We have wondered if being plant-based means less protein, or lack of energy, or is just plain unhealthy? We’ve wondered if it’s healthy to bring up children on a plant-based diet, or is it enough nutrients for the elderly? Some would consider a plant-based pregnancy a big question mark, mostly because iron is always in focus, when carrying a baby. And red meat, has historically been an easy go-to, as a source of iron.
So, here’s a good look at plant-based, through the eyes of a nutritionist. For those of us who are already living a plant-based life, to those who are curious, to the rest who are sometimes plant-based. Here’s a good background to opt into some plant-based and feel good about ourselves and the planet too!
Here’s a warm welcome to our series of blogs on plant-based diets. From here on, we will refer to plant-based diets as PBD!
Notes from A Nutritionist:
PBD are trending for popular perks like weight loss, improved health, environmental friendliness, and of course animal welfare. A PBD is any type of dietary pattern predominantly based on unprocessed plant foods such as legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and herbs and spices. A PBD can include no animal products or also minimal amounts. There is currently no strict definition of a PBD. Even a flexitarian / semi-vegetarian diet that includes small amounts of animal foods can be plant based.
Notes from A Nutritionist:
The majority of Asian cuisines include a healthy proportion of plant-based, as the climate in South East Asia, lends itself to locally produced green leafy vegetables and special spices. Which makes certain cuisines natural plant-based options. For example Gado-Gado, an Indonesian dish found in Bali and also in Singapore and Malaysia, is based on a combination of blanched vegetables, tofu and tempeh and a rich in protein, peanut sauce. Not only does is it plant-based. It is also high in protein. Just one example of so many dishes, we will write about in the upcoming blogs. So stay tuned!
Notes from A Nutritionist:
Here are different types of PBD.
Nutrient profile of a PBD
(In layman terms, what’s so good about choosing plant-based!)
- High in vitamins C, A, E, K, pyridoxine (B6), thiamine (B1), and minerals potassium, folate, magnesium, potassium, and manganese
- High in fiber
- High in phytochemicals
- Contains all the essential amino acids if a variety of plants are consumed
- No or low cholesterol (plant foods do not contain cholesterol)
- Low in saturated fat (pro-inflammatory)
- High in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Health Benefits of a PBD
- Disease prevention: Vegans and vegetarians have a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity (9). A literature review of the Adventist cohort studies found that vegetarian diets may protect against cardiovascular diseases, cardiometabolic risk factors, some cancers, and total mortality. Vegan diets offered additional protection from obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular mortality compared to lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, (8). One reason for this is that fruit and vegetable consumption are inversely associated with certain chronic diseases and all-cause mortality (3, 4).
- Regular bowel movements: Vegans consume around 41 grams of fiber and vegetarians 34 grams of fiber on average. Americans have been found to 15 grams a day on average (5). Hopefully Singaporeans do better! Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools to promote movement through the digestive tract. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like material, and many prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber. Fiber can lower cholesterol (11), manage weight (12), and control blood sugar (10).
- Good gut health: Gut health is an important part of good immune function, vitamin and mineral absorption, and may play a role in disease development. The food we eat can determine if good or bad bacteria develop. A recent study (1) found that a healthy microbiome is linked to a diet rich in healthy proteins, a diversity of unprocessed plant foods (spinach, broccoli, and nuts), and foods containing polyunsaturated fats (walnuts, pumpkin, flax, and chia seeds). Bacteria associated with chronic disease was supported by dairy containing desserts, unhealthy meats (red meat and bacon), and processed foods (animal or plant).
- More energy: One way that food can affect energy levels is through blood sugar regulation. Fiber rich foods combined with healthy proteins will improve blood sugar release for sustained energy levels. It also contributes to a good mood and reducing food cravings.
- Anti-aging: The exact reason for aging is unknown but it may be partly due to a decline in mitochondrial function and oxidative damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Plant foods contain a variety of phytochemicals that can help reduce oxidative cellular damage. Phytochemicals may do this by participating in important cellular signaling pathways that boost antioxidant enzymes and remove damage (6).
- Weight management: Studies have found that following a PBD leads to long term weight loss and those who eat a PBD have a lower BMI, especially vegans (2,13). It may also be easier to forget about calories and consume unprocessed nutrient dense foods that are less likely to be over-consumed (7).
Notes from The Good Blogger:
There have been many examples of famous, intelligent humans who have led a meat-free life, which gives us hope that it can’t be too bad! The earlier ones include Pythagorous (c.570 – 495 BC), famous for his Pythagorean Theorem, used for figuring the area of a right triangle fundamental to geometry; to Saint Francis of Assisi. Then there is the beloved Leonardo Da Vinci, the Renaissance Man himself. To the more recent celebrities, like Johnny Depp, Natalie Portman, Joaquin Phoenix, Gisele Bundchen (no wonder they look so good!)
So contrary to what it seems, there are prominent people in history and today, who choose plant-based life, who all live right in the middle, of an active society.
Some of us may be looking at plant-based because of certain health conditions and at the same time, also want to find a community of people or other plant-based places, to support their lifestyles. And that’s where the world is going. To a growing community of plant-based people all over the world, who want to eat healthy, feel good and look good! Whether it’s once in a while, weekly, regularly to full-time.
At Good Food People, we are building a community who opt into eating better for ourselves and our planet. However often that may be. We want the same taste, the same goodness and the same convenience for plant-based foods.
We haven’t touched on sustainability in connection with PBD, as this is something we often think is separate from nutrition. But the better we take care of ourselves by choosing more sustainable foods, the better chance we have at receiving the nutrients we need from the planet, as it has a better chance or supplying us with the goodness we need, well into the future. No matter what your food philosophy is, a PBD can be part of your regular eating habits.
Salt, sugar, deep-fried and processed foods can be animal-free. But not all of it is automatically healthy! Like the controversial palm oil in South-East Asia, publicized to have wreaked havoc in the agricultural farming ecosystem in Asia. It is also used so widely in many products on supermarket shelves! After news started covering the damage of palm oil plantations to the planet, we begin to see newer products, like snacks making its way to us in Singapore. From lotus pops to dried pineapples, using more sustainable oil and less nasties. Paving the way for a better plant-based experience.
Notes from The Nutritionist:
A highly processed vegan or vegetarian diet that lacks variety is at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Plant-based vegan and vegetarian diets that include a B-12 supplement, local foods, and daily green vegetable intake are an excellent choice for optimal health for you and the planet. A PBD can take some getting used to but is not too difficult to follow since plant foods are plentiful and diverse. We are lucky to have a good variety of dining and grocery options in Singapore.
One of the reasons we decided to go plant-based at the Good Food People.