What Exactly is a Plant-Based Diet?
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan
A plant-based diet is often recommended as among the healthiest ways of eating. But what exactly does that entail, and what does it exclude? Most importantly, how healthy is it?
While there are some variations in detail as people apply the concept of bio-individuality to what they consume and why, there are some defining qualities to a plant-based diet.
A plant-based diet includes predominantly foods that are naturally derived from plants, with limited processing, and little to no food derived from animals.
That “little to none” reference to animal-based foods is interpreted in two ways:
· Many who eat a plant-based diet do not eat any foods that come from animals, including eggs, milk, or butter - similar to veganism.
· Others interpret plant-based to mean that they eat “mostly plants” and hence do consume animal, animal-derived, or somewhat more processed foods on occasion.
Included in the category of plant-based are the following:
· Leafy greens
· Roots and tubers (i.e. carrots, potatoes, radishes, beets)
· Mushrooms and yeast
· Sea vegetables
Minimally processing some of these, such as in the case of peanut butter or hummus, light cooking, fermenting, or dehydrating is generally a regular part of preparation in a plant-based diet. However, highly processed foods such as white sugar, potato chips, or even white flour, are not a part of the diet even though they technically come from plants. The emphasis for plant-based foods is to keep those foods as close to their whole, original, and digestible form as possible. This is healthy because foods in whole form contain more nutrients and less toxicity, supporting proper functioning of all organs and systems. A plant-based diet can also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Those who eat a mostly plant-based diet may choose to include one or more other foods as a regular or occasional addition, such as eggs, yogurt, or meats. Short of studies that show that excessive animal or processed foods consumption is harmful, there is little evidence to suggest that a mostly plant-based diet with the occasional non-plant based food added in is any less healthy.
Here at Integrative Nutrition, we believe in eating real, whole foods most of the time, and that the joy of food and pleasure is also important.
Strict diets often create stress and tension, and we all have unique nutritional needs, so it’s up to you to determine the best balance that leaves you nourished, satisfied, and able to enjoy the occasional indulgence just because it feels good. We encourage Health Coaches to be observers and detectives of the impacts of various foods. For example, a plant-based diet with no animal-based foods might be perfect for one person, while another would feel too low on energy unless she eats eggs for breakfast, or has some chicken once a week. Try, observe, reflect, and continually modify to an eating style that leaves you feeling and looking your best.
What about veganism? Many associate a plant-based diet with veganism, and there are definitely similarities. The difference often comes down to the plant-based diet being reserved for what is consumed, while vegans also avoid anything that comes from animal products, such as leather and fur. Vegan diets can also include more processed foods.
Do you eat a plant-based diet? How do you manage it, and how does it make you feel? Share in the comments below.