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Plant-Based Diet

The benefits of a plant-based diet by Gary Baverstock, Nutritional Therapist.

Going plant based doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources with occasional weekly meat and fish consumption, focusing on healthful whole foods.
Principles of a plant based diet
  • Emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods.
  • Limits or avoids animal products.
  • Focuses on plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, which should make up the majority of what you eat.
  • Whole food plant based (WFPB) diets also excludes refined refined foods, like added sugars, white flour and processed oils.
  • It pays special attention to food quality, with many proponents of the WFPB diet promoting locally sourced, organic food whenever possible.

Benefits

Increased fibre

Increased plant foods = increased fibre that has incredible health benefits, such as aiding digestion, the stimulation of microbial (beneficial bacterial) growth, lowering the risk for certain types of cancers, lowering blood cholesterol levels and minimising the complications of diabetes.

Better weight management

Research suggests that people who eat primarily plant-based diets tend to have leaner bodies and lower rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease than those who eat meat.

Lower risk of heart disease and other conditions

Studies highlight that diets high in plant foods and low in animal products have a lower risk of heart disease and may also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Better microbiome diversity

By eating more vegetables and plant foods this can improve the diversity of our microbiomes that may improve our gut health and immunity.

Better for the environment

Adopting sustainable eating habits can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land used for factory farming, which are all factors in global warming and environmental degradation.

Caveats

Before starting a plant-based diet (with very little animal protein), people should ensure they take steps to get enough of the following nutrients.

Protein

It is important to think about getting decent quality protein every day. Animal sources provide complete proteins with the nine amino acids that are essential to health. Only tofu and quorn (vegan) provide these in plant based diets in beneficial quantities. Combining non complete sources is possible but be careful with the carbohydrate content.

Iron

People following a plant based diet need to ensure they get enough iron in their diet, as it has much lower bioavailability in plants than meat. Using vitamin C with veggie iron helps with its bioavailability.

Vitamin B-12

An essential nutrient for blood and cell health. B-12 deficiency can lead to anaemia and nerve damage. B-12 is present in many animal products but not in plant based foods, so it needs to be supplemented.

Vitamin D

Mainly comes from exposure to sunlight is an immune and bone health supporting nutrient that is deficient even in omnivorous diets, so supplementation from October to March is vital. Oil based supplements are best, at least 400iu/daily!

Omega-3

Fatty acids provide EPA and DHA that can help reduce inflammation, benefit circulatory and brain health, and other chronic conditions, such as heart disease. Oily fish are the primary sources, conversion from veggie sources is poor. DHA can be found in marine algae (vegan), but not EPA.

If you are significantly changing your diet, it may be useful to start slowly – perhaps introducing two or three plant-based meals, or days, a week. This allows your body to adapt to new foods and to the changes in the proportion of certain nutrients, such as fibre. It also allows you to experiment with new foods and build up some store cupboard staples over a period of time.

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