Why is a Plant-Based Diet so Important?

Fresh, organically-grown plants form the foundation of a healthy human diet—that’s Dr. Elson’s story and he’s sticking to it!  Basing your diet around plants, vegetables and fruits especially, is the very best way to insure that you have important nutrients, calories, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other compounds essential for a healthy life. 

When making food choices, consider all of the implications and costs for the environment, animals, and economy—and most importantly, your health.  For more information watch my UHC TV video.

Image  Our ancestors were largely vegetarian—at least if you can believe what the anthropologists say.  My theory is that plants were a lot easier to catch than other animals, so we started eating more of them.  The good news back in those early days was that plants contained (and still do) many of the essential nutrients we need to build and repair cells, create energy, and otherwise take care of our bodies, minds and hearts. This also relates to what is popular now, the Paleolithic Diet, eating the foods that came before the cultivation of grains, about 10,000 years ago.

So, how do we define a “Plant-based” diet?  A diet based largely (or in the case of vegetarians and vegans—exclusively) on plants includes a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.  Since there are many variations on this diet theme–some people add chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, and even red meat to their plant-based diet, but the key is that the vast majority of calories and nutrients are coming from plants, which derive their original energy from the Sun.  My book with Patty James,  More Vegetables, Please! shows people and families especially how to include veggies into all kinds of meals.

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There are many reasons people choose to focus on a plant-based diet. Some of these include:

·       Non-Violence: We may choose a plant-based diet because or our ethical beliefs for a commitment to nonviolence — both towards the animals killed for food and the human responsible for killing it.

·       Food Production: Many plant-based eaters have strong concerns about animal treatment within industrial food production systems such as factory farming.

·       Environmental: Evidence suggests that raising livestock (particularly factory farming) and industrial fishing have negative ecological impacts. Also many people eating a plant-based diet support organic, bio-dynamic and non-GMO food production.

·       Religious: Some world religions forbid meat consumption and/or limit certain animal products (such as abstaining from pork and shellfish to keep kosher in Judaism), which adherents then develop further into plant-based eating.

·       Health: Evidence suggests that a diet high in plant products can help us get and stay healthier. We know that almost 70% of Americans are suffering from ailments associated with dietary intake — problems that can be improved by adding more plants.

Image·       Economic: For many folks, animal products (especially non-industrially produced animal products) are too expensive; plant-based protein sources (such as dried beans) are often less costly.

A word of caution: 

Many individuals who choose a plant-based diet only plan their intake based on what they’re eliminating, which is animal products. But when people avoid or minimize animal products, it’s more difficult for them to get adequate amounts of certain dietary ingredients, including dietary protein and/or a host of other vitamins and minerals. So, it’s important to plan and institute a good balanced diet with whatever you choose to include. In 2009, The American Dietetic Association concluded that:

·       Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.

·       Plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals.

·       Vegetarians and vegans, including those who are athletes, “meet and exceed requirements” for protein… if their diets are well-planned.

Regardless of how you define yourself and your diet philosophy, including more plants in your diet can make you healthier, provide important nutrients, and possibly help conserve environmental resources.  What a Win-Win!  However, just being “vegetarian” or “vegan” does not necessarily mean that you will eat a better diet.

Image When following a plant-based diet, focus first on fresh and (where possible) organic/local vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Avoid processed meat, refined carbohydrates, and other highly processed products. Don’t consume junk just because it’s labeled “vegetarian” or “vegan”.  Learn your Labels!  Also be careful to consume enough vitamin B-12, calcium, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.

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