Spring into March by choosing plants whenever possible! Plant based diets have been rising in popularity over the past few years, even among carnivores.
They can have substantial benefits for human health and our planet. Plant based foods typically have lower amounts of saturated fat than animal products, as they usually contain more mono- or poly- unsaturated fats. Having an adequate amount of healthy fats in a person’s diet has been shown to decrease his or her risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease or diabetes. Plants also contain dietary fiber, which is lacking in many animal products. Fiber is the indigestible plant matter that helps food move through the digestive system, which has also been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease. While these benefits are generally understood, there are many myths that still surround the idea of plant-based eating.
Myth #1: Eating Plant Based Means Eating a Vegetarian Diet Plant based does not equal vegetarian. Strict vegetarian and vegan lifestyles work for some people, but they aren’t necessarily beneficial for everyone. Plant based diets encourage people to choose to get their nutrients from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains as much as they can. That doesn’t mean everything on someone’s plate should come from a plant. It’s more about using plants as a base for the rest of the meal.
Myth #2: Vegetarian Meals Are Healthier Labeling a food as “vegetarian” or “vegan” doesn't automatically define it as a healthier alternative. Many cookies, chips, and other processed foods are vegetarian, but they are also commonly high in simple sugars and unhealthy fats. There are still many other nutrients to consider when evaluating the nutritional quality of a meal. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will provide more essential nutrients than a diet filled with highly processed vegetarian foods.
Myth #3: Plant-based Eaters Can’t Get Enough Protein Animal sources of protein are readily available and easily absorbed by our bodies, which is why protein is commonly associated with meat. However, it is possible to meet recommended protein requirements by consuming plants. Plant based sources of protein are typically lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber, which makes them heart healthier protein alternatives. The amount of protein the average American eats is a lot more than the dietary recommendation; including plant based alternatives won’t likely result in protein deficiency. Plant-based sources of protein include legumes, soy products, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Dairy and eggs are also great sources of protein for people who would like to include these foods in their diet.
Choosing plants whenever possible is the main idea behind plant based diets. It acknowledges that not everyone can adhere to a strict vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Everyone’s genetic makeup is unique, and everyone has different caloric, nutrient, and biochemical needs. No two people’s diets and lifestyle will or should be the same, and that’s okay. It is more important to eat what you makes you feel good, and opt for plant based food choices whenever possible.