EVIDENCE BASED NUTRITION

Written by Henry Lau 
Qualified Nutritionist and ISAK Accredited Anthropometrist

EVIDENCE BASED NUTRITION

Written by Henry Lau 
Qualified Nutritionist and ISAK Accredited Anthropometrist

The Ultimate 2020 Guide To A Plant Based Diet

The secret to succeeding with a plant based diet is simple, you find more whole foods derived from plants, and you eat it.

But the problem is, not all plant based foods are created equal. In fact, people commonly follow unhealthy plant-based diets containing low-quality plant-source foods that could potentially be more harmful.

A plant based diet is definitely NOT for everyone, but it may be exactly what you need to live healthier and more energetically.

This article reviews the healthfulness of specific plant foods, the right foods to eat and the best way to follow a plant based diet.

What is a Plant Based Diet and how does it differ from a vegan diet?

A plant based diet is a type of diet that consists predominantly of whole foods derived from plants.

Limited amounts of meat or meat-based products are allowed but fish and seafood is often the preferred choice.

Animal based products such as eggs and milk, including milk based products, are also allowed but is consumed at a moderate amount.

Starchy carbohydrates make up the bulk of the diet and milk in your coffee is recommended.

Unlike a plant based diet,  vegan or a vegetarian diets completely exclude animal or animal based products including fish, eggs and milk.

It appears that a plant based diet is not as simple as a vegan or a vegetarian diet where you exclude food groups completely. A complete comparison of plant base, vegetarian and vegan diets is discussed here.

Summary:

Plant based diets are predominantly whole, unprocessed foods with high nutrient bioavailability. This includes all meat and animal based products.

Choosing Between Plant Base, Vegetarian & Vegan Diet: Why Going Plant Maybe Better

Plant base, vegetarian and vegan diets have only one key difference; dietary allowance of meat and/or animal derived products.

In terms of health benefits, it is difficult to determine whether eliminating all meat (and animal derived food products) or just cutting back is more optimal for health.

There is compelling evidence that; reducing the intake of meat and animal based products (particularly red and processed meat) and, increasing the consumption of high quality plant derived foods is linked to a plethora of health benefits (1,2,3).

It’s shown to lower your LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), total cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and heart disease (1,2,3,4,5).

There is evidence suggesting that completely eliminating all animal or animal based products maybe more protective compared to regular meat eating. However, it does appear to be less beneficial compared to simply cutting back.

For example, compared to individuals who ate meat regularly, one study found there was a lower risk of ischaemic heart disease in those who simply cut back.

These included participants who either occasionally ate meat, just fish or consumed eggs & dairy. Interestingly, those who just consumed fish, eggs & dairy had a lower risk of heart disease compared to vegans (6,7)

This suggests that completely eliminating meat and animal derived products is not necessarily best for health.

In our recently published article, Top Three Problems With Plant Based Diets, How To Overcome Them, we also outline some major drawbacks in a vegetarian/vegan diet that you can overcome going plant base.

These include: a low iron status, low quality protein intake, ultra-processed foods, low nutrient bio-availbility and weight loss.

Summary:

Decreasing the consumption of meat, particularly red meat, and increasing the consumption of fish and plant derived foods have a protective effect on cardiovascular disease.

Completely eliminating all meat and animal derived food products does not add further benefits and maybe inferior to just reducing meat intake.

How a Plant Based Diet will Benefit Your Health

A diet that’s predominantly more plant base appears to benefit health by promoting the growth of a diverse and stable microbial system in your gut.

Consuming more fibre, particularly non-digestible carbohydrates found exclusively in plants, can lead to rapid changes in the composition of the gut ecosystem (14,15)

This in turn could potentially have an anti-inflammatory effect and improve immunity against pathogens (16,17).

Also, consuming more plant derived foods could offer greater benefits to cardiovascular health (18,19).

Studies have shown plant base foods such as fruits (8), vegetables (8), nuts (9), legumes (10), wholegrain (11), coffee (12) and tea (13) can lower blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol.

In turn, this could potentially lower your risk of cardiovascular or heart disease.

Although, much of the research is still emerging and is not solely based off the diet alone as discussed in our article about the Top Health Benefits Of A Plant Based Diet: What we know, What we don’t know.

Summary

There is compelling evidence that quality plant base foods support cardiovascular health, gut health and generally have a high nutrient bioavalability.

Top 10 Plant Based Foods You Should Eat

A plant based diet can be very tricky to get right as there are a lot of food groups you should and should not be eating as outlined in The Best Way To Follow A Plant Based Diet: How to start, what to eat, what not to eat.

Here are the top plant based foods you can start eating today:

  • Fruits: All fruits are fine but have a variety.
  • Vegetables: All vegetables are fine but have a variety.
  • Legumes: These includes chick peas, black beans, soy beans, kidney beans, lentils and tofu.
  • Nuts: All nuts and seeds.
  • Whole Grains: These includes oats, quinoa and brown rice.
  • Dairy Products: These includes milk, cheese and yoghurt but low fat options are recommended.
  • Eggs
  • Beverages: Tea and coffee are fine to drink.
  • Herbs & Spices: All herbs and spices
  • Plant based oils: Including olive, rice bran, flax and rapeseed oil.
  • Fish: Includes white fish and salmon

3 Major Problems With Plant Based Diets and Easy Ways to Overcome Them

Every type of diet has it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here are the Top 3 Problems With A Plant Base Diet & How To Overcome Them.

1. Low Quality Plant Based Foods

Plant base foods aren’t inherently healthier just because they are derived from plants. But, there is compelling evidence that show a link between key nutrients found exclusively or predominantly in plants.

High quality plant base foods have a higher nutrient bioavailability, are a good source polyphenols and are also minimally processed.

They also contain higher fibre, particularly non-digestible carbohydrates found exclusively in plants, which plays an important role in delivering key nutrients to colon and thereby affect the gut bacterial ecosystem (20,21).

These play a key role in our gut health, the risk of cardiovascular disease and even has implications rheumotoid arthritis (22).

Low quality plant base foods are the opposite. They tend to be ultra-proccessed or lack these key nutrients (22). Here are the top low quality plant base foods to avoid:

  • Fruit Juices: Are very high in simple sugars.
  • Refined Grains: Has alot of the fibre and nutrients stripped.
  • Sugar Sweetened Beverages: Are very high in added sugar.
  • Desserts: Contains ultra-processed starches, added sugar, butter and are calorie dense.
  • Chocolate: Are very high in sugar, some in saturated fats and are calorie dense.
  • Unhealthy Sauces: These often are high in fat content or added sugar.

Summary

For health benefits, consume more high quality plant based foods that contain higher nutrient bioavailability, more fibre and polyphenols.

Have less low quality plant based foods such as fruit juice, refined grains, sugar sweetened beverages, desserts, chocolate and unhealthy sauces.

2. Incomplete Protein & Weight Loss

The fundamental rule to weight loss is essentially based around calories, whether it’s through burning more calories from exercise or cutting it from certain food groups such carbohydrates.

During this energy shortfall, both dietary and body proteins can be used as an energy source. Without sufficient high quality protein in the diet, muscle mass is often lost (23,24,25,26).

One of the biggest concerns with a plant based diet is the protein intake, particularly complete proteins (i.e. contains all the essential amino acids).

Majority of plant derived foods (vegetables, nuts, legumes, seeds & grains) are incomplete sources (i.e. lack all the essential amino acids) and will not help preserve muscle mass (unless incomplete sources are combined).

In addition, these protein requirements increase further anytime there is an energy shortfall and especially with added exercise (23,24,25,26).

This means that individuals looking to lose weight on a plant base diet may need to meticulously track their protein to prevent losses of muscle which is a main predictor of weight regain.

The few existing complete plant base protein sources includes: tofu (soybeans), quinoa, buckwheat, hemp and chia seed.

Summary

Consume more complete protein sources on a plant base diet especially when exercising or losing weight to prevent muscle loss. These include tofu, quinoa, buckwheat, hemp and chia seed.

3. Low Iron Status

Iron is an essential micronutrient for human health, and a low iron status in adults is associated with lethargy, difficulty concentrating, and poor immune function (27,28).

Currently, there’s an estimated 2 billion in the world suffering from anemia, mostly due to an iron deficiency. It’s particularly more common among women and teenage girls (30).

Dietary iron is present in two forms, haem iron and non-haem iron.

Haem iron (the easy form of iron to absorb) is found in animal derived foods such as meat, poultry, and fish.

It typically makes up 10-15% of our dietary iron intake but contributes to 40% or more of the total iron absorbed by the body (29).

In contrast, Non-Haem iron has a lower absorptive capacity and is found in non-animal products such as legumes, vegetables and  in fortified cereals and bread.

Here are the top sources of Iron:

  • Fortified Cereals:
  • Spinach:
  • Fortified Bread:
  • Legumes:
  • Pumpkin Seeds:
  • Quinoa:
  • Red Meat:
  • Dried Fruit:
  • Shellfish:
  • Brocolli:
  • Tofu:
  • Dark Chocolate:

Summary

Majority of the iron absorbed comes from animal sources whereas much of the iron we eat from plant based foods are poorly absorbed in the body.

Consume more iron fortified foods such as oatmeal, cereal and bread.

An Easy Plant Based Diet Plan for Beginners to Follow

Monday

  • Morning Protein Smoothie
  • Tuna salad with roast pumpkin, kumara, sweet peas, courgette, feta and cumin.
  • Grilled tofu and broccoli vegetable stir fry

Tuesday

  • Poached eggs, avocado and light cream cheese on whole grain toast
  • Roasted chickpea & vegetable wholegrain wrap
  • Morrocan beans, wholegrain pita, salad greens.

Wednesday

  • Fresh low fat yoghurt with mixed berries and sugar free granola
  • Couscous, cherry tomatoes, green beans and egg salad.
  • Barbeque prawns with spicy eggplant salad

Thursday

  • Oatmeal with low fat milk and blueberries
  • Grilled teriyaki tempeh and vegetable kebab skewers
  • Egg omelette with sauted portebello mushrooms

Friday

  • Scrambled eggs on Ciabatta bread
  • Fresh Salmon, Tuna and Cauliflower Rice Poke-Bowl
  • Teriyaki Grilled Eggplant with Steam Egg & Scallions

 

The Bottom Line

Plant based diets are predominantly whole, unprocessed foods with high nutrient bioavailability. This includes all meat and animal based products.

There is compelling evidence that quality plant base foods supports weight loss, cardiovascular & gut health.

Decreasing the consumption of meat, particularly red meat, and increasing the consumption of fish and plant derived foods have offers numerous health benefits.

However, completely eliminating all meat and animal derived food products does not an added benefit and maybe beneficial.

Following a plant based diet does have it’s problem including: low quality plant based foods, incomplete protein intake and low iron.

DISCOVER WHAT FOOD IS RIGHT FOR YOU

A custom built quiz, based on science, designed to help you find out what foods you should be eating.

Discover What Food Is Right For You With This Simple Quiz

Everyone is different…

… we’re different in height, weight, gender, ethnicity, body shape, size, food preference, in our situation, goals, motivation, time & food cravings.

There is an endless amount of different types of diets and it makes it very difficult to decide what is right for you.

That’s why I developed this simple 30 Second Quiz, designed to help you discover EXACTLY what food is right for you…

… and the best part is, you can get started right here, right now.

Take The Free Quiz Here

Henry Lau – Qualified Nutritionist

How To Discover What Food Is Right For You

Everyone is different…

… we’re different in height, weight, gender, ethnicity, body shape, size, food preference, in our situation, goals, motivation, time & food cravings.

There is an endless amount of different types of diets and it makes it very difficult to decide what is right for you.

That’s why I developed this simple 30 Second Quiz, designed to help you discover EXACTLY what food is right for you…

… and the best part is, you can get started right here, right now.

Take The Free Quiz

[ EVIDENCE BASED ] Discover What Food Is Right For You With This Simple 30 Second Quiz

Henry Lau – Qualified Nutritionist

Discover What Food Is Right For You

Everyone is different…

… we’re different in height, weight, gender, ethnicity, body shape, size, food preference, in our situation, goals, motivation, time & food cravings.

There is an endless amount of different types of diets and it makes it very difficult to decide what is right for you.

That’s why I developed this simple 30 Second Quiz, designed to help you discover EXACTLY what food is right for you…

… and the best part is, you can get started right here, right now.

Take The Free Quiz

[ EVIDENCE BASED ] Discover What Food Is Right For You With This Simple Quiz

Read Next:

A Complete Comparison Of Plant Based, Vegetarian & Vegan Diets

Best Way To Follow A Plant Based Diet: How To Start.

Top Health Benefits Of A Plant Based Diet: What We Know, What We Don't Know.

Top 3 Problems With Plant Based Diets: How To Overcome Them.

A Complete Comparison Of Plant Based, Vegetarian & Vegan Diets​

Best Way To Follow A Plant Based Diet: How to start.

Top Health Benefits Of A Plant Based Diet: What We Know, What We Don't Know.​

Top 3 Problems With Plant Based Diets: How To Overcome Them.