By Silpa Sreekumar, Candok Health Coach @ candok.in
In an effort to encourage wider acceptance of healthy dietary choices, a balanced- “mostly plant based diet” may be an easy and effective option to adopt. Considering your current condition, if you prioritize health, longevity and a disease free life, a mostly plant based diet can be a strong driver to achieve the goals. We find many people following a vegan lifestyle, while vegan may be a good starting point, for health reasons, vegans should navigate to a whole food plant-based diet to get required nutrients and avoid the harmful effects from oil, fried food, sweets, etc.
Vegan and vegetarian: Vegans and vegetarians are different. Vegans exclude all animal products like meat, poultry, fish, seafood, egg, daIry, etc. There are different types of vegetarians. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products, ovo-vegetarians consume eggs, lacto-ovo vegetarians consume eggs and dairy products. Another set of people are flexible, some consume fish ( pescatarians), some occasionally consume poultry, some consume a predominantly vegetarian diet with occasional fish and poultry. Even though this last group is not vegetarian, consuming a whole food, mostly plant based diet may be an easy and healthy option to consume a balanced diet. This nutritious diet can prevent any shortfall in required nutrients including protein and calcium. A “mostly plant based” diet includes a wide variety of colorful vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts and if you are a non-vegetarian, controlled portion of animal products.
Mostly plant based diet: For Vegetarians-a wholesome plant based diet and for lacto, ovo or flexitarians a mostly plant-based diet could be a heart friendly diet. This same dietary lifestyle provides protection and prevention from other lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension. Generally speaking, adopting a whole food plant based diet or following a mostly plant based diet is good for everyone.
Starting a Plant based lifestyle: Being used to a meat or a flexitarian diet, you should have been receiving required nutrients including vitamin B12 and proteins from the animal source. Moving to a mostly plant based diet may be easier to maintain a balanced diet than moving to a strict vegan diet. A vegan diet which includes oil, sugar, processed flour, etc may not be as healthy as a wholesome mostly plant based diet. If you are suffering from chronic lifestyle diseases a personalized dietary approach will be the best choice.
This article examines the following areas
– The protein requirement and sources
– The calcium requirement and sources
– Fulfilling the Vitamin B12 requirement.
Veganism and Proteins: Deficiency of protein results in anemia, loss of muscle tone, poor resistance to infections and fatigue. Protein collagen makes up a major part of the skeletal connective tissues, nails and hair and helps carry oxygen in blood.
On an average women require around 45grams and men require around 55grams of protein per day for managing muscle mass and growth.
Protein sources : Generally, non vegetarians and those with very low consumption of vegetables and fruits may currently fulfill their protein requirement through sources like breakfast cereals, meat, fish, pulses, potatoes, soya, nuts, peas, beans, cheese etc. Including a wide variety of plant sources may provide adequate protein requirements. High protein sources from plant based foods includes lentils; nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews; seeds like pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds; grains like oats, quinoa, teff; sprouted whole grains; peas which includes chickpeas, green peas; soy products like edamame, tempeh, tofu; beans, nutritional yeast, soybeans, amaranth, spirulina, broccoli, etc. Quinoa is a major protein rich grain which also provides high fiber, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, vitamin B, vitamin E, and antioxidants. Guava is a major fruit with high protein. Lack of protein leads to loss of muscle mass. Including physical activity as a part of daily routine will bring long term benefits, lack of exercise will contribute to age related muscle loss.
There is a widespread belief for non-vegetarians that missing meat is missing protein, however for whatever reasons, religious, animal rights, environmental or health if animal products need to be excluded, a balanced diet is possible if there is the right selection of plant based foods.
Veganism and Calcium: Deficiency of calcium during initial stages may be difficult to detect. Calcium is important for development and maintenance of skeletal structure- bones, especially during the growth stage, consuming adequate calcium fulfils the requirements for growth. Calcium also plays a vital role in blood clotting, preventing tooth decay and functioning of nervous systems. Adequate calcium in diet along with sufficient vitamin D helps in absorption of calcium.
Calcium sources: Figs, oranges, broccoli, grains, pulses, leafy green vegetables, nuts, sesame seeds, chia seeds, celery, amaranth, some fishes, milk and milk products contain calcium. Diets including dairy products and those consuming a variety of fish may be fulfilling their calcium requirement through these foods which are widely available and regularly consumed in certain areas. Those living in tropical areas with good exposure to sunlight having sufficient quantities of vitamin D will even improve the absorption of the smallest quantity of calcium available from the diet. A diet rich in calcium but having lower levels of vitamin D may adversely affect the calcium absorption. This also brings us to have a holistic view, rather than a narrow view on individual nutrients. Whole foods with multiple nutrients in whole are better accepted by the body and are absorbed well.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is an important requirement for cell metabolism, mainly red blood cells and DNA, for the functioning of the nerves, for child development, eyes and brain function. B12 is found in animal products, even though the requirement is very low, vegan and strict vegetarian groups that completely avoid animal products fall short of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 Sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, yeast extract, breakfast cereals with added vitamin B12, spirulina, fermented soybeans, mushrooms provide vitamin B12. Vegans, strict vegetarians and those on a plant based diet should also supplement adequate doses of vitamin B12 to meet their requirements.
Benefits of plant-based diet:
Moving towards a balanced plant based diet provides a diet high in fiber and rich in essential nutrients that;
- Supports weight loss
- Lowers risk of heart diseases
- Promotes muscle growth
- Promotes gut health
- Healthy ageing and look younger
- Feel more energized
- Prevent, control and in some cases even reverse lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity.
Drawbacks & challenges to overcome with plant-based diet:
The long list of benefits does not outweigh the drawbacks, however the drawbacks can be managed;
- vitamin B12 deficiency with proper supplementation (as required),
- overcoming the absorption challenges of plant nutrients
- making sure a balanced plant based diet is consumed
The golden rule is to consume a colorful diet which also includes a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts and if you are a non-vegetarian controlled portion of animal products- making you “mostly plant based” ! Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Today there is a greater need to get healthier- to live longer, to recover faster from procedures or illnesses. Those who are willing to get to a healthy spectrum- move slowly to a mostly plant-based diet or to a balanced plant-based diet. If you choose to become “Mostly Plant based”, based on your condition and requirement, add more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts that fulfill your nutritional requirements. This provides higher protection and avoids risk exposure that comes from animal based products.
Candok Health Coach can provide guidance in developing a balanced and personalized diet plan, guiding you on your journey to health and wellbeing.
Understanding and applying Nutrition Series. Edited by Candok editorial board, Candok Lifestyle. Live Life, Naturally!