Plant based diets seem to be all of the rage at the moment (despite having been around forever) and there are many reasons why you might choose to go down this route if you haven’t already. There are equally some pitfalls to be aware of, so I thought it might be a useful one to explore.
Why might you follow a plant based diet?
There are so many reasons!
- As someone who constantly bangs on about “just adding one more [plant/veggie]” to both my kids and my clients, a plant based diet is a great way of eating a larger proportion of fruit & veggies, whole grains, nuts & seeds and beans & legumes.
- Plant based diets tend to be “lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, with higher levels of dietary fibre, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals.” *
- You may have ethical or religious beliefs around animal wellbeing, food production, the environment, etc. that fit well with plant based eating.
- Animal products can often be expensive, particularly if they’re organic and from grass-fed/ethically reared animals.
So what’s the downside?
Like anything, the devil is in the detail. And many plant based eaters tend to focus on what they don’t eat, rather than what they do.
- Many vegan foods and meat substitutes are heavily processed and people often wrongly assume that they’re healthy because they’re labelled vegan or vegetarian. As with any diet, you’re ideally looking for a balanced diet that primarily includes a wide variety of whole / minimally processed foods.
- And if the balance isn’t there, it can be even more difficult with a plant based diet to consume enough vitamin B12 (for healthy nerve and red blood cells), vitamin D (for bone and teeth health), omega 3 fatty acids (anti-inflammatories that are good for heart and nervous system function and immune health) and calcium (for bone health).
- Concerns around not getting enough protein are also regularly cited when plant based eating is discussed. And whilst this is often a challenge, in my experience most people aren’t eating enough protein regardless of their dietary preferences. (Remember that protein is what helps us to feel fuller for longer and gain muscle/build strength, as well as helping our bodies to repair). With some planning and quality supplementation though it’s entirely possible to get there with a plant based diet.
- Whilst a well constructed plant based diet can be appropriate for all individuals at every stage in life, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding do ensure that you’re eating enough to meet your energy needs.
As I’m sure you know by now, I don’t advocate for any particular way of eating. One size doesn’t fit all and there is no “best” diet. The important things is getting the nutritional basics right, consistently, in a way that fits with your beliefs, budget, allergies/intolerances, etc. and your energy levels.
(* American Dietetic Association, 2009)