Updated: Jun 15, 2021
Although the nutritional jury research continues to be "out" on what diet is best for everyone- countless studies inform and support the benefits of a plant based or plant rich diet.
One of the main reasons why nutritional science is hard to study- or hard to get a clear answer- is because we are all so different. We are all human, yes, but we are all exposed to different environments, medications, stress levels, and have different genes that may or may not become turned on by these factors.
The other tricky part about studying nutrition is that the long term studies can rely on human report and journaling. And let's face it- we are only human.
There are very few trends and ways of eating that do not include plants. The carnivore diet has gained some traction, but I just can't imagine promoting something that doesn't include plants. The anecdotal evidence seems "beneficial," but the logic isn't there- how does eating primarily meat- especially non-organic due to cost- provide a balanced diet? I am concerned about the toxin intake of patients consuming non-organic meats and dairy in excess in carnivore or even keto based plans.
There is a lot to be said in support of a keto plan- for some people! Knowing your genetics can help shed light to see if this plan would continue to be beneficial over time. Meats and dairy should be organic/grass fed due to the amount of toxin within fats. Some folks with genetic mutations such as APOE- 3/4 or 4/4 may not process saturated fat as well as the other mutations (think '90's trendy low fat diet- that actually IS recommended for those patients.) BUT, conventional physicians aren't ordering these genetic tests... Animals (us too!) store toxins in the fat within our bodies. We are what we eat- and if we are eating salami and cream cheese often we are getting the toxins from those animals.
Fats from plants can be chosen organically as well- and have some decent research on the toxins within. Avocadoes are almost always found on the Clean 15 list put out annually by the EWG. So avocado oil, in theory, would have much less toxin than non-organic, non-grass fed lard.
I'd like to encourage my patients to do away with the terms Vegan or Vegetarian. We do not need to label our diets! We can be thoughtful omnivores regardless of political party, title, or beliefs. We can all eat more plants and replace foods that may not contribute much nutritional value for other foods that do: (Think: swap cream cheese for hummus, cauliflower for rice, collard wrap for tortilla, mushrooms or walnuts for ground meat). These swaps do not need to be 100% of the time to help increase intake of plants, and make an impact on the earth. The foods that we eat benefit us over time. If we enhance our diet with some plant based changes 3-5 times per week, our body will benefit from an additional 156-260 plants per year. !!!!
So why are they so good for us?? Oh boy! How long do we have to chat? Ha!
1. Plants contain phytochemicals- which I like to call their superpowers. They have protective mechanisms within that help repel pests, provide sunscreen, etc. Their protective mechanisms also support our body and help protect our body. Many of these contribute to our body's need for anti-oxidants for all of the free radical toxins floating around in our body. Phytochemicals are often found in the colored components within a plant.
2. Second, our microbiome, the bacterial balance within our gut, needs to be fed. The preferred food source for the beneficial bacteria is- you've guessed it- plants! Plants contain varying amounts of pre-biotics that benefit the helper bacteria within our body. Pre-biotics nourish them, keep them thriving, and support the balance of good to not beneficial bacteria. The more variety of plants we consume, the more varieties of beneficial bacteria are happy.
3. Third, plants contain a host of minerals, vitamins, and fats. Seeds are calcium, zinc, magnesium, and fatty acid powerhouses. Greens and beans provide a vast array of minerals that our bones and blood need for balance. Orange foods contain high amounts of Vitamin A.
Whatever you want to call it- plant based, plant rich, plant focused, etc- it doesn't matter. We would ALL benefit from eating more plants. Here are some of my favorite ways to improve intake of plants:
Add grated yellow squash to scrambled eggs
Include pureed pumpkin in tomato sauce
Include pureed pumpkin into chili
Include pureed pumpkin into pancakes
Add riced cauliflower to ground meat during cooking
Add greens to all smoothies
Make "coleslaw" out of everything!
Soups are the best conduit-chop greens tiny for picky eaters
Have steamed veggies prepped in the fridge
Add cooked veggies to cold salads
Eat legumes daily- lentils, black beans, chickpeas, black eyed peas- so many more!
Roasted squash & beet fall salad
Garbanzo's, beets, sauteed onions, and pepitas.
Rice bowl with beans, cooked veggies, mushrooms, and my favorite- pepitas!
Fall kale broccoli slaw with apples and red onions
Persimmon Thanksgiving salad
Roasted squash and cashew pureed soup
The other awesome thing about plants is that time and time again, they are proven to provide many health benefits. When in doubt, eat a plant!