Should You Try a Plant Based Diet? PLUS Six Plant Based Protein Foods to Try!
Plant based diets are becoming a trend, but there’s a lot of confusion around what the term “plant based” actually means.
A plant-based diet is a diet consisting MOSTLY of foods derived from plants, like vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, and with few or no animal products. The emphasis is also on whole, minimally processed foods.
It is NOT synonymous with vegan or vegetarian nor does it mean that you never eat meat or dairy. It just means you choose more of your foods from plant sources versus animal.
For example the Mediterranean diet has a foundation of plant-based foods but it also includes fish, eggs, cheese, and yogurt a few times a week, with mammal flesh (particularly red meat) and sweets less often. It’s also VERY low in processed foods.
Why opt for a plant based diet?
No one food or one diet method will ever turn out to be some one-size-fits-all weight loss strategy, but a balanced diet filled with more plant foods, less sugar and less processed foods, can help you maintain a healthy weight and metabolism.
There has been significant research demonstrating plant based diets can hold some positive outcomes, two of which are lowered BMI and serum glucose levels, which can affect the development of metabolic syndrome and Type II Diabetes.
CHOLESTEROL, BLOOD PRESSURE & HEART HEALTH
Research has shown that plant-based eating can prevent heart damage or coronary artery disease. It can also help to keep blood pressure and cholesterol lower.
Many studies that have compared omnivores, vegetarians and vegans have shown lower instances of heart disease and diabetes among those who follow a plant-based diet. In fact, one study found that eating vegetarian could reduce your risk for coronary heart disease by up to 40%.
Studies have also proven that plant-heavy diets can not only stave off Type II Diabetes but also can help manage Type II diabetes in diabetic patients. This is because the unrefined carbs in a plant-based diet, as opposed to refined grains like white bread and sugary processed foods, help keep blood sugar at normal levels.
RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS
Most plant based foods especially dark, leafy greens, berries, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that work both in and outside of the body's cells to protect cell membranes from the damaging effects of highly reactive molecules called free radicals.
Free radicals come from any high inflammatory encounter including inflammatory foods like animal products, trans fats, sugary foods, and simple carbs. An antioxidant rich plant based diet can help stop free radicals from causing cellular damage, which can lead to anything from aging skin or other skin damage to cancer.
HEALTHY FIBER INTAKE
The more plants you have in your diet, the more fiber you’ll consume, which (for MOST individuals) has a number of positives. First, you’ll experience more satiety (satisfaction) when eating because you will feel fuller for longer. Plant-based diets tend to be higher in fiber and a high fiber diet helps bulk up the stomach.
High-fiber foods can also help lower cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Typically, individuals who consume more plant rich fiber have been shown to have a healthier gut microbiome. Prebiotics, one type of dietary fiber found in plant based foods like asparagus, apples, oatmeal, leeks, bananas, cabbage, artichoke and leafy greens help to feed probiotics, the good bacteria that exist in the gut. This results in a more efficient digestive system that metabolizes food smoothly.
The better your digestion is moving, the better you’ll feel, the better you’ll look, and the better you’ll perform.
Research has shown that the healthier your gut microbiome is, the better your mental health will be. Your brain, and your digestive system are inextricably connected, more so than you would think.
GI inflammation has been linked directly to anxiety and depression and anxiety and depression has in turn been connected to digestive illness. One reason is that about 80% of the serotonin your body produces (neurotransmitter that boosts mood and relaxation) is released in the gut.
GI issues can really come from a myriad of things, but one of them is from long term consumption of refined, processed foods. A plant based diet rich in prebiotics helps fuel the probiotics in your microbiome.
70% of your immune system is in your gut so a balanced and healthy microbiome is essentially the foundation for whole body health.
I have several clients who eat a mostly plant based diet who’ve experienced less brain fog and fewer “food comas” after switching to more plant-heavy eating. Studies have indicated there could be a positive memory connection to eating a Mediterranean, plant-based diet (lots of veggies, lean seafood, healthy omega 3 plant based fats, etc). There have also been some great studies done on diet and the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s which indicates maybe a more plant-based diet is protective against cognitive disease as well.
I also feel the increase in focus and energy comes from healthier digestion. When people start eating more fiber from plant-based foods, they feel better digestively. Things “move” more efficiently and that reduces the feelings of fatigue and lethargy that result from constipation or a sluggish digestive system.
Worried about adequate protein intake on a plant based diet?
There's good reason to be concerned, but with targeted focus on the right foods, it is possible to consume a healthy amount of protein with ease. Try incorporating the following six plant based protein rich foods:
1. Lentils & Beans
Both are amongst the world’s best sources of plant-based protein. 1/2 cup of cooked lentils contains 10g of protein, and 1 cup of cooked beans contains 15 grams!
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that includes adding a tempeh starter, which is a mix of live mold. When it sits for a day or two, it becomes what we know as tempeh, which helps reduce cholesterol, improve gut health, increase bone density, decrease menopausal symptoms and promote muscle recovery. It is also a rich source of B vitamins of which many plant based diets are deficient in.
3. Plant-Based Protein Powder
Adding plant-based protein supplements to a well-balanced diet is a convenient way to ensure you meet your protein requirement. I recommend 22 DAYS which is soy free and contains 20 grams of protein a scoop. It’s also pea protein based and pea protein is highly bioavailable and is easily digested.
4. Whole grains
½ cup of cooked whole grains packs about 8 grams of protein and they are a great way to feel full on a natural diet. Try quinoa, wild rice, and oats. Sprouted grain breads are also a good option. Ezekiel bread (for example) packs 4-5g per slice.
Nuts are a great source of natural protein and with so many variations that you’ll never get bored! ¼ cup of nuts contains approximately 8 grams of protein.
Protein rich vegetables
Peas, spinach, kale, broccoli, lentil sprouts, mushrooms, artichokes and edamame are all vegetables that are higher in protein.
STUDIES for further reading: