Plant-based nutrition is a trend that can not only benefit health and wellness for people but also has many positive effects for the environment. Although vegetarian, vegan and plant-based diets have always been around, in recent years they've been receiving a lot of attention thanks to research that strongly suggests that they're not only a healthy way to go in terms of dietary matters but also in regards to the state of the planet.
Sustainability, pollution, climate change, carbon footprint, etc. are buzzwords frequently heard about nowadays as many become more conscious of how their lifestyle and habits not only impact themselves but also the world at large.
Films like Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy and Dominion have helped shed a lot of light onto the negative impacts of dietary choices beyond just health itself.
So if you've been curious about embracing a more plant-based diet, we've put together this guide about key plant foods, dietary tips and health benefits related to plant-based nutrition.
What Is Plant-Based Nutrition?
A plant-based diet is dominated by foods with plant origins. Among such foods are fruit, grains, vegetables, pulses, legumes, nuts, and meat/milk substitutes. Examples of the latter are soy products (tofu and tempeh), some quinoa products, and even foods made with peas.
People often interpret plant-based eating differently. Some on such a diet include small amounts of meat and fish but mainly eat plant foods. Such diets are called semi-vegetarian or flexitarian. Others remove meat but still have some fish. These diets are called pescatarian.
Some have no meat or fish but still have dairy and eggs. These are known as vegetarian. People who have no animal products, including dairy, eggs, etc. are called vegans.
There isn’t only one plant-based diet, but many from cultures all over the world. There are quite a lot of well-known modern diets that are plant-based including The Mediterranean Diet, the Vegan Diet, Raw Diet, etc.
Even though such diets may include animal products, to be considered plant-based the general consensus seems to be that non-plant-based foods should make up less than 10% of was is eaten overall.
Health Benefits Of Plant-Based Nutrition & Diets
In recent times, many experts have highlighted the benefits of reducing meat and eating more plant-based foods instead. Findings from numerous studies and scientific research have in fact demonstrated that there are multiple health benefits related to plant-based nutrition and diets.
Some of the key findings and benefits of studies conducted around the world that have shown that eating plant-based food can help:
- Lower blood pressure
- Keep the heart healthy
- Prevent type 2 diabetes
- Weight reduction
- Contribute to a longer life (enhance longevity)
- Decrease the risk of cancer
- Improve cholesterol
- Reduce the risk of stroke
- Benefit digestion
- Support the immune system
- Lower inflammation
- Brain health & cognition
- Increase energy
- Lower risk of osteoporosis
- Lower risk of kidney disease
By the same token, other research strongly indicates that too many animal products, such as meat and dairy, can contribute to health issues such as obesity, cholesterol, inflammation, and an increased risk of cancer.
Most plant-based foods by their very nature are alkaline. The typical Western diet which includes meat, dairy and other acidic food products has a major role in the high acidity levels seen in many people. Excess acidity in the body can contribute to many of the health concerns indicated above. Eating more alkaline plant foods can assist your body in balancing pH levels and as a result promote better health outcomes.
Other Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet
As already mentioned, plant-based diets are better for the planet and more sustainable. Mass farming has proven to be detrimental to the environment due to its need for large amounts of arable land to raise animals.
In many developing countries this has contributed greatly to deforestation. Much less arable land is required to produce food from plants than from animals. There is also an argument and evidence that suggests carbon emissions are much less from plant-based agriculture than animal-based farming.
Additionally, the destructive practices that accompany such farming not only negatively impact the environment, but also raise ethical considerations regarding animal rights. The films mentioned earlier also draw attention to the human mistreatment of other living creatures especially in regards to the meat, dairy and fishing industries.
Plant Food Groups To Include In Plant-Based Nutrition Diet
You can probably see now that there are a a lot of advantages to embracing a plant-based diet. So if you're considering transitioning to one it's a good idea to learn as much as you can. A balanced diet is important to ensure you get adequate nutrition by nourishing your body with the right type of vitamins, essential minerals and other micronutrients.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Like anything related to health, it is recommended that you also consult with your Doctor or other qualified health professional before you start.
There are such a vast number of plant-based foods that you may well wonder, which may be some of the best to include in a plant-based diet. The following section will help to explain this.
Just like the traditional "food pyramid" which most of us have probably seen at some stage, plant-based foods can be categorized into broad groups because foods in that group have similar yields of key nutrients.
For example, the key nutrients of the tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and legumes/beans food group include calcium and protein, while the fruit group provides vitamins, particularly vitamin C.
For nutrient requirements necessary for good health, you should eat some plant foods from each of the food groups daily but in varying quantities. At every meal, you don't have to eat from each group. Sometimes, it is sufficient to eat from each food group a couple of times weekly.
Key plant food groups:
Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients and most are naturally low in fat and calories.
In terms of nutrition many provide:
- Dietary fiber
- Vitamins A & C
Vegetables, themselves, can be divided into sub-groups, each sub-group having its own particular nutrients and benefits.
The sub-groups are:
- Dark green leaf vegetables ( cruciferous/brassica): Broccoli, spinach, kale, silverbeet, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, bok choy, Pak Choy
- Vegetables, where the root/bulb is eaten: Potato, sweet potato, taro, carrot, turnip, beetroot, onions, garlic, bamboo shoots
- Legumes/beans: kidney beans, soybeans, black beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Other vegetables not in the above three: tomato, celery, sprouts, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, avocado, eggplant, capsicum, mushrooms, cucumber, green peas, green beans (there is some controversy as to whether green peas and beans should be classified as legumes)
Fruits are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, high in fiber and provide a range of health-boosting antioxidants, including flavonoids. A wide variety of fruit is available to choose from all year both local produce and imported. Try to get fruits in season for value and quality. Seasonal eating gives your diet variety throughout the year. As with other groups, fruit can be put in sub-groups.
- Pome fruits: apples, pears, nashi
- Stone fruit: apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums
- Tropical fruit: bananas, pawpaw, mangoes, pineapple, melons, babaco
- Citrus fruit: oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, lemon, lime
- Berries: raspberry, strawberry, loganberry, elderberry
- Other types: grapes, passionfruit
Vegetables, along with fruit should make up a significant proportion of your plant-based diet. Different colors indicate differences in nutrients provided, so aim to eat a wide variety of different types and colors in order to gain the most benefit nutritionally.
Grains come from plants called "cereals", they're the edible dry seeds that are harvested with the purpose of being eaten or ground into flour to make bread and other food products such as pasta, noodles and pastries etc...Whole grains generally provide the following nutrients:
- B vitamins
- Trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper & magnesium)
The most common types of grains include:
Grains should be eaten in moderate amounts.
Nuts & Seeds
In addition to providing fiber, protein, and some vitamins and essential minerals, nuts and seeds also contain mono and polyunsaturated fats as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
Some of the most common nuts include:
- Brazil nuts
- Pine nuts
These are some of the healthiest seeds in terms of nutrition:
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Nuts and seeds are best eaten raw and regularly in small to moderate quantities.
High Fat Plant Whole Foods & Oils
Plant oils are derived from several different types of plants and provide primarily healthy "good" fats. Dietary fats have an important role for the body as they help to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. They are also key for brain and nerve function.
The most commonly used are:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
High fat plant whole foods and plant oils should only be consumed in small quantities.
Organic Versus Non-Organic
When you buy food, strive to get genuine organically produced plant-based food not just for the sake of your own health but also for that of the environment.
Over the past century the advent of mass agriculture in order to maximise yields and profits has meant that the majority of crop production has been subjected to pesticides and herbicides.
Unfortunately, by their very nature, not only are these chemically-based additives toxic to insects, fungi and other pests, but over time if regularly consumed (even in small quantities) can also lead to serious health problems in humans.
Produce that is most often pesticide contaminated and troublesome due to their leaves and skins also usually being consumed include:
Key Food Types For Plant-Based Nutrition & Diets
Balanced diets of all forms should include carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
These are essential macronutrients. In plant-based form, they provide energy and many other health benefits, such as dietary fibre. Carbohydrates are in all fruit and vegetables, bread, and other grain products.
Here are some carbohydrate-rich plant-based foods:
Technically a seed, but often classified as a grain, contains approximately 21% carbs, when cooked. Originating from South America, this superfood is also rich in protein, fiber, minerals, and other nutritious plant compounds. It contains no gluten, making it a good alternative to wheat.
Oats are a healthy whole grain food. In addition to being a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Oats are 66% carbs, with about 11% of this being fiber. Oats are also quite a good source of protein.
Bananas are a very popular fruit. They are also a great source of carbohydrates, being about 23% carbs, either as starches or sugars. In the unripe, green form, they have higher starch levels, which change into natural sugars as ripening occurs. They are rich in potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and beneficial plant compounds.
Sweet potatoes are a very nutritious tuber. These are a great natural source of complex carbohydrates with about 18–21%. This carbohydrate is a mixture of starch, sugar, and fiber. They are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants.
Proteins are macronutrients, composed of amino acids which are the "building blocks" of the body. The bones, muscles, cartilage, and skin of our bodies need protein for repair and growth. If you are determined to embrace a plant-based diet then make sure that you have an adequate protein source. Here are some good plant-based protein sources:
Tofu often called bean curd, is made from soy milk and can be almost silken, soft, firm, or quite hard. It is a good source of protein with a firm variety containing around 20 g of protein per cup. It has been the source of muscle-building powder for a long time.
Tempeh originates from Java and like tofu comes from soy. It is made by fermentation. Like tofu, tempeh is a good source of protein containing about 30 g of protein per cup.
Peanuts have all sorts of names: groundnuts, earthnuts, and even goobers. Despite the names, peanuts are not tree nuts. They are a legume, related to chickpeas, beans, lentils, and soy. Peanuts are also protein-rich. They have around 40 g of protein per cup.
In addition to providing protein, some types of mushrooms are particularly good for boosting energy, among these are Reishi, Cordyceps, and Lion's Mane mushrooms.
The final macronutrient is fat. While none of us want to be obese, we all need dietary fats which give energy, and are in fact, the most efficient source of food energy. They are a vital part of every cell, essential for the brain and help the body absorb vitamins. Fats are also important for the hormones, which regulate our bodily functions.
There are many plant-based sources of good healthy fats:
Seeds have the materials that develop into plants. As a result, they are extremely nutritious. Seeds are great sources of fat. They contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, They also have many important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some particularly good seeds are chia seed, flaxseed, and sesame seed.
Avocados are a large vegetable, which originated from Mexico. The avocado grows on large trees. It is a great source of plant-based fat. More than 75% of the fat in avocados is good fat with a mixture of both monounsaturated polyunsaturated fat As avocados are plant food their fat is considered an oil and not a solid fat. They make a wonderful substitute for processed saturated or trans fats.
Coconut is the fruit of the coconut palm, which grows in all tropical countries.
It is used for its water, milk, oil, and meat. They have been used in tropical regions for thousands of years but have greatly increased in popularity, not only for their flavor and uses in the kitchen but for potential health benefits. Research throughout the world has shown that coconut is a source of healthy fat.
Olive oil is an oil extracted from olives, which are the fruit of the olive tree. They are grown all over the world, generally, in warmer countries, Olive oil, particularly in its virgin form, is mainly fat but very good fat. Much research has shown that the fatty acids and antioxidants in olive oil are very healthy, offering many benefits to health, including reducing the risk of heart problems.
In addition to getting enough plant-based macronutrients, it's also important to consider...
Proper hydration is the absorption of enough water. It is vitally important for health. There are many reasons for adequate hydration. Here are three:
- Regulation of body temperature
- Delivery of nutrients to the body's cells
In addition to drinking water for body hydration, there are also many good hydrating plant foods, such as cucumbers, celery, melons, many berries, etc.
Learn More: 6 Alkaline Superfoods That Boost Hydration
Depending on your lifestyle, constitution and environment you may also want to add specific plant-based foods and nutrition to your diet that can help boost:
Energy & Physical Endurance
To function, we need energy. In the discussion on macronutrients, we mentioned fats and carbohydrates as sources. Rather than quick bursts of energy that result from the consumption of highly processed foods, people should use low-glycaemic-carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread, rice, nuts, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and legumes. These provide the body with a steady flow of energy rather than energy spikes and crashes, which will be the reward for using highly processed, sugar-laden food products.
Learn More: How To Boost Your Energy Naturally
If you are really into exercise, sport or do work that is physically demanding, you'll want to eat foods that in addition to providing you with sustained energy will also increase your endurance, stamina and performance.
The chemicals in beetroots help increase blood flow by making blood vessels wider and so assisting the delivery of oxygen. It helps with energy in other ways too.
We don't stay healthy for long with a deficient immune system. Our immune system protects us from infection. The immune system needs to be carefully nourished.
Fortunately, there are many plant-based foods, which help the immune system, such as vegetables, legumes( peas, beans, etc.), fruits, nuts, seeds, which contain the nutrients and antioxidants that help fight harmful pathogens. These are loaded with antioxidants that decrease inflammation. Also, these foods' fiber helps your gut microbiome, which is the good bacteria in the stomach This makes your immunity stronger. Here are three, which are very helpful to the immune system:
A dark purple berry and full of micronutrients, giving the immune system a powerful stimulus.
The active parts of this herb stimulate the immune response by interaction with cells of the immune system.
In addition to being a common addition to cuisine, this bulbous herb is also a frequent addition to supplements thanks to its immune-boosting qualities.
Cognition & Mental Focus
In terms of boosting the capacity of your brain through improved cognition, enhanced mental focus and learning, here are some plant-based foods that can help:
- Flaxseed, walnuts, and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Green Tea, especially matcha
- Turmeric: This herb has curcumin, which helps fight neuroinflammation and so helps all thinking, particularly concentration.
- Rosemary: This is another herb that helps memory and concentration
- Green vegetables
Supplement With Phenoh Plant-Based Nutrition
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To enhance a healthy balanced diet, Phenoh "SuperBlends" have been specifically formulated to help boost hydration, energy, immunity, and endurance for those times when your body needs them most.
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