Posted by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training 0 Comment
A plant-based diet packs a lot of nutrition, thanks to an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.
Plant-based diets and plant-based nutrition are both terms that we’re hearing more and more these days.
While the terms may be new to you, the concept of plant-based nutrition is not really a new one. Plant-based diets are, for the most part, vegetarian in nature. But the definition isn’t a strict one. A plant-based diet really describes your approach to eating, rather than applying a label to you as a vegetarian or a vegan.
Simply put, a plant-based diet is just that: a way of eating in which there is an emphasis on plant foods in the diet. Adopting a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to declare yourself a vegetarian or a vegan. But it does mean that your diet will include plenty of nature’s bounty—in the form of colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
The benefits of eating more plant foods are well-known and numerous. Plant foods are nutrient-dense, which means that they provide an abundance of nutrients relative to their calorie cost. Fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains are terrific sources of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and they’re naturally cholesterol-free. Most contribute a fair amount of fiber, too, so they help to fill you up and keep your digestive tract running smoothly. When you include plenty of these nutritious, filling foods in your diet, it leaves less room in your stomach for less healthy fare.
Plant-Based Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats
Protein, carbohydrate and fat are the ‘Big Three’ nutrients, which is why they’re called the macronutrients. You need all three in the right balance in order for your body to function properly, and you also need micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. Different plant foods can provide these nutrients to the body, along with phytonutrients, which are naturally existing compounds in plant foods that are believed to contribute to health.
Most foods, from plant or animal, are not strictly proteins or carbs or fats, although we tend to think of them that way. For instance, the bulk of the calories in whole grains are supplied by carbohydrate, which is why you probably think of brown rice as a carb. But whole grains are also a source of protein, and they contain small amounts of fat, too. Some people think of nuts as a protein source (which they are), but they contain a significant amount of fat, as well as dietary fiber.
If you’re thinking about incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet, the following are the main sources of protein, carbohydrate and fat in the plant world. Since some foods provide more than one macronutrient, they are mentioned in more than one category.
When you think of a plant-based diet, you might be thinking only of fruits and vegetables, but beans and grains count, too, of course. And don’t forget those herbs and spices that you use to season your foods—they’re plants, too. Add up all the plant foods you eat in a day, and it’s possible you’re already consuming more of a plant-based diet than you thought.