‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.’ Michael Pollan
Vegetables.co.nz presents a Q + A on plant-based diets
What is a plant-based diet and why is it good for us?
A diet focusing on whole or less processed plant foods is beneficial for overall health. It is fact not fiction. Plant foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, all of which are low in saturated fat, contain friendly fats, are a source of fibre and contain plenty of antioxidants and phytochemicals which help protect us from disease.
What is included in a plant-based diet?
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
What does less processed mean?
Eating foods as close to how they are found in nature as possible. Highly processing foods can add too much saturated fat, sugar and salt which is not beneficial for good health.
What are legumes?
Legumes include chickpeas, dried or canned beans [kidney, haricot, butter, black, cannellini and pinto beans], lentils and split peas. They are an economical and easy way to include protein, iron and zinc into your eating plan. They also contain fibre which helps us feel full for longer. If they are dried, follow the instructions on the packet. If they are canned, simply drain and rinse and add to soups, braises, stews, warm and chilled salads.
What are whole grains?
Brown rice, barley, wheat and rye are whole grains. Quinoa is technically a seed, but is treated as a whole grain cereal. It is also a complete protein. These grains are great matches with vegetables and there are many delicious recipes featuring the vegetable/whole grain partnership on our website.
Which nuts and seeds should be included in a plant-based diet?
Nuts – choose unsalted nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts. Check to see that they are dry roasted and not roasted in fat. Be sure to choose nut butters with no added salt.
Seeds – choose sunflower, chia and pumpkin seeds that are dry roasted [without any fat] and without added salt.
What are antioxidants and phytochemicals?
These are naturally occurring plant compounds. There are thousands of different phytonutrients in vegetables, usually in small amounts. Plants produce them for their own protection from insects or bacteria, as pigments for photosynthesis [energy production] and flavour. They are usually responsible for the bright colours of fruits and vegetables, and research is showing that these compounds may help reduce the risk of disease and promote health. Lycopene in tomatoes, beta-carotene in carrots and glucosinolates in broccoli are examples of phytonutrients. The most protective effect comes from eating a wide variety of phytonutrients as they occur naturally in plant foods.
Phytonutrients may work in lots of different ways to protect against disease and promote health. Modes of action that are being investigated include anti-inflammatory activity, boosting the body’s antioxidant defences, modulating gut microflora, lowering cholesterol, fighting bacteria and supporting the body’s immunity. For more about phytonutrients in vegetables, visit the Nutrition page on the website.
Are vegetables the basis of plant-based diets?
Absolutely! Wholegrains go well with vegetables to create yummy dishes. For a great selection of recipes visit the Recipe pages on the website and type in the vegetable you would like to use. The search will show pictures of recipes using the chosen vegetable. Many of the recipes are accompanied by ‘hands and pans’ videos which show how easy the recipes are to make for delicious results.
What is a plant-based diet?
There are many interpretations for a ‘plant-based diet’. It means different concepts to different people. At one end of the definition scale, it means eating plenty of plants and no processed foods at all [including oils] and at the other end it means including plenty of plant foods into an eating pattern which includes a small amount of a variety of animal products.
Some plant-based diet regimes:
People following this regime include small amounts of lean unprocessed meat and dairy products on some days and eat whole and less processed foods on other days.
This style of eating includes eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, olive oil, fish and small amounts of meat. It is known to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy people and those who have heart disease.
People following a vegetarian regime can include in their diets:
Lacto-vegetarians – milk and milk products.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians – milk, milk products, eggs and egg products.
Semi-vegetarians – milk, eggs and fish and/or chicken.
People who are vegans exclude any food of animal origin from their diet.
A word from vegetables.co.nz’s dietitian
People who choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet need to consider, and plan to include, all the essential nutrients they need. This includes the type and amounts of protein, iron, zinc [for those excluding dairy products] and vitamin B12 [for those excluding all dairy products]. Vegans may need to consider fortified foods or vitamin B12 supplements.
Do we need to switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet to follow a plant-based regime?
Many people just need to think about and make the effort to eat more plant-based food and less highly processed food every day.
The ‘take home’ message:
Whatever your choice of eating plan, eating plenty of vegetables is a must! Be sure to eat plenty of New Zealand grown vegetables for your daily dose of deliciousness!