West Valley Medical Center - November 24, 2016

By Joe Llenos, MD, and Anne Brock, RDN, LD

Something we see and hear often is to add more fruits and vegetables to our diets. We see it in social media, healthcare offices, magazines and more. Could there be some big benefits to adopting a plant-based diet?

The Research Behind the Trend

Studies are showing a plant-based diet can be useful in treating and even reversing a number of our most common causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It has been proven to reverse plaque buildup in the heart and control blood sugars, as well as prevent stroke, Alzheimer’s and renal diseases.

A plant-based lifestyle centers on limiting animal products and increasing fruits, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and legumes (like beans, peas and lentils). It can be a complete removal of animal products, “veganism”, or partial removal of animal products in one of the forms of “vegetarianism.” Why might people choose to follow a plant-based diet? Well, it could be for many reasons such as health, environment, animal well-being or religion to name a few. The American Dietetic Association states that “a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet is healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases (2009).” The Academy also points out that a well-planned, plant-based lifestyle can be fitting for all stages of life.

A whole-food, plant-based diet is also very helpful in weight loss. It is a nutrient-rich diet and not calorie rich. This means when you eat a whole-food, plant-based diet your body will feel full without consuming too many calories. This leads to healthy and steady weight loss.

Getting Started on a Plant-Based Diet

We have to think about how many and what types of animal products we will be eating. Will we keep eating dairy, eggs or fish? Will we eat any animal products? Then ask: do we want to eat plant-based meals two, three or all nights in a week? Do we want to eat plant-based for every meal or focus on breakfast and lunch? Make sure to eat a range of fruits, nuts, beans, peas, seeds and whole grains while reducing foods high in sugar, sodium and oil with saturated fats and trans fats.

Identifying Protein Sources

Another big step in planning is to identify your protein sources, such as nuts, soy, legumes, beans or split peas, to name a few. One large myth behind a plant-based diet is you are unable to eat enough protein. However, this is false. “Typical protein intakes of lacto-ovo-vegetarians and of vegans appear to meet and exceed requirements even in athletes (Messina V, 2004).” Not only should we be mindful of protein, but we should also think about iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.