Hit or Myth
The Truth About Plant-based Diets

January 2020 - Nutrition

Plant-based preferences are going mainstream, globally, because the benefits—for people and the planet—are undeniable. In China, people are encouraged to reduce meat consumption by 50%. In the US, 600% more people identify as vegan than three years ago; and 350% and 400% more, in the UK and Portugal respectively, compared to a decade ago. In Canada, our new Food Guide emphasizes protein from plant-based sources. Yet myths about plant-based diets abound. To get the facts, we checked in with Nicola Anderson, Education Specialist/RHN/ROHP, at plant-based nutrition company Vega.

What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

So many! Plant-based foods are nutrient dense (rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals), easily digestible since they are typically consumed in their whole form, minimally processed, and low in saturated fats. Plant-based diets also help Mother Earth with a reduced carbon footprint.

Also important is nutrient density—the nutrients derived from a food, per calorie. We’re not talking about calorie counting but bang per buck. How many macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbs) and micronutrients (vitamin, minerals) are you getting per calorie?

Plant-based foods are nutrient-dense because they have fewer calories and more nutrients per calorie.

What are the myths surrounding plant-based diets?

There are a few!

Plant-Based Diet Myth #1
You can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet.
Protein is essential to living and plays a variety of roles in our body—everything from tissue repair, to muscle cell and tissue development, and helping to carry oxygen through the blood for energy.
Every whole food contains protein in varying levels. When we say “protein” we’re also talking about amino acids—20 different ones—split into two categories:
• Essential amino acids only obtained from food, and
• Non-essential amino acids found in food and naturally created by the body.
While it’s beneficial to get protein from multiple sources to ensure a full amino acid profile, it’s not difficult to meet the daily recommended value on a plant-based diet. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain protein. Great sources are quinoa, beans, tofu, lentils, tempeh, oats, broccoli, and nuts and seeds.

Plant-Based Diet Myth #2
You need to drink milk to get calcium.

We often hear this, but plant-based sources of calcium are abundant and more sustainable, like:
• Dark leafy greens, particularly cooked collard greens, turnip greens, and kale;
• Chia and hemp seeds, hemp milk, almonds/almond butter;
• Broccoli, figs, and blackberries; and
• Tahini and molasses.

Plant-Based Diet Myth #3
Athletes can’t be strong on a plant-based diet.
This is possibly one of the biggest myths! To gain muscle, we must do two things:
• Work out to break down muscle tissue, and then
• Refuel/rebuild with high-quality protein.
Our body converts protein into individual amino acids to help repair and rebuild muscles—most importantly the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Leucine, in particular—immediately after a strength workout—helps to stimulate protein synthesis. Try a post-workout meal of a cup of lentils and at least 1 oz of pumpkin seeds. I’m also a huge fan of post-workout protein smoothies, to hydrate and get adequate amounts of BCAAs.

Types of Diets
Always check with a qualified health practitioner to make sure you are meeting your unique nutritional needs.

  • vegetarians exclude animal and animal by-products, fish, and shellfish
  • lacto-ovo vegetarians exclude animals; include dairy and egg
  • lacto vegetarians exclude animals, animal by-products, eggs; include dairy products
  • ovo vegetarians exclude all animals and dairy; include eggs
  • vegans exclude all animals and animal-derived products, including honey
  • flexitarians part-time vegetarians who also eat animals, dairy, and fish
  • pescatarians exclude animal and dairy products; include fish
  • pollotarians exclude animal and by-products, except for poultry
  • pollo-pescetarians exclude animals and by-products; include poultry, fish/seafood
  • fruitarians mostly raw fruit

Plant-Based Diet Myth #4
Plant-based diets are boring.

I couldn’t disagree more! Try new foods—colourful plant-based options are endless. Think about eating the rainbow; the more colours you eat, the more diversity in nutrients and flavour.

Get creative with herbs and spices—garlic, ginger, and citrus—to boost flavour as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

What’s your favourite plant-based dish?

Pretty much anything with or on noodles is my jam—a Soba Noodle Bowl is a staple in my house. It’s super quick to prepare, flavourful, and fresh. 

We interviewed Nicola Anderson from Vega.

Article was published in The Good Life magazine.

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