Plant-based diet? Sure, but first understand what it means.


Plant-based diet? Sure, but first understand what it means.

 August 9 at 7:00 AM
The concept of eating a “plant-based” diet is tossed around frequently, but it’s a label that can be confusing. Some people shy away from the notion because they assume that plant-based is code for vegan. On the other hand, it’s easy to think that eating all plants and no animals guarantees that your diet is healthful and nutritious. But does it?

The research in support of plant-based diets is bountiful, which is likely because of what they include — vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber — as much as what they don’t — excess saturated fat. But one limitation of much of that research is that it defines “plant-based” as vegetarian. Plant-based diets can take many forms, from vegan to vegetarian to flexitarian to omnivore. The common denominator is that they make plant foods the focal point of the plate. If you choose to eat animal foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy, they play smaller, supporting roles.

The other limitation is that the research tends to treat all plant-based diets equally, without regard to food quality. The fact is that many people focus on avoiding certain foods but are blind to whether the rest of their diet is nutritionally adequate. This is one of the perils of demonizing specific foods — no one food makes or breaks a diet, and it’s your overall eating pattern that matters most for health and well-being.

That’s not the message you get from many of the recent plant-based diet “documentary” (in other words, propaganda) films. The latest, “What the Health,” blames animal foods for every ill known to man and woman. While excessive amounts of animal protein and fat aren’t good for us, that doesn’t mean that moderate amounts in the context of a plant-rich diet are harmful. An excessive amount of anything isn’t good — even water — and a cupcake is a cupcake, even if it’s vegan.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology seems to agree. It found that when it comes to the plants you eat, quality does count — and omnivores have a place at the plant-based table, too.

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