What is a Plant-based Diet?

vegetables

There is no set definition of a “plant-based” diet. The concept of a plant-based diet might range from exclusion of all animal products, to a diet rich in produce with inclusion of fish, poultry and yogurt. Some plant-based diets may also eliminate ultra-processed such as flours, sugars and some refined oils; only allowing whole or minimally processed plants. Plant-based diets have also been referred to as vegan or vegetarian diets or semi-vegetarian or pescatarian-vegetarian diets. (1) 

Plant Selection Matters

It is important to note that not all plant foods have the same health benefits. In fact, some plant foods may offer little nutritional benefit. (Potato chips, I am looking at you!) When it comes to the health benefit of good nutrition, it is the overall diet pattern that matters. In other words, it's not the occasional treat that impacts your health, but rather what you eat the majority of the time.

The Mediterranean diet eating pattern, which is rich in fresh, whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil and fish, seafood, with some dairy, eggs, and poultry, is the best researched diet pattern associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases.(2)

Benefits of a Plant-based Diet

tomatoes

Randomized controlled trials and epidemiological studies indicate that plant-based diets, particularly vegan diets are associated with lowering risk and incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated blood fats, type 2 diabetes, as well as reducing medication needs and supporting weight management. (3)

Plant Intake and Gut Health

A diet that consists of a variety of different plants rich in various prebiotics (food for our gut microbes) such as polyphenols, fibers, and resistant starch, is likely the best way to support a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. The microbes of our gastrointestinal tract play a key role in health and disease risk. A diversity of microbes appears to be associated with better health. Did you know that we each have our very own gut microbial fingerprint? Our diet helps shape which microbes live and grow best in our gut. (4)  

The American Gut Project, a crowd-sourced, science based data collection comprised of over 10,000 gut microbiome samples was co-founded in November 2012 by Rob Knight, PhD, Jeff Leach, and Jack Gilbert, PhD. The goal of this project is to improve our understanding of human microbiomes -- which types of bacteria live where and how they are influenced by our diet, lifestyle and disease. The American Gut Project data has revealed that the number of different plant types in a person's diet plays a key role in the diversity of his or her gut microbiome (the number of different microbes that reside in the gut). Study participants who consumed greater than 30 different plant types per week had greater diversity of the microbes in their gut compared to those that consumed 10 or less different plants. Greater plant consumption was associated with a reduction in certain antibiotic resistance genes as well. Being resistant to antibiotics can place us at greater health risk should we require antibiotics for an infection. (4) Just a couple more reasons, to up the variety of plants in your diet. 

My Favorite Plant-based Epicured Selections 

These menu items contain 6 or more whole plant food ingredients! Eating just 4-5 of these Epicured menu selections is an easy and delicious way to boost plant diversity in your diet!

Almond Energy Bites

Gluten free oats, Almonds, Unsweetened Coconut flakes, Flaxseeds, Dried cranberries, Peanut Butter 

Soba Noodle Salad

Edamame Soybeans, Soba Noodles (whole buckwheat flour), Red Cabbage, Green Cabbage, Cucumber, Carrots, Cilantro, Peanut Butter, Scallions

Casablanca Salad

Cherry Tomatoes, Quinoa, Grapes, Parsley, Almonds, Kale, Mint, Basil 

Stir fry (chicken)

Red Bell Pepper, Bean Sprouts, Carrots, Green Cabbage, Choy Sum, Oyster Mushrooms, Scallions (green tops only), Black Beans, Ginger

Moroccan Tajine

Tomatoes, Quinoa, Red Bell Pepper, Yellow Bell Pepper, Carrots, Parsley, Celery, Scallions, Celery Root, Parsnips, Thyme, Rosemary.

Warm Autumn Salad

Kabocha Squash, Quinoa, Lentils Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Kale, Parsley, Dried Cranberries, Pumpkin Seeds, Mint

Basil Pesto Spaghetti Squash

Cherry Tomatoes, Spaghetti Squash, Zucchini, Arugula, Kalamata Olives, Pumpkin Seeds, Basil, Chives, Pine Nuts, Parsley. 

Burrito Bowl

Brown Rice, Black Beans, Cucumber, Red Bell Pepper, Yellow Bell Pepper, Romaine Lettuce, Cherry Tomatoes, Red Radish, Cilantro, Jalapeno Pepper. 

Paella De La Huerta

Bomba Rice, Scallions, Eggplant, Zucchini, Green Beans, Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Parsley, Pine Nuts, Thyme, Rosemary, Carrots, Celery Root, Parsnips.

Original Granola

Gluten Free Rolled Oats, Quinoa, Dried Cranberries, Almonds, Flaxseeds, Coconut Oil, Chia Seeds, Shredded Coconut, Puffed Brown Rice.

'Super' Trail mix

Peanuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Pecans, Walnuts, Coconut Flakes, Sunflower Seeds, Raisins, Almonds

Here’s to eating more plants! 

 

References:

  1. Williams KA, Patel H. Healthy Plant-Based Diet: What Does it Really Mean? J of the American College of Cardiology 2017; 70(4):423-425.
  2. Sofi F, Macchi C, Abbate R, et al. Mediterranean diet and health status: an updated meta-analysis and proposal for a literature-based adherence score. Public Health Nutr 2014; 17(12):2769-82.
  3. Hever J, Cronise RJ. Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. J Geriatr Cardiol. 2017;14(5):355–368. Free access here.
  4.  Grieneisen LE, Blekhman R. Crowdsourcing Our National Gut [published correction appears in mSystems. 2018 Jul 10;3(4):]. mSystems. 2018;3(3):e00060-18. Published 2018 May 15. doi:10.1128/mSystems.00060-18. Free access here.

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