The Plant Rx

Your resource for a plant-based diet

Can a plant-based diet be unhealthy?

Posted by Jenn on February 10, 2011


Telling you that almost everything you do in life can be performed in either a good way or a bad way or can be done well or not well probably isn’t earth shattering news to you. .  Of course there are many variations in between but you get the idea.  The same is true with diets. Like any diet out there, plant-based diets can be complete, healthy and balanced or incomplete, unhealthy and unbalanced. Thus, merely consuming a diet free of meat and dairy products does not necessarily guarantee good health.  Now, before you stop reading in disgust, hear me out.

Don’t get the wrong idea , choosing not to eat animals or animal products is a great thing and does in and of itself confer health benefits.  That being said, not all products free of meat and dairy are created equal.  Let’s use soy & soy products to illustrate.  As a whole food soy beans are an excellent, high quality, complete source of plant-based protein and fiber. So are unprocessed soy products such as soymilk and tamari.  Furthermore, they are low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium.  A true super food!   Then there are processed soy foods.  Processed soy foods have become very common and are very appealing especially to the new vegan looking to shift the protein sources in their diet.  While they still may retain some of the beneficial properties of unprocessed whole soy they also have a much less desirable side.  They tend to be high in sodium, fat, sugar, and often have artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Although exceptions do exist, calling these foods “healthy” would be more than a slight exaggeration.

Another example would be eating refined (“white”) grains rather than their whole grain counterparts such as white rice, bread and pasta.  While, it is true that these are not animal-based products, which is good, compared to their whole wheat and brown counterparts they have less fiber, less protein and a higher glycemic index.

The whole grains haven’t had their bran and germ removed by milling, making them good sources of fiber — the part of plant-based foods that your body doesn’t digest. Among many health benefits, high-fiber foods also tend to make you feel full longer.

Refined grains, such as white rice or white flour, have both the bran and germ removed from the grain. Although vitamins and minerals are added back into refined grains after the milling process, they still don’t have as many nutrients as whole grains do, and they don’t provide as much fiber naturally.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at the following example:  A slice of commercially prepared white bread has 66 calories, 1.9 grams protein and 0.6 grams fiber. A slice of whole-wheat bread has 69 calories and provides 3.6 grams protein and 1.9 grams fiber. It isn’t hard to see which one is the better nutritional bet.

Lastly, those eating a plant-based diet should still be cautious about how much sodium and sugar they eat.  A food’s non-animal status does not preclude it from high sodium or sugar content.

Thus, eating a Plant Rx Diet is not a 100% money-back guarantee for exceptional health.  You still need to pay attention to your food choices, watch your portion sizes, limit junk and processed foods, and ensure adequate intake of nutrients.

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