Tristin Geschwender, GVSU Dietetic Intern
‘Plant-based’ seems to be trending topic in the field of nutrition. What does plant-based really mean? Plant-based means you focus your diet on consuming foods that come from plant sources instead of animal sources. Plant-based foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts & seeds. Animal-based foods include meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy.
You’ve probably heard of the term’s vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, and vegan. How are these similar and different than being plant-based? In short, people who tend to follow these diets choose to do so because of ethical, environmental, or health reasons. Being plant-based doesn’t have as strict of a connotation towards it, so people who are plant-based tend to eat some animal products, but mainly plant foods.
According to the American Heart Association, less meat consumption decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers. Shifting towards more plant consumption has many benefits including increased intake of fiber which can help with regular bowel movements and steadying blood sugars. Plants can help with increasing your intake of micronutrients such as potassium, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, along with an overall nutritious diet, may reduce the risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke, it may also protect against certain types of cancers. Plants are generally lower in calories per cup when compared to most other foods which may be useful in helping to lower caloric intake, if weight loss if one of your goals.
Is being plant-based another fad diet?
No. A fad diet is a diet that is popular for a time and often promises fast weight loss or some other unrealistic health improvement. Fad diets also tend to eliminate one or more essential food groups such as carbohydrates or fats. Plant-based simply means incorporating more plants into the diet and having less of the focus on animal products. For example, using animal products as ‘condiments’ instead of the star of the show, such as shredded chicken on a salad or meat in a vegetable stir fry.
What is difference between animal protein and plant protein?
Protein is broken down into amino acids in the body. Different protein sources provide the body with different amino acids. Animal proteins tend to have all of the amino acids that we need. Plant proteins can differ in their amino acid makeup, leaving some plants to have certain amino acids and others to have certain amino acids. This means, it’s important to incorporate a variety of plant protein sources in order to receive all of the amino acids that your body needs. There are also several micronutrients in animal foods that are often lacking in plant foods such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Supplementation may be needed depending on your approach to a plant-based diet and it is important to talk to your primary care provider or registered dietitian.
Is this something you should consider implementing into your own life?
It depends. What’s nice about ‘plant-based’ is that you can make it what you want. Maybe you want to incorporate one to two plant-based meals into your week, experiment by buying a new vegetable you’ve never tried, or try sneaking more vegetables into different dishes or a smoothie. It’s different for everyone and nothing is right or wrong. You may also find going meatless once or twice a week could be friendly on your budget. I recommend following up with your registered dietitian to determine a good balance between plant and animal foods.