Plant-based diets are heralded by a growing number of health experts but tend to find plenty of skeptics in the meat lover’s crowd. We sat down with Cheryl Chao, a registered dietitian at Lutheran Medical Center, to get the scoop and debunk five common myths around plant-based eating.
Myth #1: “Plant-based” is just a new way of saying vegetarian.
Plant-based doesn’t mean meat-free. Although there is no official definition, a plant-based diet simply means a diet that contains more whole, unprocessed foods that come directly from plants. In other words, meat doesn’t take center stage. Meat can be used as a side dish or flavoring. This is a shift away from the traditional Western diet that is low in fiber and high in meat, fat, saturated fat and sodium. Vegetarian and vegan diets are two forms of plant-based diets. There are also Ovo-lacto vegetarians, who consume eggs and dairy in addition to plants. Pescatarians eat fish with their plant-based diet. The Mediterranean diet and DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) are also plant-based diets.
Myth #2: I’ll always be hungry.
A healthy plant-based, whole foods diet contains much more than just vegetables. It also contains whole grains, fruits, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), seeds and nuts, and sometimes meats, eggs and dairy. If done right, it is very satisfying and contains a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It also contains a healthy amount of fiber. Fiber, as well as fat, can delay the emptying of your stomach and make you feel fuller longer.
Myth #3: I won’t get enough protein if I don’t eat lots of meat.
Tell that to a hulking gorilla or a 13,000-pound elephant! Those are two very large and strong animals that only eat vegetation. When consuming a variety of whole, unprocessed grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, it’s quite easy to fulfill your protein requirements. Legumes, whole grains, vegetables, seeds and nuts all contain some protein. Based on calories, spinach contains more protein than beef. If you choose to avoid all meat or dairy, be sure to consume at least five servings of whole grains per day, three or more servings of vegetables and two to three servings of legumes. Eat a handful of nuts and seeds as well.
Myth #4: Vegetables are too pricey for my budget.
Meat and dairy are pricier. To stay in your grocery budget, go with what’s in season and what’s on sale when determining you menus. Don’t forget frozen vegetables are often the healthiest because they are picked and flash-frozen within hours as compared to “fresh” veggies that may be several days old by the time they reach the shelves. Without purchasing much meat or dairy, you will have more money to spend on your rainbow of colors. Legumes are inexpensive as well.
Myth #5: A plant-based diet can’t be that much healthier.
According to numerous peer-reviewed medical studies, a plant-based diet supports a reduced risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and obesity. It is lower in saturated fat, trans fat and calories and higher in fiber and phytochemicals than the Standard American Diet (SAD). Most people who switch to a healthy plant-based diet lose weight. These diets are now lower in processed foods and higher in natural fiber, which contributes to fullness without the additional calories from high fat, high sodium foods. Many patients in the outpatient and cardiac rehab setting have shared they feel better with more energy on a plant-based diet.