Are you interested in eating a more plant-based diet? I wrote this epic guide to help get you started!
What Is A Plant-Based Diet?
A plant based diet is just as it sounds – a diet that emphasizes plant-based foods.
…it is not necessarily a strict vegan or vegetarian diet.
“Plant-based” can mean that most of your diet is plant-derived, but that you also supplement your diet with eggs, fish, and small amounts of meat.
A plant-based diet should also be focused on unprocessed foods.
In a perfect world, all of our food would be made fresh (right before we eat it) with freshly-harvested ingredients. As fruits and vegetables are stored or processed, they start losing nutrients. For example, a freshly made soup will have more nutrients than a canned soup. A freshly made marinara sauce, made in your blender, will have more nutrients than a marinara sauce from a jar.
Unfortunately, I just don’t have that much time to spend in the kitchen. None of us do!
So as much as possible, I try to eat as many raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds that I can. I choose brown rice over white rice. I’ll buy quinoa over couscous. And while I’m not much of a bread eater, when I do, it’s whole grain (or sprouted grain).
And when I buy canned or package foods out of convenience, I go for minimally-processed options. If it has additives like food coloring, preservatives, added sugars, or anything else that I don’t expect (don’t put palm oil in my peanut butter!) – I don’t buy it.
When you grocery shop, read nutrition labels.
Learn how to build a plant-based diet grocery shopping list.
Plant-based diets are not just about eating fruits and vegetables!
Some people think that a plant-based diet is eating nothing but fruits and vegetables, or trying to subsist on lots of salad and leafy greens. This isn’t the case at all! There are LOTS of different foods that you can eat on a plant-based diet in addition to fruits and vegetables including brown rice, quinoa, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Best of all, you can use these ingredients to make familiar dishes that are much, much healthier than their processed counterparts because YOU control how much sugar, salt, and fat that goes into your food – and YOU control what is added (or not added) to your food. You don’t have that level of control with processed foods.
Eat locally and with the seasons (within reason).
A lot of people who promote a plant-based diet advocate eating locally, or eating with the seasons. I think that this is generally great advice, as seasonal foods are freshest and most nutritionally dense. And buying food that was grown/raised locally supports farmers in your own area. It’s fantastic for the local economy.
But I am also not at all opposed to eating bananas, pineapples, and mangoes (I live in Upstate NY), nor will I turn my nose up at frozen strawberries in January! Find a balance that works for you, but try to eat locally and seasonally most of the time.
Health Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet
I have followed a plant-based diet since early 2008 and it has transformed my health. With a combination of green smoothies and unprocessed foods, I have lost 40 pounds and my cholesterol dropped 45 points (it was flagged as “high” when I was just 23 years old). I have so much more energy in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I find that I can easily maintain my ideal weight.
Here are some of the key benefits of a plant-based diet:
Plant-based foods are packed with nutrition and fiber, yet they are not calorie dense. This means that you can eat hearty portions of plant-based whole foods without feeling like you are on a diet.
It is also very difficult to overeat since the fiber bulks up your meal so you automatically consume fewer calories.
Plant-based foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Making your own soups, sauces, and other meals means that you are eating fresher, more nutrient-dense meals.
Packaged and processed foods are less nutritious than their fresh counterparts because many nutrients diminish when processed and stored on supermarket shelves.
I’ll deep-dive into plant-based nutrition later in this article.
Most people report an increase of energy when eating more plant-based, whole foods. Part of this has to do with boosted nutrition as plant-based foods provide more energy-producing vitamins.
Another possible reason for an increase of energy is that this diet is easier on the digestive system. This frees up energy for other things.
Plants are high in fiber. Eating a plant-based diet makes it super-easy to meet dietary fiber intake guidelines every single day. This helps support gut and colon health.
Countless studies show that people who eat more servings of fruits and vegetables, and a diet that is higher in fiber, may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables (and fiber) also supports gastrointestinal health, vision, and helps meet nutritional needs.
Many fruits and vegetables, as well as some nuts and seeds, may contain components that have been shown to be protective or even mildly therapeutic for certain medical conditions. Diets higher in fruits and vegetables have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, while lowering the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
I could write a whole book on this as there is too much information to cover in this article regarding the health benefits of plant-based eating.
However, we have a section on our website that features recipes based on scientific studies that may provide benefit for or protection against common health problems.
Simple & Convenient (But Also Tasty!)
I hear this excuse a lot, and I have used it myself: “But I don’t have time to make all my meals from scratch…”
There is a misconception that eating a plant-based diet means that you will spend hours in the kitchen cooking everything from scratch. This is not the case at all. It really doesn’t have to take a lot of time to make healthy, plant-based meals. If you have the right recipes, you can eat healthy, delicious meals that take minutes to prepare.
Green smoothies are one of the quickest and easiest meals to make. Toss some fresh fruits in a blender with a couple handfuls of leafy greens, a tablespoon of flaxseed or chia seeds, and a scoop of protein powder and zzzzzzzzzzip! – breakfast or lunch in under a minute.
Here are 25 of the best green smoothie recipes that you will ever taste!
Whole foods snacks are quick and easy, too. Almond butter on celery, a piece of fruit, or my peanut butter cup pudding, (pictured above) take little time to prepare.
And for dinner? Planning ahead makes dinner a breeze. Did you know that you can cook up a large batch of brown rice or quinoa, then portion it out and freeze it for later use? I do this all the time so that I can make quinoa salads, maki rolls, and re-fried black bean-quinoa tostados in minutes.
If you have the right recipes and plan your meals, a plant-based diet is not only super healthy, but super convenient as well.
Big Picture Eating vs. Eating For Nutrients/Counting Calories/Carbs/Etc…
While there is a lot of conflicting health information out there – especially in the natural health movement, most experts agree that we all should:
- Eat more plants and plant-based foods,
- Avoid or limit processed foods,
- Reduce or eliminate added sugars,
- Drink water, coconut water, or tea in place of fruit juice or sweetened beverages,
- Move your body (exercise),
- Get adequate sleep,
- And try to eliminate, reduce, or manage stress that plays a major role in destroying your health.
If you follow these basic principles, you will be much healthier than you were before.
Instead of fretting about the quantity of calories and carbohydrates, focus on quality. Nutritionally, there is a big difference between a 100-calorie slice of pizza and a 100-calorie apple. And when you are not eating pasta and cookies, a high-carb, whole foods diet will result in weight loss and better health over the long term.
Instead of worrying about every tiny detail or chasing after “THE perfect diet”, take a big-picture approach. Keep it simple and sustainable.
But Isn’t A Plant-Based Diet Super Expensive?
A lot of people think that switching over to a plant-based, whole foods way of eating is cost-prohibitive. Just walk into any health food store and you will quickly get sticker shock when you see just how much organic groceries can cost.
Keep in mind, however, that you are not buying extra food on top of what you currently buy. Instead, you should be replacing unhealthy packaged, processed foods with healthy, unprocessed versions. And no, you don’t have to buy everything from the expensive grocery store that many have dubbed “Whole Paycheck”.
And let’s face it – most of the boxed and pre-packaged foods in grocery stores are, in fact, more expensive than a bag of quinoa or black beans, and even most fruits and vegetables. A frozen pizza provides 1-2 meals. But a bag of quinoa will make dozens of servings or more, and often, the bag of quinoa is cheaper than the frozen pizza.
Joining a warehouse club like Costco or BJ’s is an excellent way to save money while buying whole food ingredients. I buy a lot of my organic produce and pantry staples (rice, quinoa, etc…) from BJ’s.
Plant-Based Nutrition Deep-Dive
There is a LOT of confusion about nutrition and plant-based diets.
Some people say that a plant-based diet is deficient, while others say it is not.
And you’ve probably heard a few “horror stories” of ex-vegetarians or vegans who “ruins their health” because they went plant-based.
Below, I’ve outlined the important nutrients that you should be aware of on a plant-based diet.
But first, there are a few of the nutrients you do not need to worry about.
A whole foods, plant-based diet that meets your daily calorie requirements will provide ample amounts of vitamins A (as beta-carotene), B-complex (except for B12), C, E and K. You will also not likely need to worry about most minerals. That includes calcium, iron (for men), copper, magnesium, manganese, etc…
However, there are some common nutritional concerns that many people have in regards to a plant-based diet. So I will address them below, starting with…
Protein & Amino Acids
This is the #1 question that plant-based eaters get: “WHERE do you get your protein?”
My answer often surprises them. EVERYTHING has protein. Fruits, vegetables, brown rice, legumes, nuts, seeds – they ALL have protein. Yes, fruit has protein!
Not only that, but all whole foods contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that make up a “complete protein”. There really isn’t any such thing as an “incomplete protein”.
Sure, foods have varying amounts of amino acids. Animal sourced foods have higher amounts of certain amino acids like methionine and lysine than plant-based foods, but in a calorie-sufficient, plant-based diet, getting adequate levels of all essential amino acids isn’t hard to do.
As for “protein combining” (eating rice with beans in order to approximate the amino acid profile of meat), that is a myth that has been debunked for over 30 years.
In the 1971 book Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, she claimed that certain plant foods would need to be combined to make up a complete protein. By 1981, she had relaxed her position on protein combining, stating that: “In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth…” 1
A 1988 position paper on vegetarian diets published by the American Dietetic Association found that there was “no basis” for protein combining, and that “complementing proteins at meals was totally unnecessary.” 2
Unfortunately, the protein combining myth just will not die, despite being publicly dismissed as unnecessary by the original proponent of the idea way back in 1981, as well as numerous medical and dietary experts since then.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
The average adult man needs about 56 grams per day, while the average adult female needs about 46 grams (71 grams per day if pregnant or breastfeeding). 3 These amounts will vary based on activity levels. If you are active or play sports, you may need more than the base recommendations.
The standard calculation for protein intake recommendation for sedentary adults is: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. Active people and athletes may require twice this amount. 4
It’s pretty easy to get sufficient protein from a plant based diet. It’s not a concern for those who supplement their diet with animal-sourced foods. It’s not a concern for lacto-ovo vegetarians (vegetarians who consume milk and eggs). It’s not much of a concern for vegans who follow a whole foods diet.
Problems with protein intake occur in plant-based diets when the diet is pushed to an extreme such as in strict fruitarian diets, extremely low-calorie weight loss diets (anything under 1500 calories per day for most people), or vegan diets that are based largely on processed foods. In these circumstances, it is possible to get insufficient protein that may result in inadequate levels of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
Protein Sources On A Plant-Based Diet Include: Nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Everything has protein.
Okay, I’ve tackled protein. Let’s move on to calcium.
I haven’t had a glass of milk in well over a decade. I am not the least bit concerned about the health of my bones. The reason is that dairy is not the only source of calcium in the diet. It’s not necessarily the healthiest. In my experience, people who go dairy-free have a much easier time losing weight and keeping that weight off long term.
According to established dietary calcium intake guidelines, adults and children aged 4 and older should get 1000 milligrams of calcium each day.
There is no evidence that strictly plant-based diets require lower levels of dietary calcium (or other nutrients). While some prominent adherents to alternative diets claim that scientifically established nutrient intake guidelines are inflated, or that a cleaner diet requires lower amounts of certain nutrients, it is dangerous to reduce nutrient intake to below recommended levels over the long term.
It’s actually pretty easy to get sufficient calcium from calcium-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Calcium fortified plant milks (such as almond milk) makes it even easier.
Coconuts for Calcium: Young Thai coconuts are rich sources of calcium with the average coconut providing 10-17% RDA (recommended daily allowance) of calcium.
Crack one open and drink the sweet, refreshing coconut water and relish the soft, crunchy coconut meat! I add coconuts to smoothies, eat them on their own or slice the coconut meat into noodles and make interesting coconut noodle dishes! The meat of young coconuts is the consistency of hard boiled egg white.
Dark leafy green vegetables are an excellent source of calcium. The most mineral-rich leafy greens are dandelion greens and kale.
- Dandelion Greens (per 2 cups – 110 grams – chopped): 206 mg (20% RDA)
- Kale (per two cups – 134 grams- chopped): 181 mg (18% RDA)
- Bok Choy/Pak Choi (per two cups – 140 grams – shredded): 147 mg (14% RDA)
- Italian Parsley (per one cup – 60 grams – chopped): 83 mg (8% RDA)
- Spinach (per two cups – 60 grams – chopped): 60 mg (6% RDA)
I make a green smoothie every morning and usually add 3 cups of these greens. A smoothie with just two cups of dandelion and one young coconut will provide as much if not more calcium than a glass of cows milk, and will provide much more nutrition, too!
Moringa Powder: Moringa leaf powder is a superfood that has exploded in popularity. As with many superfoods, its health benefits are a bit overhyped, but a typical 10-gram serving has 150 mg of calcium (15% RDA). You can add moringa powder to green smoothies, or incorporate it into recipes. Read more about the health benefits of moringa here.
Calcium In Nuts & Seeds: Just one tablespoon of whole sesame seeds has 9% RDA of calcium! Think about all the things you can do with sesame seeds and at the same time, fortify your meals with lots of calcium. Add ground sesame seeds to green smoothies, make hummus with sesame tahini, or use it in salad dressings! Add it to nut butters or find ways to incorporate them into other recipes.
Chia seeds are another excellent source of calcium. One ounce has 18% RDA of calcium! Add them to smoothies or make them into your favorite recipes.
Flax seed, while being a rich source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, also add calcium to your diet. One tablespoon has 3% RDA so as an added benefit to getting your daily fix of Omega-3s, you’ll also help to fulfill your calcium needs
Almonds are also high in calcium with 1/4 cup providing 9% RDA.
Calcium in Non-Leafy Green Vegetables: Yep, vegetables have calcium too. Some more than others. A cucumber will give you 5% of your daily value of calcium. Both celery and carrots provide 2% per stalk or carrot.
Sprouted Legumes: Chick peas (garbanzo beans) are a rich source of both calcium and protein with just a half cup providing 11% RDA of calcium. Hummus is also a great source of calcium as it combines calcium-rich garbanzo beans with sesame tahini, which is also a good source of calcium.
Fruit As A Source Of Calcium: Did you know that citrus fruit is a source of calcium? A medium orange will have about 5-6% RDA while one cup of papaya cubes provides 3% RDA, and a kiwifruit has about 2-3%. Snack on these fruits throughout the day or add them to your green smoothies!
Iron is another mineral that I am asked about frequently. Some people incorrectly assume that not eating red meat will lead to iron deficiency.
But here’s the truth. LOTS of plant-based foods provide iron. It’s possible, and very easy, to get iron from plant sources.
Iron Intake Recommendations: According to guidelines set by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Science in 2000, these are the iron intake guidelines for adults:
- Adult men & Post-menopausal women: 8 milligrams per day
- Adult women under age 50: 18 milligrams per day
- Adult vegan/vegetarian men: 14 milligrams per day
- Adult vegan/vegetarian women: 33 milligrams per day.
- Iron intake varies in children depending on age, as well as for women who are pregnant or nursing.
Why Are Iron Intake Guidelines Higher For Vegans & Vegetarians? The iron requirements for vegetarians and vegans are higher than they are for those on a typical diet because plant-sourced iron is less bio-available.
However, this does NOT mean that iron from plant-based foods is less beneficial. It just means that we need to eat more of the healthy, whole foods that support our overall well-being.
Iron intake is less of a concern for vegetarians who consume milk and eggs, or for plant-based dieters who supplement their diet with meat. Strict vegan men tend to have no problems getting adequate iron from a calorie-sufficient, whole foods diet.
Iron intake can be slightly more problematic for pre-menopausal women (generally, women under age 50) who follow a strict vegan diet, or who attempt to follow 100% raw vegan or fruitarian diets long term.
Since the dietary iron intake guidelines for for vegan women are so high (33 milligrams), it can be challenging to get adequate amounts if calories are reduced too low (as in an extreme weight loss regimen), or if food variety is restricted.
It’s a good idea for women to periodically track their iron intake to ensure that they are getting enough, and supplement if the need arises. It’s perfectly okay to relax certain aspects of your diet in order to boost iron intake if needed. For example, supplementing your diet with eggs, or iron-fortified foods, may be better than relying on iron pills long term.
Pro Tip: Do not calculate your iron intake based on percent daily values (%DV) that you see on most nutrition labels. These are set for 8 milligrams per day iron intake guidelines for adult, non-vegetarian men.
Many of the same calcium-rich, plant-based whole foods mentioned in the previous section are also good sources of iron.
Dark, Leafy Greens for Iron: Dark leafy green vegetables are an excellent source of iron, particularly dandelion greens and kale.
- Dandelion Greens (per 2 cups – 110 grams – chopped): 3.4 mg
- Kale (per two cups – 134 grams- chopped): 2.2 mg
- Bok Choy/Pak Choi (per two cups – 140 grams – shredded): 1.2 mg
- Italian Parsley (per one cup – 60 grams – chopped): 3.7 mg
- Spinach (per two cups – 60 grams – chopped): 1.6 mg
Moringa Powder: A 10-gram serving of moringa powder has 4 milligrams of iron. Moringa powder can be added to green smoothies.
Iron is found in just about all vegetables but fennel is especially rich with 1.7 milligrams in one bulb. One cup of chopped broccoli contains about 0.7mg. A medium-sized zucchini contains 0.7 milligrams of iron.
While no one vegetable is exceptionally rich in iron, it all adds up, contributing to your daily dietary iron intake.
Chick peas (garbanzo beans) are a good source of iron (and protein) with just a half cup providing 6.2 mg of iron! Hummus made from chick peas and sesame tahini is also a good way to get iron in a plant-based diet.
Lentils are also a good source of iron.
Iron-Rich Raw Chocolate: Certain brands of raw cacao can be high in iron. Sunfood brand is one such brand, but be sure to check labels and iron content will vary greatly depending on where it’s grown, and the variety of cacao used.
Dietary Iron in Nuts & Seeds: Sesame seeds are not only a great source of calcium per tablespoon, but they also provide 1.3 mg of iron too! Use them in smoothies, salad dressings or other recipes. A fourth of a cup of sunflower seeds provides 1.8 mg and the same amount of almonds gives you 1.3 mg.
Cashew butter is a particularly rich source of iron. Three tablespoons contains up to 1.6 mg of iron!
Strict vegans need to supplement their diets with vitamin B12. There is no way around this. There IS a lot of misinformation out there about vitamin B12 that can spell disaster. So here’s the deal:
- Plant-sourced vitamin B12 is an analog form, and not usable by our bodies. In fact, it may interfere with the absorption of usable B12 – which is a big problem if you are a strict vegan.
- Despite what you might read online, or even on supplement labels, there is NO usable vitamin B12 in sea vegetables (nori, kelp, laver), spirulina, chlorella, moringa, nutritional yeast (unless it’s been fortified with the vitamin), or any other plant-sourced food.
- It is highly unlikely that you will get adequate vitamin B12 by eating unwashed produce, or relying solely on gut bacteria somehow producing sufficient quantities if you are on a raw vegan diet.
To maintain adequate levels, eat vitamin B12 fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) or take a daily B12 supplement that provides at least 10 micrograms.
Our bodies synthesize vitamin D through skin exposure to sunlight. However, there are some factors that may complicate your ability to get adequate vitamin D from sunlight alone.
If you wear sunblock, have darker skin, spend most of your time indoors, or live in an area where long winters prevent you from getting sun exposure, among other factors, you might need to supplement.
For a light-skinned person, 15-30 minutes of full sun exposure on the face and arms each day will typically be enough to produce sufficient Vitamin D. Darker skinned people will need more exposure. Always be careful not to allow your skin to burn.
Vegans should be aware that there are two types of vitamin D. D2 (ergocalciferol) is free from animal products while D3 (cholecalciferol) is sourced from animal ingredients. While D3 is typically regarded as a superior form of vitamin D, recent studies suggest that D2 is as effective.
You can get adequate zinc from a whole foods, plant-based diet. While this mineral is lower in plants, you can get adequate amounts from a diet that includes plenty of zinc-rich foods such as:
Sesame seeds, black currant, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sprouted whole grains, crimini mushrooms, sea vegetables, basil, thyme, summer squash, asparagus, broccoli, peas, and mustard greens.
It’s a good idea to periodically track your food intake to see how much zinc you typically get, and then make adjustments when necessary. I use the Cron-o-Meter app to check my nutrient intake.
Selenium can be tricky if foods such as Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, or mushrooms (crimini, shiitake and some varieties of portobello) are not regularly consumed.
Brazil nuts are exceptionally rich in selenium, with just one nut providing well over 100% of your daily value of selenium.
Getting adequate iodine is not just a concern for plant-based dieters. Both plant-based dieters and omnivores alike are at risk of iodine deficiency if they do not eat iodine-rich, or iodine-fortified, foods.
In the 1920s, there was an initiative in the United States to fortify table salt with iodine to combat the prevalence of goiter (enlarged thyroid resulting from iodine deficiency). Today, iodized table salt is sold in all supermarkets, and iodine deficiency is rare.
If you do not use iodized table salt, then you should incorporate sea vegetables into your plant-based diet.
Iodine is plentiful in sea vegetables like kelp and dulse, but not found in most other foods. Just one teaspoon of dulse flakes provide more than a day’s supply of this mineral. Add to salads, soups, or other meals. (I order my dulse flakes from Amazon.com.)
Sea salt is not typically iodized, although some brands are. While an all-natural sea salt may contain trace amounts of iodine, I do not recommend relying on it solely for dietary iodine.
DHA/EPA Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Typically found in fish oils, these long-chain fatty acids are converted in the body from Alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in flax seeds.
However, your body’s ability to convert ALA to DHA and then to EPA is inefficient. Long term vegans who rely solely on flaxseed or chia seeds may want to consider supplementing with a vegetarian DHA/EPA supplement. Supplementation may be more important for children or teenagers who eat vegetarian diets, or for women who are pregnant or nursing.
I have used Opti-3 brand algae oil supplements, which is a vegan-friendly alternative to fish oils. It contains oil extracted from organically grown algae which is where fish get their Omega 3s from.
How To Avoid Nutrient Deficiencies & Other Problems On A Plant-Based Diet
Get sufficient calories. The number one cause of failure on a plant-based (or any) diet is insufficient calories. I know that you’re anxious to lose weight. We ALL want to be slim and sexy now. Not in a week, or a month, or a year.
BUT – severely restricting calories sabotages your metabolism, making it more difficult (if not impossible) to lose weight or maintain weight loss. Hunger sets you up for cravings and binging.
Plus, consuming fewer than 1500 calories per day for a woman, and fewer than 1800 per day for a man, without supplementation, can lead to inadequate nutrition over the long term.
Do not eliminate fat. I like to keep my fat intake at around 15-20% of my total calories. That works great for me. I do not recommend reducing fat intake to less than 10% of total calories – particularly for women.
Do not go too extreme with your diet. It is not necessary to become a 100% raw food vegan in order to be healthy. Fruitarianism ins’t necessarily the solution for weight loss. The more strict the diet, the easier it is to get tripped up by nutritional problems.
Just keep things simple: Plant-based, whole foods, low fat.
If something doesn’t feel right or balanced, modify your diet. Never follow dietary recommendations if they just don’t feel right to you. Never accept statements from a health guru who preaches “the one true diet for humanity”. There is no such thing.
I know what works for my body. I have been following a plant-based diet since 2009 (that’s 8 years as of this writing!) You may need slightly more protein than I do. Maybe your body does better with a little more (or less) dietary fat. It’s cool. We’re all different, and so it’s okay to make changes.
Start with my recommendations, but feel free to tweak them to suit your own needs.
What About Anti-Nutrients (fructose, oxalic acid, phytates) Found In Plant-Sourced Foods?
I can sum this up in three words: Not A Concern.
Sadly, there is a LOT of alarmism in the natural health movement. Every week it seems, there is a new blog post out there extolling the health devastating effects of otherwise healthy foods such as kale, nuts, beans, whole grains, fruit, quinoa, brown rice, etc… I’m serious!
It’s crazy, and inaccurate. So please do not fall for the hyped up “this healthy food is actually destroying your health” nonsense that you encounter in the fringes of the health blogosphere.
The reality is that the so-called “anti-nutrients” in certain foods actually provide health-protecting benefits, and do not cause problems in healthy individuals.
When you are eating a plant-based, whole foods diet, it is unnecessary to worry about components of the foods you eat. You’re not eating parts of food. You’re eating whole foods, as your body was intended to.
If something you have read on a blog, or in a book, concerns you, then read more about oxalic acid (oxalates), phytates, fructose and fruit sugar, and kale’s effects on thyroid function (it has no effect unless you already have a compromised thyroid).
In short, none of the so-called “anti-nutrients” in whole foods pose any threat to healthy individuals.
Do I Need A MultiVitamin?
I’ll conclude this plant-based nutrition primer with my thoughts on multivitamins.
Multivitamins are a controversial topic. Some medical professionals recommend them, while others feel that a healthy, balanced diet will provide all of the nutrients we need.
There is research suggesting that multivitamins don’t do much for us anyway. We certainly do not need the extra beta-carotene, vitamin C, most B-vitamins, vitamins E, K, and most minerals supplied by these pills IF our diets are healthy and balanced.
Some natural health bloggers suggest that vitamin pills are unnatural or dangerous, and we know that large doses of certain vitamins can be toxic, although not in the amounts found in a typical multivitamin supplement.
Based on my research, a daily multivitamin is not dangerous, and I don’t know of any studies suggesting that they are.
A daily multivitamin is probably unnecessary for somebody following a calorie-sufficient, plant-based diet. It can be taken every day, or a few times per week for peace of mind. I see no problem with that.
A multivitamin may be necessary for people who are losing weight on a low-calorie diet. Consuming fewer than 1500 calories per day over the long term may require supplementation of certain nutrients.
If you are concerned about nutritional deficiencies, then use an app like Cron-o-Meter to track your nutrient intake, and then either modify your diet, or supplement with specific nutrients where needed.
A plant-based diet isn’t extreme. It doesn’t put you at any more risk of nutritional deficiencies than the so-called Standard Western (or American) Diet, unless you take it too far, or severely reduce calories. The typical western diet has plenty of risks – excess saturated fat, excess calories, low fiber, added sugars, to name a few.
So the next time somebody looks at your plate with bewilderment about your “lack of protein”, or can’t understand how you’ll still have a skeleton if you don’t drink milk, just smile and tell them about all of the nutrient-rich foods that you eat every single day.
1 – Lappé, Frances Moore (1981) Diet for a Small Planet, ISBN 0-345-32120-0
2 – Young VR, Pellett PL (1994). “Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 59 (5 Suppl): 1203S–1212S. PMID 8172124.
3 – “Dietary reference intakes: macronutrients” (PDF). Institute of Medicine.
4 – Lemon, Peter (2000). “Beyond the Zone: Protein Needs of Active Individuals”. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 19 (5): 513–521. doi:10.1080/07315724.2000.10718974. PMID 11023001.