If orange is the new black, ‘plant-based’ is the new eating clean.
In recent years, the benefits of a plant-based diet have been widely publicised. Lowering heart disease, fighting acne, maintaining weight. These are all claims linked to making the switch. And with all this hype, it’s inevitable that many people are asking the question: when can I start?!
But as with any dietary choice, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Or at least fact from unproven claim. For instance, “going plant-based can cure cancer” is yet to be proven on a scientific level. There’s also continued debate over what diet our ancestors evolved to thrive on.
Cutting through the hype though, a plant-based diet is one that centres around whole foods. Vegetables, fruits, grains and beans all make it to the plate. Processed foods are reduced, and food derived from animals is excluded.
As with any diet, a plant-based diet can be followed to varying degrees. Some on a plant-based diet will exclude all products from animals. Others will eat mainly plant-based foods while still allowing for specific animal foods, such as eggs or honey.
So, what are the proven benefits to adopting such an approach?
It is generally agreed that fruits and vegetables are nutritious. They contain vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals – all great for general health. Naturally, a diet rich in these foods is one likely to bring some of those benefits with it.
Since most of these foods are low in calories, and other whole foods (such as beans) provide protein, the plant-based approach can help reduce calorie consumption whilst still providing adequate nutrition.
Reduced calories can mean weight loss, improved digestion and lowered blood pressure and cholesterol. Some doctors encourage plant-based diets to help manage type 2 diabetes.
Ah, but What About Protein? And B12?
Without meat and dairy, a plant-based diet needs protein from other sources. A diet deficient in protein can lead to a lack of energy and muscle loss. But there are plenty of plant-based sources of protein, including beans, peas, nuts and tofu.
The same can be said for micronutrients such as iron, calcium and B12. Some vegetables do not provide a readily-absorbable form of these essential nutrients. Being deficient in these, can cause many problems, including fatigue and weakness.
It’s not that these issues can’t be remedied (such as through supplementation or inclusion of certain foods). But that we must do our research before embarking on a change of diet.
The Beauty of Being Flexible
In the end, it’s important to remember that the plant-based diet is not a straightjacket. It’s a guiding principle, allowing us to experiment and see what works. Going plant-based does not mean one rigid approach.
And emerging movements such as flexitarianism suggest people no longer wish to be ‘placed in a box.’
As we move away from labels in society as a whole, the plant-based approach seems a timely opportunity to review and adjust our diets for our health. So as it’s so ‘plantiful’, it’s got to be worth a try!