Several types of diets claim a myriad of health benefits when put into practice. Plant-based diets have grown in popularity over the last few years to solve countless different health issues.
But do plant-based diets live up to their claims? While no diet or practice can single-handedly reverse health problems, plant-based diets can have many benefits when safely exercised.
To determine if a plant-based diet is right for you, you must understand what they are and what they can do for your health.
Types of Plant-Based Diets
Generally, plant-based diets focus on plants as primary sources of food. These types of diets typically restrict or limit the consumption of meat, poultry, and fish.
Different types of plant-based diets vary in how much they limit or restrict the consumption of animal products.
The vegetarian diet is the most common type of plant-based diet.
While vegetarians typically restrict consumption of meat, chicken and poultry, and fish, they do not restrict consumption of other animal products.
Animal products vegetarians consume include eggs and dairy products like cheese or milk. While these foods are not plant-based, they do not involve killing or directly harming any animals.
The vegan diet is one step beyond the vegetarian diet.
Vegans restrict consumption of meat, poultry, and fish, as well as all animal products. Cheese, eggs, and milk are off-limits because animals produce them, and vegan alternatives like soy milk, meat substitutes, and other plant foods are consumed.
Raw Vegan Diet
The raw vegan diet is one of the most stringent plant-based diets.
Like vegans, raw vegans restrict the consumption of meat, poultry, fish, and all animal products. They also restrict the consumption of whole plant foods that have been cooked beyond 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plants, which make up the raw vegan diet, must be eaten raw and as close to their natural state as possible. This is so that nutritional value is not lost to heat from cooking.
The pescatarian diet is one of the less stringent plant-based diets.
Pescatarians restrict consumption of meat and poultry; however, they continue to consume other animal products and seafood. This type of diet centers plants as food sources while accommodating seafood and dairy for their added nutritional benefits.
The flexitarian diet is a lot more lenient and versatile than other plant-based diets. It is most suitable for those adjusting plant-based diets or simply looking to reduce consumption of animal products.
There are no strict rules. Flexitarians center their diet around plants; however, they may still occasionally eat meat and animal products.
Benefits of Plant-Based Diets
While plant-based diets are not solutions to serious illness, they have notable benefits that may contribute to your overall health and wellbeing.
Studies have shown that individuals who partake in plant-based diets are less likely to be overweight than meat-eaters, according to BMI or body mass index.
Healthy plant-based diets center foods are low in empty calories but high in complex carbohydrates and fiber.
Increased weight can cause several health issues, including an increased risk of heart disease, increased LDL cholesterol, and high blood pressure. A plant-based diet can help individuals maintain a healthy weight and lower blood pressure.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Plant-based diets are associated with healthy blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity.
This is because plant-based foods are typically low in sugar and simple carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar imbalances and diabetes.
Plant-based diets can contain plenty of antioxidants and may lower cholesterol levels in the blood, promoting a healthier heart and cardiac system.
Most unhealthy fats are supplied by meat and animal products, which are limited or restricted in a plant-based diet. These fats are replaced by healthy fats that do not raise cholesterol levels or risk cardiovascular disease.
What Are Common Plant-Based Diet Concerns?
Despite significant benefits, plant-based diets can be harmful if not executed safely. Individuals need to be wary of side effects that can result from plant-based diets.
Plant-based diets can cause the following nutritional deficits:
- Protein, which helps makeup body tissue and provide energy. Beans, legumes, lentils, and tofu are good vegan protein sources.
- Iron and Vitamin B12 play essential roles in red blood cell formulation. Leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale can provide iron.
- Calcium and Vitamin D, which contribute to healthy bones and nerve function.
- Fatty Acids, which support heart health, keep you satiated and balance your mood. Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in nuts and flaxseed.
These nutrients are typically provided by meat and animal products, which are not included in plant-based diets. This can create a deficiency if enough plant sources are not consumed, leading to weakness or health issues.
It is important for those who practice plant-based diets to make sure they are getting enough of these nutrients in these foods. Supplements can also help ensure daily values of key nutrients like vitamins and minerals are being met.
For more support, there are many types of vegan multivitamins you can choose from. Not only are they made of vegan ingredients, but they are also catered to the needs of those who partake in plant-based diets.
Other side effects of plant-based diets include:
- Fatigue can occur due to a lack of essential nutrients in the body that help metabolize energy. A diet that restricts meat and animal products can inhibit energy levels, most supported by a holistic diet.
- Digestive issues can result from the consumption of hard-to-digest plant-based proteins.
- Anemia, a weak immune system, and a low red blood cell count can occur from a lack of iron and vitamin B12 in the diet, most abundant in animal products.
- Weight gain, which can result from increased carbohydrate consumption. Focusing on whole grains like brown rice or quinoa may work to combat this.
Regardless of what type of diet you choose to partake in, it is up to you to focus on eating healthy whole foods that will provide you with maximum benefits.
While plant-based diets can be very healthy and nutritious, not all plant-based foods are beneficial. Many types of high-calorie junk food can be considered plant-based and therefore allowed for consumption.
While plant-based diets can have many significant health benefits, they can also cause nutritional deficits and harmful side effects.
To safely engage in a plant-based diet, you must focus on incorporating all of the essential nutrients into your diet. Supplements can be beneficial with a plant-based diet.
It is always best to consult with a doctor before making any changes to your diet.
What is a plant-based diet, and why should you try it? | Harvard Health Publishing
Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets | National Library ofMedicine