Why Plant-Based?

Following a plant-based diet has become very trendy. But what does it actually mean? Some take it to mean that you can no longer eat any animal products – you should eat a strictly vegan diet. Other people’s understanding is that you should simply focus on eating more plants in your diet alongside some animal protein. Either way it is probably more than just the latest fad diet.

There has been a move away from making meat the hero of your meal. We have started focusing more on wholegrains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Meat-free Mondays encourage us to eat a vegetarian meal just once a week with the promise of both environmental and health benefits.

It is estimated that by not eating meat just once a week, each person will eat three and a half fewer animals every year. When you multiply that by just the U.S. population, it equates to 1,4 billion animals. Not only do the animals benefit, but our health improves and there would be a significant reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases1.

What Is A Plant-Based Diet

The definition of what constitutes a plant-based diet is unclear. There is confusion amongst researchers, medical professionals and the public alike. The problem is the term is used inconsistently2.

When researching this problem, scientists found that in fifty percent of research studies a plant-based diet is defined as a vegan diet. Twenty percent of studies include meat and fish, and twenty percent take it to mean semi-vegetarian2.

So, a plant-based diet could be a vegetarian diet, but it could also be a Mediterranean diet. A diet that emphasizes plant foods but allows you to eat some dairy products every day and meat, fish or chicken a few times per week. Either way you will be eating more plants which offer numerous health benefits.

The Health Benefits Of Eating More Plants

Some of the benefits of including more plants on your plate everyday include3:

  • Better weight management
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced risk and better management of diabetes
  • Reduced risk of developing some cancers, including colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduced risk of having a stroke
  • Protection against cognitive decline
  • Less inflammation

 

The Typical Teenager’s Diet

Research shows that our teenagers don’t eat as well as we would like them to. Their diet is often high in sugar, fat and salt. And they generally don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. Most don’t eat them every day. They also eat too much meat, especially processed meat products such as hamburgers and hotdogs4.

The problem with teens eating this way is that it has an influence on long-term eating behaviours. The habits they develop now will follow them into adulthood. The result is greater risk of being overweight and developing chronic diseases.

Encourage your teen to jump on the plant-based bandwagon. They don’t have to go vegan. They just have to eat more fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and nuts and seeds. It will benefit not only their long-term health, but it will also make them healthier now. Because plants are full of nutrition for the human body, your teen will show improved cognitive function and exercise potential5.

A Balanced Diet Is Still Important

All too often animal protein foods are eliminated when changing over to a vegan diet and not replaced with an appropriate plant-based protein. Protein provides the building blocks of muscle and other body tissues, as well as hormones, enzymes and antibodies.

Although protein requirements are generally relatively low, they still need to be met to ensure health and the integrity of body structures. If you are new to a vegan diet, sources of protein can include beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya products, tofu, nuts, seeds and wholegrains. Make sure to eat as wide a variety as possible to make sure that your new diet provides your body with all of the essential amino acids6.

There are a few nutrients that are difficult to get from commonly consumed plant foods. Examples include Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. The Iron in plant-based foods is also not easily absorbed and must thus be combined with a source of vitamin C.

If you plan to drastically reduce animal foods from your diet, it is recommended to keep those nutrients in mind. Dietary supplements can also be used to ensure an adequate intake.

Is A Plant-Based Diet A Fad?

The popularity of the plant-based diet could make it feel like it is a passing craze. A fad that is going to fizzle out when the next exciting new diet comes along. The truth is, we could all do with more plants in our diets. The health benefits are undeniable for children, teens and adults. If you have not been in the habit of eating plenty of plants, start small. Add a vegetable to your plate every evening; eat a fruit as a snack. You could even give meat-free Mondays a try and experiment with plant sources of protein. Your body will thank you for the extra nutrition.

References

1. Nelson B. What If Everyone Stopped Eating Meat Once a Week? | Reader’s Digest [Internet]. Reader’s Digest. Reader’s Digest; 2020 [cited 2021 Nov 23]. Available from: https://www.rd.com/article/no-meat-once-a-week/
2. Storz MA. What makes a plant-based diet? a review of current concepts and proposal for a standardized plant-based dietary intervention checklist. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2021 Oct 21 [cited 2021 Nov 23]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41430-021-01023-z
3. Kim H, Caulfield LE, Garcia‐Larsen V, Steffen LM, Coresh J, Rebholz CM. Plant‐Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All‐Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle‐Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association [Internet]. 2019 Aug 20 [cited 2021 Nov 23];(16). Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865
4. Havermans RC, Rutten G, Bartelet D. Adolescent’s Willingness to Adopt a More Plant-Based Diet: A Theory-Based Interview Study. Frontiers in Nutrition [Internet]. 2021 Aug 30 [cited 2021 Nov 23]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.688131
5. Havermans RC, Rutten G, Bartelet D. Adolescent’s Willingness to Adopt a More Plant-Based Diet: A Theory-Based Interview Study. Frontiers in Nutrition [Internet]. 2021 Aug 30 [cited 2021 Nov 23]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.688131
6. Vegetarian diets in children and adolescents. Paediatrics and Child Health [Internet]. 2010 May 1 [cited 2021 Nov 23]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/pch/15.5.303