Plant-based foods: Research, please!

There seems to be a craze for plant-based foods, with manufacturers and restaurants serving vegan products tasting like meat having a wonderful time promoting them!

Alex Ruani, researcher in Nutrition Science Education, University College London and Chief Science Educator at UK’s Health Sciences Academy says: 

“Protein is known to be the most satiating of all macronutrients and helps to assuage hunger pangs and cravings. But it is easy to become fixated with the latest trendy protein sources, restricting your intake to the detriment of your health.”

(Bee, P. (2022, March 31). More Protein? How to Eat for Heart Health. The Australian.)

Whatever your reasons for not eating ‘animal food’ including dairy, eggs and fish, I hope you’ve done your research to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Protein is VITAL to the health of our cells, tissues, muscles, bones and skin – it even regulates our moods! 

Children especially need protein; it’s essential for their growth. And from the age of 60, we too need more because our bodies become less efficient at using it and muscle mass starts to decline. 

The authors of Eat Like the Animals in years of research found that compensating our natural protein appetite with calorie-rich, inexpensive fats and carbs where fibre has been removed, results in obesity: 

“High protein foods from a variety of animal (poultry, meat, fish, eggs and dairy) and/or plant (seeds, nuts, legumes) sources to both reach your intake target and ensure a balanced ratio of amino acids, will satisfy the protein appetite most effectively. 

“If you are vegetarian, which is no bad thing, you will need to make greater efforts to eat a variety of foods, given that single plant proteins tend to be less well-balanced in their amino acid content than many animal-derived protein.”  

(Raubenheimer, D. & Simpson, S. (2020). Eat like the Animals, pp.194–5. HarperCollins Publishers: Sydney.) 

Legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and grains, rolled oats and leafy green vegetables (better raw) must make up for the higher ratio of protein that’s found in dairy products, eggs, red meat, chicken and fish. 

It certainly is a challenge. But I fear that the hype – this ‘fad’ – is clouding our logic. 

Beware! Labs are producing plant-based foods (PBFs) at a rapid pace, claiming they are “natural” and “preservative free”. When you’re tired and hungry, and haven’t stocked up your fridge or pantry, you will certainly be tempted. Grab a frozen plant-based pizza? Why not? 

Protein bars and shakes are options only if you’re an active sportsperson. But check the labels: excessive sugar, sodium, additives, trans fats have a negative impact on the health of your colon

Heard about those restaurants serving PBFs with rave reviews? I tried an animal-free burger claimed to taste like meat on a doughy bun. It was much too salty and left me feeling uncomfortable. More nutritious and tastier is a cheese toastie on sourdough, tomatoes and lettuce! 

Personally, I believe an ideal diet should include raw fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and grains with a variety of protein rich foods sourced from eggs and dairy foods, meat, chicken and eggs. If you want a healthier alternative to red meat, turkey or chicken breast will give you high-quality protein, as well as many B vitamins and several minerals.

Any processed and preserved meat (or cold cuts) is not meat itself, and what you should totally avoid. It’s extremely high in sodium, with evidence it may be linked to colon cancer. If you want a thorough and easy-to-read guide with nutrient composition, i.e. the actual proportion of protein, fat, carbs, calories, saturated fat and sodium in foods we’re eating, read Chapter 14, ‘Putting Lessons into Practice’, in Eat Like the Animals cited earlier.  

However, a plant-based diet has its merits. It makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight, lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. It also limits our easy, off-the-counter grabs of ‘animal based’ and most fast foods. And herein lies the answer:  When you remove the bad stuff your health improves!

In her book Food as Medicine: Cooking for Your Best Health, dietician Dr Sue Radd reflects on what she observes in her Sydney practice: 

“I see a big difference in their wellbeing once women start eating more vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains – and that doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a vegan or vegetarian.”

(Goodyer, P. (2022, April 17). Prepping for Menopause – the Power of Plant Food. The Sydney Morning Herald.)

With better diets, some women report their hot flushes are better too. 

So let’s get back to the basics:

  • Rolled oats, yoghurt and ground nuts for breakfast instead of cereal
  • Egg or baked beans on toast instead of a muffin or crumpet
  • Avocado and lettuce on sourdough/turkish bread for lunch instead of a burger or overloaded sandwich
  • Dried figs with walnuts – or fruit or yoghurt as a snack
  • A large salad with greens before dinner
  • Less meat and starches, and more vegetables for dinner.

Maybe my video on plant-based foods will convince you? And I give you a healthy, daily food regime in my earlier post ‘Your natural detox’. 

Sound simple enough??

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