From protein to bloating, here’s what you need to know
With chronic medical conditions affecting more Americans every year, the link between dietary choices and prevention of disease is gaining traction. Add to this a shifting focus on environmental and ethical factors, and it’s little wonder the plant-based diet is very much on our radars. While nutritional advice is often conflicting, we all want to eat healthy food to fuel our bodies. But could you survive on a diet of lettuce leaves and chia sprinkles? Myths often get in the way of making what can be seen as a drastic change, so let’s bust some of the most common ones surrounding the plant-based way of life.
Myth #1 – It’s just another trendy name for veganism
While there’s not a strict definition, as the name suggests, a plant-based diet predominantly consists of plants and is more of a lifestyle than a diet as such. The staples of a plant-based diet are fruits, vegetables, tubers, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes – all in as close to natural form as possible.
A vegan diet, on the other hand, completely eliminates animal products and has, in the past, acted as a stance for animal welfare. It’s important to remember that a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily equate to a healthy one. Highly refined foods get the tick and there are plenty of vegan-friendly, high-calorie, low-nutrient junk foods on the market – we’re looking at you, flavor-laden bag of corn chips!
Myth #2 – Say goodbye to protein and strength
Top of the myth list with a plant-based diet is that you’ll never get enough protein from plants alone. This is well and truly a myth, with protein found in all plants. Greens like spinach, kale, peas, and broccoli contain around 20-30% protein and even rice and potatoes have 8-10% protein. So, if you eat a varied diet, you’ll easily get all the protein you need – plants are, by far, the most nutrient-dense foods we can eat.
Need more proof? There are plenty of finely-tuned athletes, bodybuilders, and strong powerful animals out there proving that meat-eating is not essential for getting big, bulky, strong, or fit. Household names like Venus Williams and Novak Djokovic advocate a plant-based diet, claiming it reduces inflammation, improves recovery time, and increases energy levels.
Myth #3 – It’s so expensive
Nope. A plant-based diet focuses on minimally processed foods, so those vegan cheeses and ice creams that blow the budget aren’t what you’ll be reaching for. Cutting meat from your diet will result in huge savings – did you ever see a sirloin steak on a restaurant menu that was cheaper than a salad? And since you’ll be focusing on fruits, veggies, and legumes, all of these can be purchased frozen or canned. Not only is this a much cheaper option, but you can stock up the pantry and say goodbye to your weekly visit to the butcher. Fresh fruit and vegetables should be bought seasonally, and grains and legumes can also be purchased dried, in bulk.While making the switch could cost extra initially, once you’ve stocked the pantry, you’ll save plenty. For more on eating well for less, check out our blog here.
Myth #4 – You’ll be hungry all day
When people think of plant food, they think of eating fruit for breakfast and leafy salads for lunch and dinner. This, however, is not the case. Calories come from tubers, whole grains, and legumes that load you up with fiber – making you feel full and satisfied for longer. A typical American diet high in processed and artificially sweetened foods is high in calories, low in nutrients, and leaves you feeling hungry. Often, people over-indulge (with more calorie-laden, empty foods) to fill the gap.
Myth #5 – Bloating and gas will become your new normal
A plant-based diet is much higher in fiber than a typical omnivore diet, so it will take time for your gut to adapt. During this time, you’ll notice an increase in gas and bloating as the bacteria in your gut get used to the new normal. Rest assured, this is just a phase and won’t last forever. For tips and extra gassy foods to avoid, check out this link.
Myth #6 – It’s boring
Omnivores traditionally center their meals around four basic choices – chicken, beef, pork, or seafood, to which a couple of token vegetables are added to round off the plate. Over time, we tend to put a handful of meals on repeat, which sounds pretty boring when you think about it! Starting a plant-based diet can be overwhelming to begin with, because you have to completely shake up the focus of your meals, learn some new cooking methods, and also try some new foods and flavors. All of which sounds far from boring. It’s about experimenting, jumping right in, and exploring the internet for inspiration. Changing to a plant-based diet might just reinvigorate a love of cooking.
Myths busted, the benefits shine
Myths aside, the most compelling reasons to shift to a plant-based diet are undoubtedly the health benefits. A Journal of the American Heart Association study found that a plant-based diet lowers the risk of all causes of mortality by 25%. With chronic illness and obesity on the rise, returning to a simpler, whole-food diet could kickstart a dramatic health shift that is very much needed. Remember, you don’t have to dive straight in – simply upping your current fruit, vegetable, and legume intake is a great first step. For tips on making the change, visit Forks Over Knives. And for more reading on whether you need meat in your diet, check out our blog here.
This blog is opinion only and does not constitute medical advice. Speaking to a medical professional prior to a significant diet change is advised.