Plant-Based Diets: Choosing the Right One That Best Suits Your Needs
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The interest in plant-based diets has been rapidly increasing for a while now. There’s a surge of people of various ages deciding to completely change their diets in the search for a healthy lifestyle. As veganism has become wildly popular, the options or rather varieties of plant-based diets have significantly broadened.
Although they’re all in the plant-based category, some of them are completely opposed to others; some are rather strict while others are not. On this post, I’ll be sharing some insights as to how they are similar and how they differ. Let’s have a closer look!
Let’s start simple. A typical vegetarian diet is also known as lacto-ovo vegetarian and its adherents don’t eat meat and fish, but they do eat dairy and eggs along with their (mostly) plant-based foods. There are even variations within this category: ovo-vegetarians also exclude dairy from their diets, and lacto-vegetarians keep dairy but exclude eggs. These are just small variations and a matter of preference, usually due to food allergies.
Vegans take the plant-based diet regime and take it a bit further (in comparison to Vegetarians) by excluding all animal products from their diets – including dairy, eggs, and even honey. The recent increase of people making the switch to veganism has mostly to do with activism and health concerns. For a classic vegan diet, it doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as it doesn’t come from an animal in any way, shape or form. The options are actually much wider than the average omnivore expects:
- All fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Grains and legumes
- Soy, tofu, even processed “faux foods” such as vegan cheese
- There is even a large variety of “vegan junk food” available
However, within the category of veganism, there are many subcategories which are much more restrictive.
Whole food plant-based diet
This diet is rather rigorous and it is actually aimed at weight loss and detox for someone who is used to an unhealthy Western diet. It focuses on helping the person get used to not eating fatty foods, so that’s why even nuts and avocado are recommended only in small amounts.
Foods that are allowed:
Whole, unrefined plants – This covers all vegetables and fruits in natural form (not juiced or blended), 100% whole grains, chia seeds and ground flax seeds as Omega-3 sources.
Foods that are not allowed (within the plant-based category):
- Vegan replacement foods (such as vegan cheese)
- Added fats such as liquid oils, coconut oil, margarine
- Any food or beverage with added sugar
- Fruit juice, even 100% pure fruit juice
Esselstyn Heart Healthy Diet
This diet is much like the previous one, but strictly without any high-fat sources such as avocado, nuts, and seeds. Another difference is that fruit is limited to 3 servings per day. It was developed by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn as a diet aimed at reversing heart disease and preventing its development and focuses on lowering blood lipids. You might have heard of him, as Bill Clinton was one of the people adhering to this diet after his quadruple bypass surgery.
There are similar variations to it, such as the “high-carb low-fat vegan diet” and the vegan diet that encourages starches, but this is the most approved one and the principle is the same.
Low carb vegan diets
Significantly different from most vegan diets which are typically richer in carbs, this type of diet focuses on a lot of protein, with vegetable oils and fats. It’s also aimed at weight loss and blood sugar control, via ketosis. It’s not so dogmatic in the sense that certain foods are allowed and others are not, but it’s rather just about encouraging low-carb meals.
Encouraged to consume:
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Plenty of non-starchy vegetables
- Vegetable oils
- Smoothies with berries, plant-based milk and added vegan protein powder
You might have heard of this one quite a bit, as it is a very popular approach among vegans and you may already know that Steve Jobs was one of the most famous fruitarians!
Encouraged to consume:
If you’re wondering whether any other food is ‘ allowed’ within this diet, the quick answer is that everything else is discouraged – including grains and vegetables! As you may already gather, the primary concerns usually brought up about this particular diet is its high fruit sugar intake and the lack of minerals and fatty acids consumption. It is rather extreme and there are no known existing studies that had actually proved it to be healthy.
The raw food diet refrains from cooking anything over 118 degrees Fahrenheit heat, arguing that high temperatures destroy the micronutrients in food. Some even believe that adding that cooking may produce dangerous chemicals. Some people even go 100% raw, using blenders, juicers, and dehydrators to prepare their meals containing solely of fresh fruit and vegetables.
An interesting take on this is high-fat raw veganism, also known as “Gourmet raw”. It’s just like the raw diet, but more on the fatty, gourmet side as it includes cold-pressed oils, heavy sauces, and nut-based desserts. Algae and sea vegetables are abundant, as well as dried fruit and grains and legumes (soaked and sprouted).
The nutritarian diet is also known as the “Eat to live” diet and it is one of the most flexible, safe, and well-accepted vegan-diets. It was created by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who wanted to create the most nutrient dense plant-based diet that is optimal for human health and supports weight loss (and keeping the weight off).
Encouraged to consume:
- All vegetables, the more colorful the better
- Several servings of fresh fruit daily, berries especially
- Nuts and seeds (also nut and seed butter)
- Mushrooms, onions, and garlic
- A cup or more of beans daily
It generally recommends limiting starch intake and recommends nuts and legumes over rice and potatoes. Salt, oil, added sugar, processed foods, juice and bread are discouraged. Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian weight loss program actually allows some animal products to be added in six weeks after adhering to a strictly vegan diet.
These are above are just some of the plant-based diets that one can consider switching to. As you may have noticed, many of them were actually created and patented by certified doctors. If you’re contemplating switching to a vegan diet, you don’t have to stress about choosing one, even if your goal is mostly to lose some extra pounds.
Remember that the most important thing is to listen to your body and consume healthy-balanced meals on a daily basis. You don’t have to go to extremes, just be mindful of what you’re eating, start slowly and see how it goes from there. Best of luck!
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