other options. For example, many people who describe themselves as having a “plant-based diet” have not eliminated animal proteins from their diet completely. They have, however, significantly reduced the amount of animals in their diets.
The base of the pyramid of their diet will tend to be proteins from other sources such as nuts, seeds, soy products, or even non-meat animal products such as eggs, milk, cottage cheese, and others. The rest of their diet will be made up of everything else, including whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.
Optimizing Protein Intake: Beyond Meat Sources
The first question that most people will ask someone on any kind of plant-based diet is “Where do you get your protein from?” Again, if you’re looking at a plant-based diet, there’s no need to eliminate animal protein from your diet. Eating meat sparingly is a thing that many people on a plant-based diet will do.
What’s more, we’ve already mentioned some of the other non-meat animal proteins that you can consume above. Eggs are rich in protein as every bodybuilder knows and low-fat cottage cheese has an excellent protein-to-fat ratio, making it another favorite of those on a diet. It’s such an excellent source of protein that during both World Wars, the United States government encouraged people to ditch meat for cottage cheese to save all that animal protein for the front lines.
Even rice has protein in it, as does spinach and many other sources that have absolutely nothing at all to do with animals. Start looking at the protein content of the non-animal food sources that you consume regularly and you’ll probably be surprised to learn just how much protein these foods have in them.
Mindful Supplementation: Ensuring Vital Nutrients
A well-planned plant-based diet can certainly provide most, if not all, essential nutrients, there are some areas where you have to be particularly mindful if you want to keep your health intact while on a plant-based diet.
For example, certain nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids may require special attention. Fortunately, supplements for these are plentiful, cheap, and readily available. What’s more, their scarcity in plant sources is often overestimated. So be mindful, but don’t rush out and fill your medicine cabinet with a lot of pills you don’t necessarily need.
Of course, knowing this, one thing that you can do is simply be mindful of the things that you eat and make sure that they are consciously covered in your diet. This can either be through the plant-based sources that you eat or through mindful and judicious consumption of animal protein.
Balancing Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats
Here’s where things get difficult on a plant-based diet: Most plant-based sources of food have less than optimal macronutrient profiles. Indeed, in your quest to get enough protein (whatever that means for you), you might find yourself getting way more carbohydrates or fats than you planned.
Some careful planning in your diet is required to make sure that you have a solid macronutrient profile in your diet. You want to make sure that you’re getting enough protein, so look for those protein sources that have comparatively lower fat and carbohydrate contents compared to the amount of protein that you’re getting out of them.
For those navigating the complexities of a plant-based diet, seeking guidance from a nutritionist or dietitian can be immensely beneficial. These professionals can provide personalized advice, address specific dietary concerns, and ensure that individuals are meeting their nutritional needs for optimal health.
Plant-based nutrition is a dynamic field with ongoing research and developments. Staying informed about the latest nutritional guidelines, recipes, and plant-based substitutes is the best thing you can do to ensure that you’re eating healthy – because simply eating plant-based does not make your diet magically healthy.
Educating yourself allows you to make informed choices that align with your health goals, ensuring a sustainable and gratifying plant-based lifestyle.
Have you ever experimented with a plant-based diet? Would you try it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.