What Is A Plant-Based Diet? A plant based diet contains primarily fruits, vegetables and grains. While similar to a Vegetarian or Vegan diet, the plant-based diet is a little more flexible and does allow the occasional addition of meat. This can be beneficial during family meals during the holidays or when dining out with friends.
Is A Plant-Based Diet Healthy? This approach to dieting (or eating in general) focuses on natural, whole and healthy (nutrient dense) foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes. The plant-based diet can help you:
- Lower your cholesterol levels.
- Greatly decrease your saturated fat intake.
- Lower blood pressure and your risk of cancer.
- Greatly increase your intake of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
- Lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
What’s The Downside Of A Plant-Based Diet? There are a few challenges you will face when switching from your “normal” Western based diet to a plant-based one:
- You may have to give up some of your favorite (and unhealthy) foods.
- It will take time to change and adapt to new eating habits.
- You will need to plan meals and you may need to prepare your own food.
- There is a risk of not getting adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and proteins.
The 5 Nutrients You Should Be Concerned About
Eliminating or drastically reducing meat and meat products (like dairy) can make it more difficult or complicated to meet all of your nutritional needs. Following a plant-based diet does require some meal planning and food combining in order to avoid certain nutritional deficiencies. This is especially important for the elderly, athletes and children.
Ensure that your diet contains adequate amounts of these 5 nutrients:
- Protein - Your body needs protein to grow and repair. When you eliminate meat from your diet, you need to replace it with plants. Your diet should include soybeans, tofu, beans, quinoa, nuts and seeds.
- Calcium - You need the mineral calcium for strong bones and teeth, especially important for growing children, athletes and women in order to prevent osteoporosis. If you are eliminating or reducing milk and dairy products, replace them with plant sources like soybeans, tofu, soymilk, fortified grains and cereals and beans.
- Iron - Iron essential for healthy blood and the lack of this mineral can cause anemia. Animal sources are the traditional source of iron but can be replaced with plant-based sources including quinoa, beans, potatoes, soybeans, spirulina and tofu.
- Vitamins D and B12 - Vitamin D supports the absorption of iron, calcium, and zinc. Low levels can cause high blood pressure, osteoporosis, dental cavities and problems with blood cholesterol. If you are eliminating milk and dairy, replace your Vitamin D with fortified non-dairy milks, and cereals. Vitamin B12 supports healthy nerve and muscle function and you may need to increase your intake of fortified soy, almond, coconut or rice milks, cereals and seaweed to maintain healthy B12 levels.
- Zinc - This mineral supports healthy DNA, proteins absorption and a healthy immune system. Zinc often is supplied by animal sources but you may need to increase your intake of lentils, beans, and chickpeas, nuts, seed, oats and tofu to maintain a healthy level of this essential mineral.
When following a plant-based diet, you can avoid low levels of these vital nutrients by incorporating vegetable sources that provide them combined with smart supplementation.