A plant-based diet excludes animal products and focuses on foods derived from plants including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats such as avocado, nuts/seeds and olive oil. Whether adopting plant-based diets is a passing fad or a way of eating that will stick, it’s certainly growing in popularity. Many are enthused to eat this way to make a stand against animal cruelty, environmental, spiritual reasons or simply because they have heard it is better for them.
What can I eat?
Nutritionally speaking, a plant-based diet includes all the good stuff. Being the main difference from following a vegetarian or vegan diet, a plant-based diet aims to include minimally processed foods. Massive tick as you are automatically removing nutrient lacking, energy-dense foods your body doesn’t need.
Due to the wholefood focus, plant-based diets also tend to be lower in saturated fat and higher in fibre and vitamins including magnesium, potassium and vitamin C as well as flavonoids and other phytochemicals.
What does the diet restrict?
The two food groups that miss out on center stage in the plant-based diet are meat/fish, eggs (occasionally) and dairy.
It is well documented that most Australians eat above the recommended meat portions. Excessive red meat consumption has been linked to increased risk of bowel cancer and heart disease. How animals are raised also makes a difference to their fatty acid profile and effect on our health. Being that meat is an excellent source of high-quality protein, iron and B12, consuming a palm-sized portion of red meat 2-3 times per week is completely ok.
Meat, fish, eggs and dairy contain several nutrients that our bodies need for overall health and wellness. The good news is that we can certainly get these nutrients from plant-based food sources; it just takes a little planning and know how.
The table below summaries the nutrients you may be lacking if following a plant-based diet:
|Protein||Vital for cell maintenance, growth and repair in the body.
General guidelines 0.8-1g/kg body weight. Varies when aiming for body composition adaptations alongside a training program.
|Beans and legumesNuts and seeds
Grains incl. quinoa
Omega 3 enriched eggs
Rice, pea or soy protein powders
|Vitamin B12||Responsible for many functions in the body including the production of red blood cells.
Aim for 3-5mcg/day from food, 10-100mcg/day from supps.
|Fortified productsNutritional yeast|
|Calcium||Important for bone health, blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve function.
1000-1200mg/day for adults depending on age.
|Soybeans, navy beans and white beansNuts/seeds and nut butters such as sesame
Dark leafy greens
Fortified non-dairy milks
|Omega-3 fatty acids||Assists in preventing heart disease, important for eye, nerve and brain development.
Aim for 2g of ALA daily.
|Oils including olive, canola, flaxseed, walnut and soybeanOmega 3 enriched eggs
|Iron||Many functions including transporting oxygen.
RDI 8mg/day men, 18mg/day women
|LegumesDark leafy vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Grains incl. quinoa, brown rice and fortified cereals
|Zinc||Growth and healing
RDI 14mg/day men, 8mg/day women.
|Dried beans, peas and lentilsNuts/seeds and their butters
Whole grains and fortified cereals
Regardless of your reasons to adopt a plant-based way of eating, aiming to remove most packaged foods from your diet can make you healthier.
- Focus on whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts/seeds and healthy fats.
- Reduce processed products such as refined carbohydrates and meat substitutes.
- Reduce meat, fish, eggs and/or dairy as you wish, HOWEVER, make sure you are replacing the nutrients they provide with plant-based sources and or supplements if recommended by a health professional.
To ensure you are getting enough nutrients to support your specific health and activity levels, it’s a good idea to speak to a Dietitian.
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