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What can I eat? Plant-Based Diets—Part 2

Apr 05, 2020
What can I eat? Plant-Based Diets—Part 2
A plant-based diet is one that focuses on foods from "plant sources" or consuming "mostly" or "only" foods that come from plants. Sounds impossible to you? It's not.

dr dooreck

Healthy foods

Healthy foods

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet is one that focuses on foods from "plant sources" or consuming "mostly" or "only" foods that come from plants. Sounds impossible to you? It's not.

Is a plant-based the same as a vegan diet?

Some people see this as a vegan diet. A vegan diet involves avoiding all animal products.

Can I eat animal products and eat a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet means for some that that plant foods are the "main focus" of their diet, but they may, occasionally, consume "meat, fish, poultry or dairy products."

For me, that is not the case

Can a plant-based benefit my health?

Yes. There are clear health benefits in terms of nutritional considerations, not to mention the ethical and environmental concerns that many people share.

What are some of the health benefits of a plant-based diet?

With a plant-based diet, people demonstrate the following.

  • Lower body mass index (BMI)

  • Lower rates of cancer

  • Lower rates of diabetes

  • Lower rates of heart disease

  • Lower rates of obesity

How does a plant-based diet lower the risk of heart disease and other conditions?

The American Heart Association (AHA) states that eating less meat can also reduce the risk of:

  • Cancer

  • Diabetes (Type 2)

  • Hyperlipidemia (High cholesterol)

  • Hypertension (High blood pressure)

  • Insulin resistance

  • Obesity

  • Stroke

What foods would I eat with a plant-based diet?

1. Fruits

You can eat all types of fruit. Remember fruit is a carbohydrate and has sugar. So balance and portion control matter.

  • Apples

  • Avocado

  • Bananas

  • Berries

  • Citrus fruits

  • Grapes

  • Melons

2. Healthy Fats

Not all fat is bad.

The "polyunsaturated" and "monounsaturated" fats, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, are important—if not vital—to a balanced healthy diet.

  • Avocados

  • Canola oil

  • Chia seeds

  • Flaxseed

  • Hemp seeds

  • Olive oil

  • Walnuts

Choose foods with “good” unsaturated fats, limit foods high in saturated fat, and avoid “bad” trans fat. “Good” unsaturated fats—Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—lower disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish. ( › The Nutrition Source)

3. Nuts

Nuts are considered a healthy fat.

Nuts also offer some protein and vitamins (selenium and vitamin E).

  • Almonds

  • Brazil

  • Cashews

  • Macadamia

  • Pecans

  • Pistachios

4. Plant-based Milk

You can reduce your dairy intake with many "unsweetened" plant-based milk options available.

  • Almond

  • Coconut

  • Hemp

  • Oat

  • Rice

  • Soy

5. Seeds

Seeds are a great add-on, snack, and a solid source of extra nutrients in your meal.

  • Chia

  • Flax

  • Hemp

  • Pumpkin

  • Sesame seeds (calcium)

  • Sunflower seeds (vitamin E)

6. Vegetables

A healthy diet, in general, contains plenty of greens and vegetables. The more colorful the vegetables—the more likely you will be consuming vitamins and minerals.

Remember some vegetables are a healthy source of carbohydrates.

Many vegetables are a great source of fiber.

Some have protein like legumes.

  • Asparagus

  • Beetroot

  • Broccoli

  • Carrots

  • Cauliflower

  • Kale 

  • Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans)

  • Peppers

  • Root vegetables (sweet potato, potatoes, butternut squash, beets)

  • Tomatoes

  • Zucchini

Whole Grains

7. Whole Grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber.

Whole grains can aid in stabilizing blood sugar and contain magnesium, copper, and selenium—all essential minerals.

  • Barley

  • Brown rice

  • Buckwheat

  • Oats

  • Rye

  • Spelt

  • Quinoa

  • Wholegrain bread

What foods should I avoid (not eat) with a plant-based diet?

Eating smart and healthy is a choice. My choice. Your choice. A choice based on balance, portion control, and accountability.

By reducing or even eliminating animal products from your diet, you are doing yourself well. However, it does not automatically mean that your plant-based diet "healthy."

Here are some online thoughts from a Board-Certified Gastroenterologist—"Avoid Unhealthy Processed Foods." Simple enough? It is all a choice.

Ask yourself. What am I choosing to eat instead?

A plant-based diet

A plant-based diet means for some that that plant foods are the "main focus" of their diet.

What are the examples of what to avoid with a plant-based diet?

  • Deep-fried foods (anything that is greasy)

  • Processed vegan and vegetarian "alternatives" (look for added sugars and excess salt)

  • Sugars (bakery items, cakes, muffins, and pastries)

  • White flour and carbohydrates

What nutrients could my body be missing with a plant-based diet?

Any restrictive diet obviously should be under the guidance of a medical professional—especially if there are medical comorbidities or medications taken for a condition such as diabetes.

Let's address below the concerns regarding "missing" the following.

  • Iron

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Protein

  • Vitamin B-12

1. Iron

What about iron with a plant-based diet?

Iron from a plant-based diet has a lower "bioavailability" than meat, thus you need to make sure you are getting enough foods in your diet that are iron-rich.

bi·o·a·vail·a·bil·i·ty /ˌbīōˌəvāləˈbilədē/ is the proportion of a drug or other substance which enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect. (Oxford)

How can I get enough iron with a plant-based diet?

Eating a plant-based diet means ensuring you get enough iron in your dietary choices.

Plant-based iron has a lower "bioavailability" (the amount that enters the circulation and able to have an active effect) than iron from meat.

That does not mean you cannot get iron from plants. (Read: you can get iron from plants.)

You can get iron from plants and a plant-based diet.

Vitamin C from citrus fruits or as a supplement helps absorb iron.

Plant-based foods that have a good source of iron include the following:

  • Beans (black and kidney)

  • Cabbage

  • Cashews

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Oatmeal

  • Raisins

  • Soybeans

  • Spinach

  • Tomato juice

2. Omega-3 fatty acids

What about omega-3 fatty acids?

If you strictly follow a plant-based diet, you should consider taking an omega-3 supplement.

I do.

Omega-3 fatty acids are "essential" in your overall health and nutrition.

What do omega-3 fatty acids do?

  • Prevent heart disease

  • Protect from memory loss

  • Reduce inflammation

What are the different types of omega-3 fatty acids?

  • EPA – found in fish, seafood, eggs

  • DHA – found in fish, seafood, eggs

When it comes to fat, there's one type you don't want to cut back on: omega-3 fatty acids.

Two crucial ones—EPA and DHA—are primarily found in certain fish.

Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function, but also they deliver some big health benefits. (WebMD)

What about omega-3 fatty acids in a plant-based diet?

Some plant-based foods contain omega-3 ALA such as the following.

  • Flaxseed

  • Hempseed

  • Walnuts

However, our bodies are slow to convert the omega-3 ALA to omega-3 EPA and DHA.

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. (WebMD)

Also, some people genetically have poor absorption of omega-3 ALA.

What happens if I have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids from a plant-based diet?

Low levels of omega-3 DHA and EPA in your blood and tissue may lead to the following.

  • Decreased concentration ("brain fog")

  • Increased inflammation

  • Memory difficulties

Eating a plant-based diet is a healthy and wise choice in my opinion. I eat that way. I also take a plant-based omega-3 supplement.

What about inflammation from low levels of omega-3 fatty acids?

Some dietitians advise vegetarians to reduce the amount of the "pro-inflammatory" linoleic acid, since they may be at risk for lower levels of omega-3 DHA and EPA in the blood and tissue and thus be at risk for "increased inflammation."

Personally, I don't think about this and it does not change how I eat.

Some dietitians advise vegetarians to reduce the amount of the "pro-inflammatory" linoleic acid.

Where is linoleic acid found?

  • Corn oil

  • Safflower oil

  • Soybean oil

  • Sunflower oil

3. Protein

What about protein with a plant-based diet?

I know you are worried about protein. Don't be.

You can get enough protein from a plant-based diet.

Consume proteins from a broad variety of plant-based food sources adds diversity to your diet and microbiome.

It also helps provide all of the necessary amino acids (protein building blocks) for a balanced and sustainable healthy diet.

There is a wide choice of plant-based protein sources, including the following:

  • Beans (kidney, pinto, or black beans)

  • Chickpeas (hummus)

  • Lentils

  • Mushrooms

  • Nuts

  • Quinoa

  • Seeds

  • Soybean

  • Tofu

4. Vitamin B-12

What happens with low levels of Vitamin B-12?

Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient for blood and cellular health.

  • B-12 deficiency (low levels of Vitamin B-12) causes anemia (low blood levels) and neuropathy (nerve damage).

Will I get enough Vitamin B-12 with a plant-based diet?

B-12 is not in many plant-based foods—but is found in many animal products.

Vegans and vegetarians should consider taking a B-12 supplement or consume products fortified with B-12.

I do and check my Vitamin B-12 levels with my annual blood tests.

What are some non-animal food sources of Vitamin B-12?

Note this listincludes dairy.

  • Cheese

  • Eggs

  • Fortified cereals

  • Fortified plant-based milk

  • Low-fat milk

  • Nutritional yeast

  • Yogurt

What is the bottom line on a plant-based diet?

Eat a diet high in plant-based foods and lower in animal products. You can't go wrong. I do.

This works for me and it is what I now routinely recommend to my patients.

The health benefits go beyond weight loss or the lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Don't wait for the "perfect" time. Make a shift in your life to a plant-based diet today.

Don't wait for the "perfect" time. I suggest you make a shift in your life to a plant-based diet today.

Go all in, or start gradually by reducing your red meat and/or your dairy intake. Maybe start with one 100% plant-based meal a week. Consider changing one animal product at a time for a plant-based one.

What are the

What are the "big picture" outcomes and results you want in your life?

Baby steps are okay to start. What are the "big picture" outcomes and results you want in your life?

Find what works for you. Find what works in your life. I am sharing with you what works for me and what I routinely recommend to my patients.

It is always advised to speak to your doctor directly or a licensed nutritionist (LN) or registered dietitian (RD) to guide you of making major dietary changes.