Many new vegans are curious about the health benefits of a plant-based diet and how to go about planning meals that will not only fulfill their nutritional needs, but may also improve their current level of health.
Unfortunately, if you start searching around the Internet willy-nilly for information about how to create such a plant-based diet for yourself, you’re bound to find a lot of conflicting or confusing information. Accepted dietary requirements are subject to debate and change and many people have their own “theories” on what the ultimate plant-based diet looks like, so it can get a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to help make it easy to plan out nutrient-packed, plant-based meals.
While these tips are simple, they are based on plenty of positive evidence about fulfilling all your nutritional needs, including protein (amino acids), calcium and iron easily with a plant-based diet.
So here you are: 3 Keys to Plant-based Nutrition.
1. Whole-some goodness. Whenever you can, choose the whole food over the processed version. Go for brown rice over white rice, olives over olive oil, fresh fruit over packaged cookies, etc. If you keep it whole, you’ll get a whole lot more out of the food you eat.
The nutrients in the whole foods we eat come as part of a complex package. These phytonutrients (plant-nutrients), many of which we have only begun to understand, work together to provide many of the health benefits that a plant-based diet is readily becoming associated with. So if you’re not eating the whole food you’re probably not getting the whole benefits of the foods you’re eating.
This goes for supplements as well: If you have to use certain supplements because of serious health issues, make sure you have done your research and that there is hard evidence for – and not against – taking that supplement.
For example, just because the beta-carotene in carrots is good for you doesn’t mean isolated beta-carotene is, especially in high doses. I do want to note though that there is plenty of evidence for supplementing B12 (which is produced by a bacteria) and not readily found in our environment (soil) as it once was.
2. Enjoy the rainbow. Eat beautiful bright sense-engaging meals with varied colors, textures, scents and flavors. The colors, scents, etc. that are present in plants are produced by the phytochemicals (plant-chemicals) in them. And many phytochemicals are associated with positive health benefits (antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, etc.).
Variety is the spice of life and, I think, one of the secrets to health! It’s hard to go wrong with a good mixture of fruits, veggies, legumes, beans, grains, fruits and nuts in your diet.
3. Don’t believe everything you hear or read. If you’re still nervous about getting all the nutrients you need, educate yourself. But be careful where you get your information. As I said at the beginning of this piece there is a good amount of confusing and conflicting information out there. Evaluate whatever information you find. First test it against reason and then dig a bit deeper to discover who produced the studies behind what you’re reading and if the science is sound.
No one’s perfect, but don’t overwhelm yourself. Keep it whole, add variety and enjoy!*
*If you don’t feel your nutritional needs are being met with the diet you are currently eating, there are a growing number of dietitians and physicians in the field today who are knowledgeable about a plant-based diet and can help you create the right diet plan for you.