Dr. Achyuthan Eswar - Mar 22 2021
What is a plant-based diet?
Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns are those that focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and exclude meat or dairy completely.
Plant based diets advocate to maximise the intake of whole plant foods, including fruits and dry fruits, vegetables and greens, pulses and legumes, whole grains including millets, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and even mushrooms! Technically, though, mushrooms are fungi, but plant-and-fungus-based-diet does not sound nearly as cool as a Plant-based Diet!
Plant-based diets minimise or exclude animal foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, honey, and dairy products, as well as processed foods, such as oil, sugar, jaggery, white rice, maida, and alcohol.
History of the Whole Food Plant Based Diet
Tradition. Traditionally, most cultures all over the world have consumed mostly plant-based diets. Hunter-gatherers did mostly gathering, and hunted during times of food scarcity as a means of survival. Traditional Indian diets have been documented to have been 90-95% plant-based.
Plant-based Diet. Dr. Colin Campbell conducted the world's largest epidemiological study called The China Study. When he compared the diets and health status of rural Chinese to Americans, he found that that the top killers in the US, heart disease and cancers, were practically absent in China! His research showed that this was primarily due to their diet and lifestyle. Animal foods seemed to be the top dietary cause of these disease, so he named the healthy diet the Chinese followed, the 'Plant-based Diet' in 1982.
Definition. He quickly realised that this definition alone is not enough. By definition, chips and soda are still plant-based. So, he added another dimension to the definition and called it the 'Whole Food Plant Based Diet'.
Vegan Versus Whole Food Plant Based
Veganism has its roots in Ahimsa. Being vegan means you make a conscious effort to avoid causing harm to any animal. By definition, it does not have anything to do with nutrition. It just so happens that animal foods are both cruelty-causing and unhealthy for us, so both vegan diets and whole food plant based diets exclude animal products.
Vegetarian and vegan diets tell me what you DON'T eat, but they don't tell me what you eat. Vegetarians avoid meat, fish and eggs. Vegans avoid dairy products and honey too. But either could be consuming plenty of vegetarian or vegan junk food, oily food, or sweetened beverages.
On the other hand, a whole food plant based diet tells me what you DO eat - a diet rich in unprocessed plant foods. This is the diet that has been proven to help prevent, treat and even reverse diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease.
Which one is best to follow, veganism or plant-based diets? How about both!
Are plant-based diets healthy?
Research has shown that whole food plant based diets can help prevent, treat, and sometimes even reverse chronic lifestyle diseases & related symptoms, such as:
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Hypertension or High Blood Pressure
- Ischemic Heart Disease & Heart Attacks
- Breast, Prostate and Colon Cancers
- High Cholesterol
The least controversial advice in all of nutrition is that fruits and vegetables are good for you! When you eliminate unhealthy foods containing cholesterol, saturated fat, and zero fiber, and replace them with healthy whole plant foods that are calorie dilute, containing zero cholesterol, high fiber, low to zero saturated fat, and high in antioxidants, your body responds with great improvements in health.
Ways to Get Started with a Plant Based Diet
Learn. You may have a lot of questions on your mind when you first discover plant-based diets. Use resources like NutritionScience.in and NutritionFacts.org to learn about plant-based nutrition and find all the answers you need,
Increase your intake of healthy foods. A positive approach of eating more healthy foods like fruits and vegetables can work much better than a negative approach of avoiding unhealthy foods at the beginning of your plant based diet journey.
Choose healthy fats. Nuts, seeds and nut butters over oils. Learn water-based cooking and shift from oil-based cooking. It may seem impossible at first, but once you try making your favourite dishes oil-free, you may find that it tastes just great!
Choose healthy sweeteners. Sugar, jaggery and honey can cause a blood sugar spike immediately after you consume them. Most artificial sweeteners have been associated with higher disease risk too. The healthiest sweeteners are naturally sweet fruits and dry fruits. Try this homemade whole food plant based date syrup recipe to make your own at home, or try blackstrap molasses, both of which prevent blood sugar spikes and even improve blood antioxidant status.
Choose whole grains. Move over, white rice! Time to discover a whole range of amazing whole grains, from brown rice to red rice, black rice, whole wheat, and many local varieties of millets!
Green your Plate. Greens are often forgotten in your daily diet. Consciously add green leafy vegetables to your every meal. Greens like Palak, Dill, Coriander and Amaranthus are the healthiest vegetables we can eat!
Choose a Lifetime Lifestyle rather than a temporary diet. Join the NutritionScience.in 21 Day Plant-based Kickstart to learn how to cook your own Plant-based meals, or try SampoornaAhara.com Plant-based Meals for a convenient option to discover plant-based diets.