I have to say that when I heard about the latest diet fad, the “Plant-based Diet”, I wondered if it would spike in popularity like all the other diets—the low fat diet, the Paleo diet, and so on. While many people still do follow those diets, and feel strongly that that is the diet for them, this particular diet struck me as very sensible.
What’s the plant-based diet? It’s basically what we’ve known all along was good for us: minimize the amounts of meat and dairy in your diet, and make the bulk of your diet be from plants. Also minimize highly processed foods, like bleached flour, white sugar, and refined oils.
What Plants Does “Plant-based” Include?
Let’s be a little more specific here. What exactly is the “plant” part of the plant-based diet? According to the web site, Forks Over Knives, it includes fruits, vegetables, tubers and starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. In fact, that site actually refers to it as the “whole-food, plant-based diet”, calling out an important distinction: this diet does not mean you only eat vegetables. They make the point that you’d have to eat a ton of vegetables to get the calories you needed each day.
In just the past week or two, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time looking at and thinking about the nutritional content of foods. A few months ago, I even tracked the nutritional content of what I was eating. The Forks Over Knives site suggests that in this diet, rather than looking at individual nutrients, we consider each food a “package” of nutrients. Then it’s about choosing a variety of good food packages rather than selecting, for example, nuts or beans to meet our protein requirements, oranges and grapefruit to meet our vitamin C daily requirements, and so on.
I’ll have to think about that a bit, but I suppose it does make sense. In our calorie counting, fat grams counting, protein grams counting culture, perhaps we get hyper focused on a single nutrient and forget to just eat sensibly, avoiding highly processed foods with sugars that send our blood sugar skyrocketing, or consuming too much protein, or sacrificing the fiber and vitamins we need to balance it out.
An added bonus of this diet? According to Wikipedia, many people eat a plant-based diet out of necessity: it’s far more affordable!
Variations on Plant-based Diets
In looking a little deeper, I was pleased to see that some of the diets that I’ve thought more highly of are actually considered plant-based diets. US News and World Report ranks 10 plant-based diets, and the one that I’ve thought was one of the best—the Mediterranean diet—sits at the top of the list.
In the list, there was also a diet called the Flexitarian Diet. That was a new one for me, but I love it for the name alone. Though I will say that putting the words “flexible” and “diet” in the same name seems a bit paradoxical. The word “diet” conjures up all types of images of rigidity and limitations. So maybe that’s why I like the idea of this diet so much. It’s less a diet than just eating the way I tend to eat anyway. Maybe we should just call it “plant-based eating.”
The Proof Is in the Salad Bowl
My latest salad recipe appears to prove the plant-based diet approach works. In my Mixed Garden Salad with Ranch Dressing recipe, by combining a wide variety of vegetables with minimal dairy and meat, a single salad appears to have a huge variety of nutrients without being overly high in calories.
As someone with a passion for health and nutrition, I know that I won’t stop looking at the nutritional content in food. I just find it too interesting to stop. That said, I will now be curious to see if over time, the salad recipes that I post to saladmenu.com, deliver a nutritionally well-balanced diet. A data-crunching project for the future, I think!
Have any of you switched to eating a plant-based diet, or have you just always eaten that way? If so, what are your thoughts about it? Please share in the comments section below.