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Plant-based: What is it, Who Should Do it, and Who Shouldn't?

 

By: Dr. Melissa Cugliari

 

Plant-based eating is becoming more and more popular because of its numerous health benefits ranging from improved digestion, immunity, hormone balance, and energy levels. It assists with disease prevention, can improve your quality of life, and help to alleviate symptoms from chronic disease. 

 

This type of diet looks slightly different depending on the healthcare provider you speak to, but overall research suggests that eating more plants, fewer animal products, and very limited processed ingredients yields better health and less disease. While many public health departments have begun to suggest a plant-based diet in their local food guides (link to my local food guide here: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/), it is important to observe this diet correctly in order to receive the benefits. 

 

A plant-based diet consists of natural foods - in other words, foods that have undergone minimal processing and are as close to how they are found in nature. This diet also encourages consuming fresh spring water or filtered water. 

 

Vegetables and fruits are the foundation of this diet, followed by grains and legumes. It is recommended that you consume eight servings of vegetables per day, or approximately four cups. The more variety in colour, the more nutrient variability you will achieve. Around half of your plate at lunch and dinner should consist of vegetables. Approximately 1-2 cups of fresh fruit per day and 1-2 cups of whole grains (brown or wild rice, quinoa, millet, etc.) are encouraged. Healthy fats from plant sources are recommended, such as raw nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, avocado oils, flaxseed and flaxseed oils. 

 

Protein should be included with each meal, but it is important that the sources are varied. Plant-based sources like chickpeas and lentils are excellent sources of protein as well as other nutrients like fibre and minerals - these should be included in the diet several times per week. Animal and marine sources of protein are also included in this diet, but more rarely and in smaller portions. You are encouraged to look at the sources of these products. It is best if dairy, eggs, and meats are sourced from animals that are locally raised on organic, clean diets (grass-fed beef, grain-fed poultry) and are not given antibiotics. Fish are ideally wild and sustainably caught. Lastly, it's recommend to choose animals & fish that were ethically treated.

 

Evidence is continuously emerging that supports the benefits of this type of diet to all individuals, regardless of age or health status. Whether you are a young man or woman in good health, are of advanced age, or are suffering from a chronic illness like high blood pressure or cholesterol, cancer, autoimmunity, etc., this diet is fantastic. Ideally, each individual is consulting with his or her naturopathic doctor or licensed health care provider to determine how to further individualize this diet to suit his or her distinct needs.  

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