There are always dietary trends coming and going. Keto, gluten-free, paleo… each one promising better results that the last. The latest health trend is the plant-based diet. How do you know if it’s the right choice for you? That is where Smart Girl Tribe comes in.
First of all, what is a plant-based diet?
The name seems kind of self-explanatory; yes, a plant-based diet is any diet that focuses on food derived from plant sources such as fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes nuts and meat substitutes such as soy products. Dr. Mona Vand, a pharmacist turned plant-based eating advocate, offers a more particular definition of the diet as “eating food in its most natural state, without any manipulation or processing.”
What is not a plant-based diet?
While vegan diets eradicate all animal products and gluten, a plant-based diet does not mean that it consists only of plants. It just means eating more of them. Besides, plant-based does not automatically mean “healthy”, especially when it comes to processed and packaged food. For example, white rice and white bread are plant-based foods, but they are highly processed. This means that they are stripped from many healthy nutrients and can affect your glucose levels. Many canned plant foods also include extra additives, sodium and sugar.
Even more so, reducing animal foods doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthier diet if it’s based on unhealthy plant foods. According to a study by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2017, people who “emphasized consumption of less healthy plant foods, such as fruit juices, refined grains (pasta, white rice, and processed breads and cereals), potatoes (French fries and potato chips), and sugar-sweetened beverages, while reducing the intake of healthy plant foods as well as animal foods” had substantially higher risk for heart disease than those who emphasized healthy plant foods and didn’t reduce their intake of animal foods.
What does a healthy plant-based diet look like, then?
According to the Harvard Medical School, a healthful plant-based diet emphasises consumption of whole grains (such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice), healthy proteins (such as beans and nuts), a bountiful and varied array of vegetables (potatoes and french fries don’t count), lots of fruit (lots of colors while you’re at it), healthy oils (for cooking as well as seasoning) and water, tea or coffee (little to no sugar), while reducing intake of less healthy plant foods as well as animal foods such as dairy, eggs, fish, meat and foods that contain animal products. Certain nutrients such as protein may be harder to find in plants, so while you can consume more nuts and seeds, some nutritionists might include a supplement in your diet.
So… should I do it?
If you’re being supervised by a nutritionist, sure. The one thing most nutritionists, doctors and scientists agree upon is that plants are good for you. If you’re not able to get consultation it’s better if you start slow. You don’t have to give up on all processed and animal foods at once. The key is not really to reduce animal foods, but to add more plants to your diet. Start by serving your breakfast eggs with a side of berries or choosing oatmeal instead of processed cereal. If you’re feeling good, try to intake a whole plant-based meal every other day, or even go plant-based for a full day per week.
The focus should be on eating more of the right plants and moderating your intake of animal products. Start where you feel comfortable and check in with yourself often to note what works and what doesn’t. Even a modest change in your diet, can have a lasting positive impact on your health. If you are looking for further inspiration, you can check out Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet or Gracefully You by Jenna Dewan. Both women have confessed to being vegan but their books are a great place to start if you want to start eating more veggies.