Hold the Meat: A Look Into Plant-Based Diets

Written By Rachel Bost, BS Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietetic Intern at North Carolina Central University

With all the talk around plant-based diets prompted by recent documentaries and celebrities boasting about the positive health effects of their dietary changes, we are left intrigued and wondering: what are the facts? A review of evidenced-based research is the best way to begin to understand the fundamentals, benefits, and real life application of a plant-based diet.

Hold the Meat: A Look Into Plant-Based Diets

Nutrient-rich Plant Foods

Adhering to a plant-based diet includes eating a diet rich in nutrient-rich plant foods. These whole foods include vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, soybeans, lentils, seeds, and nuts, while minimizing or even excluding any animal-derived products.1 The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) affirms that a "low intake of foods containing saturated fat and cholesterol, and high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and soy products that are rich in fiber and phytochemicals are components of a vegetarian diet that contribute to reduction of chronic disease."2 The AND is referring to a vegetarian diet, but the components outlined here align with that of a plant-based diet. A vegetarian diet excludes meat, seafood, and poultry and may include some variation of eggs, dairy products, or processed foods that contain casein or whey (dairy proteins).1 A plant-based diet, on the other hand, does not include dairy, eggs, or any foods containing casein or whey. A vegan diet is very similar to a plant-based diet, but, with a vegan diet, there is less emphasis on restricting processed foods. The AND further specifies that a diet rich in plant foods can lower the risk of chronic diseases including ischemic heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.2 


More Planning

Nutritionally, a plant-based diet requires more planning, but a healthy, well-balanced diet can still be achieved.3 Getting a sufficient amount of protein may be a concern when on a plant-based diet, but plant sources of protein do exist. A healthy adult should aim at getting at least 0.8 grams of protein in their diet per kilogram of body weight as suggested by the Recommended Daily Allowances released by the USDA. You should aim higher than this if you are pregnant, nursing, physically active, or significantly ill. Plant protein sources include almonds, quinoa, black beans, lentils, pumpkin, chia, and hemp seeds, along with green peas, tofu, amaranth, and tempeh. In addition, if implementing a 100% plant-based diet, an individual should be mindful of his or her intake of vitamin B-12.2  The average American can meet their vitamin B-12 needs from fish, meat, eggs, or dairy products in their diet, but an individual following a plant-based diet can meet his/her needs by taking a B-12 supplement, eating nutritional yeast, or fortified foods like soy or rice milk. It is important to also be mindful of iron and calcium deficiencies if following a plant-based diet. Eating a plant-based diet with variety and/or taking a daily multivitamin will minimize the risk of deficiencies.


Cost-Effective Method To Managing One's Health

Research shows that improving one's diet is a cost-effective method to managing one's health versus the use of medical treatments and medications. For example, heart disease continues to be the number one cause of death in the United States. Research shows that adopting a plant-based diet can reverse the process of atherosclerosis1,4-6 (the formation of plaque on the inner lining of arterial walls); which, in turn, can decrease the risk of heart disease and incidence of stroke and heart attack. Adopting a plant-based diet has shown to improve obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension1- with all of these closely related and prevalent in the United States. Though plant-based diets tend to be heavily influenced by diet trends, if you choose to adopt this way of eating, feel free to tailor it to your life, so that it best suits your needs. Even if you prefer a low-carbohydrate eating pattern that emphasizes animal-based foods, which is also a healthful approach, incorporating low-carbohydrate plant-based foods is important to maximize your health and nutrition status. As with any major diet change, one should seek a physician or registered dietitian for guidance and supervision.


Additional Resources:

Plant-Based Meal Ideas and Recipes- https://www.forksoverknives.com/recipes/

An Athlete's Approach to a Plant-Based Diet- http://www.nomeatathlete.com/go-plant-based/


Works Cited:

1. Tuso PJ, Ismail MH, Ha BP, Bartolotto C. Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. The Permanente Journal. 2013;17(2):61-66. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085.

2. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;115(5):801-802. doi:10.1016.

3. Grant JD. Time for change: Benefits of a plant-based diet. Canadian Family Physician. 2017;63(10):744-746.

4. Tuso P, Stoll SR, Li WW. A Plant-Based Diet, Atherogenesis, and Coronary Artery Disease Prevention. The Permanente Journal. 2015;19(1):62-67. doi:10.7812/TPP/14-036.

5. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease. JAMA. 1998;280(23):2001-2007. doi:10.1001/jama.280.23.2001.

6. Campbell TC, Campbell T. Eating Right: 8 Principles of Food and Health. T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. http://nutritionstudies.org/eating-right-8-principles-food-health/. Published November 16, 2017. Accessed December 31, 2017.


 [WSY1]I prefer to remove the PCRM b/c it can be overly biased and sometimes unscrupulous

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