Time and time again, inquiring minds ask, how can I assure I am getting all that I need while consuming a plant based diet? This includes macronutrients, micronutrients, fats, etc.
I think one challenge that most of us have is that although we know the truth (at least somewhat) about what types of food we should be eating (I’m assuming that’s why you’re here), we have still been conditioned by advertising and USDA food guide pyramids as primary resources when selecting the food that fills our diet.
The biggest shift that needs to take place is our reliance on processed food – shelf food does not equal health food. Rather than resorting to fast foods and those heavily laden with preservatives, let’s turn our focus to the garden; home cooked meals that are centered around the family.
…Ok, I know what most of you are asking yourselves, what world does this woman live in?!
People are busy, who has time to garden and turn crops into food in the kitchen? (If this is your goal but you struggle to find the time, let me know and we can discuss how to make this kind of time.)
Anyways, how do we focus on a diet that is going to provide all the nutrients we need, yet is primarily plant based? As individuals we are unique, meaning what works for me isn’t necessarily going to 100% agree with your body’s chemistry, genetics and digestion. However, we can use our intuition to construct a diet that will work based on our needs, likes/dislikes, allergies, etc.
I recently incorporated Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Dr. Elson M. Haas into my arsenal of resources that I reference when educating people on nutrition and the lifestyle changes that can be made to improve their overall wellness. This book is a nutritional guide, that not only explores the vast array of diets, it also examines differences among cultures and their consumption habits, lifestyle influences on eating routines, and much more. Of this manual, and much in alignment with my practices, is the mention that “A diet based on complex carbohydrates has been the native or traditional diet throughout the world for the past 1,000 years.” (p 493). This way of eating is high in nutrients and low in calories and a bonus is the substantial fiber intake!
Is this the best source for achieving balance?
What I am personally drawn to is the high nutrient intake and substantial amount of fiber. I think this is significant when eating for longevity, and besides I hate trying to calculate macros. I don’t have time for that, and I know most others don’t either. But macros are another matter that we have been conditioned to focus on. Additionally, I don’t consider this the most bountiful way to reach optimal health. There is so much more to food than just macros, granted I completely understand if you have specific goals, such as a fitness competition – then macros are most definitely important.
Common Concerns while Eating Plant Based
- Fat – A concern either because people think they are consuming too much or not enough. Keep in mind that fat typically has more than twice the calories of protein and carbohydrates.
- Protein – A common misconception is that we need more protein. In fact, we can consume much less and remain healthy. Again, if we are eating a balanced meal then it is unlikely there is a protein deficiency.
Tips to assure a well balanced plant basted diet:
- At least 80% of your diet should consist of fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
- Eat seasonally. When we eat seasonally our bodies align with nature. You can also argue that our bodies need different nutrients at different times throughout the year. Eating seasonally allows for us to also choose the freshest foods.
Recently, I posted in my Facebook lifestyle group that one rule I have for myself when wanting a snack is to grab fresh first. This means that I will find some sort of produce to satisfy my immediate hunger. This helps when you have produce in the house and you want to eat it before it goes bad! Fruit is typically pretty easy to grab and eat (after it is rinsed), and with veggies I’ll steam a batch (green beans, asparagus, etc.) to have in the fridge so that I can eat them with hummus or cashew cream cheese.
Through the consumption of fresh foods, what we are trying to obtain are the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and phytonutrients that our bodies need (in addition to the most commonly considered macros and micros). Again this goes back to the 80% of what our diet should consist of. Fresher foods typically having higher amounts of these nutrients, whereas foods that are treated and stabilized for shelf life lack many of the vital nutrients our bodies need. When I refer to treated, this also means chemically. Foods that are treated have been shown to have less nutrient content (Haas, 296).
Balance comes in various approaches. The lifestyle that works for my family and I consists 80% of fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. If you are an omnivore, you choose to add fish (saltwater/freshwater), eggs, dairy, and other meats/seafood.
If you are incorporating a variety of fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, yet you aren’t feeling your best, then consider whether to seek the guidance of a nutritionist to help evaluate your consumption. I find value in having your blood panel checked occasionally, especially if you aren’t feeling your best. This can help determine not only if you are receiving enough nutrients, but also if your body is properly absorbing the nutrients you are ingesting. It is possible that you may be missing key micronutrients, possibly detracting from reaching a level of optimal wellness.
In part two of the Finding Balance in Plant Based Nutrition series, I will cover food combining and rotation, as well as providing an idea of foods that are known to help with absorption.