Is a plant-based diet healthy? Do we need animal products to get all our nutrients? We explore arguments against for and against a plant-based lifestyle, the different types of plant-based diets (and which is touted as healthiest), and what nutrition science tells us about all of the above.
But according to this Oregon State University survey, the number-one motivation for cutting out animal products is personal health.
We get it. A healthy lifestyle combats obesity, improves mood, boosts energy, and even reduces the risk of a whole range of really, really, awful diseases. Best of all? It allows us to spend more time doing the things we love with the people we love.
But is a plant-based diet the best way to achieve your healthy lifestyle goals?
Let’s look at what a plant-based diet is.
Plant-based diets focus on plant foods over animal foods. It’s an umbrella term, encompassing everything from whole food plant-based (WFPB), to vegan, to the less “strict” vegetarian diet (which allows for some animal products like dairy and eggs).
The pro-veggie camp says plant foods are a healthier alternative to the Standard American Diet (yes it’s SAD). But there is another argument…
Naysayers suggest plant-based dieters are malnourished. Specifically, the thought is vegan diets don’t provide enough protein, calcium, iron, and zinc.
And yes, nutrient deficiency can happen, but with junk food veganism (Oreos are after all vegan) -- but should not be part of a well-rounded plant-based diet.
Beans, legumes, and nuts, on the other hand, are packed with protein.
Kale, butternut squash, and collard greens are loaded up with calcium.
There are plenty of iron-rich plant foods like kidney beans, raisins, oatmeal, and spinach.
For zinc, choose whole grains, tofu, seeds, or tempeh.
There’s one vital nutrient you can’t get from plant sources: vitamin b12. But B12 isn’t made by animals; it actually comes from bacteria and that bacteria hang out in animal manure and the digestive tracts of animals. Good news: you can get B12 without eating animal poop! Here are the best plant-based sources of B12.
What about nutrient quality? The heme iron found in meat is easier to absorb than plant-based iron, and some argue plant protein isn’t as complete as animal protein. These sound like compelling reasons to steer clear of plant-based diets, but the first one only tells part of the story, and the second one’s straight-up false.
Science disproved the theory of incomplete plant proteins. And the heme iron found in animal products may be more absorbable, but it’s linked to a number of serious diseases. Research also shows iron deficiency is just as common among meat eaters as plant-based dieters, so heme iron isn’t the deciding factor.
And finally, for those wanting to bulk up, healthy plant-based bodybuilders demonstrate you do not need to eat animals to be as strong as one.
OK, so are there benefits to a plant-based diet?
But for now, here are the cliff notes.
And shedding unwanted weight is just the beginning...
Chronic inflammation is another problem in America. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, telling the immune system to repair damaged tissue and fight off infection. Many animal foods (including red meats, dairy products, and saturated fats) increase inflammation in the human body. And when inflammation becomes chronic, it causes disease like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.
Plant-based foods, on the other hand, reduce inflammation!
And health doesn’t stop with the physical body; at MamaSezz we believe mental and emotional health is just as important. Plant-based diets improve all of the above.
Omnivorous diets are low in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — chemicals are used to regulate brain-cell function. Not so with plant-based diets, rich in both EPA and DHA. Why’s this matter? Plant-based eaters experience fewer negative emotions and boosted mood overall.
Thanks to research like the China Study, we know plant-based diets are the healthier alternative. Though some plant-based diets are healthier than others...
A vegetarian diet still increases the risk of inflammation, thanks to dairy and saturated fat consumption. And while vegan plant-based diets may cut out harmful animal products altogether, they don’t necessarily promote nutritious eating (remember the oreos?).
The WFPB diet picks up where vegetarian and vegan diets end. It limits or avoids animal products, while also kicking processed foods to the curb: oils, refined carbohydrates, and non-natural sugars. It also means going to town on a complete range of whole, nutritionally dense fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes. Finally, this lifestyle promotes moving your body -- because there’s more to a healthy lifestyle than just what you eat!
In the end...
Your healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to go by the wayside when you’re on the go. We’ve got 9 tips for keeping your whole food plant-based diet while traveling.