Over the past decade, we have seen a migration to a “new” diet. As if we didn’t have enough “diets” to choose from, i.e., paleo, vegan, vegetarian, Atkins, etc., plant-based can be a bit confusing to most. This blog will take a closer look at what a “plant-based diet” looks like and how you can make a move if you feel it is right for you.
Several years ago, I was traveling the country as a guest on television news programs and discussing the topic of diets, primarily for weight loss. This is not an article about weight loss but more about lifestyle change. During those TV segments, I remember quoting a study that showed the best diet for weight loss was the one you could incorporate into your daily lifestyle and not force the square peg into a round hole by using sandpaper. The same holds true with regard to plant-based diets. If this is something you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle and maintain, then it may be one of the best diets for general health and well-being.
What is the definition of a plant-based diet?
This is a multi-million-dollar question. For most people, it is a diet consisting of exclusively plant foods, including fruit, vegetables, grains, and legumes, and avoids meat, dairy, and eggs. Some people consider it to be like that of a vegan diet. Yet, there are others who define it as a diet higher in plant-sourced foods as part of their diet but also includes meats, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy. Then there are others who proclaim its definition to mean more like a vegetarian style diet too. Here is a short list of diets that could be considered “plant-based”:
- Ovo vegetarian
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian
Which is right? That I will leave up to you to decide. For the sake of keeping our sanity, let’s focus on why plant source foods in our daily diet are important.
Why Eat a Plant-Based Diet?
Simply put, a diet higher in plant-based foods (See below for examples) is linked to better health over the long haul. Modern medicine has shown that a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds has a profound impact on avoiding many health concerns, such as:
- Blood sugar issues
- Cardiovascular health issues
- Immune weakness
- Brain health issues
- Decreased Lifespan
- Becoming overweight
What to eat
- Whole grains (such as quinoa, farro, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and whole-wheat pasta)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, cashews, etc.)
- Seeds (such as flaxseed, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.)
What to Drink
Keeping in mind, we are focusing on plant-based items, items such as teas and coffee would be a perfect fit. With regards to teas, think outside the box i.e., other than black teas, and consider drinking many of the other herbal teas available such as green, lavender, chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, etc., as part of your daily fluid intake. I wrote an article years ago encouraging people to consume herbal teas as part of their daily health program. An example would be chamomile tea for those with stress, sleep, or digestive problems. Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food (or beverage, in this case).
Pitfall Foods that are plant-based
I have met quite a few overweight vegans in my day. Even though a vegan diet is the epitome of plant-based eating, there are several areas in which you can fall prey to thinking this diet is the best. Examples of foods that can “pack on the pounds” or negatively impact your health are:
- Potatoes (Chips, fries)
- Grains (Processed or refined and not whole i.e., bread, pizza, pasta, white rice, etc.)
- Fruit juices (stripping out the fiber makes many juices into liquid sugar)
- others: sweets (cookies, sodas, honey)
If you have been following me over the past 25-plus years, you know that being called “The Herbal Pharmacist®” is not by coincidence. I am a huge proponent of using botanicals (plants) as a primary source of supplements to improve health. I have written numerous blogs on the topic of botanicals and why they are so important versus those single isolated entities extracted from a plant. An example of one of these is resveratrol. I have never been a fan of the isolated phytochemical and a huge fan of the food sources of this compound i.e., grapes.
Why Plant-Based Supplements
- They are full of nutritional and phytochemical benefits, imparting multiple positive areas of improved health (all in one plant).
- There are an estimated 4,000 scientific papers published each year on botanical substances.
- They are more “natural” than extracted chemical entities that initially came from a plant.
The following are some of my favorite botanicals that should be on the fast track for addition to your everyday supplement program.
Adaptogens (Ashwagandha, Bacopa, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, etc.)
Adaptogens are a problematic category of botanicals for most people to understand. Simply put, adaptogens help the body “adapt” to a physical or mental stressor. The most popular adaptogens are ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Bacopa, and Holy Basil. Due to their ability to help either get the body back into balance or keep it there, they work for an abundance of areas of health, including cardiovascular, respiratory, hormonal (sex and others), mental health (stress, sleep, and cognition), structural (muscle pain and recovery), digestive, metabolic (blood sugar), immune and fatigue. While this may read like they are a panacea, they are not. They often take months to show their effectiveness and should be a part of your daily supplement program.
Black Cumin Seed (ThymoQuin)
Black Cumin Seed, aka Black Seed, has been used for thousands of years for health and medicinal benefits. N. sativa seeds have been used by various cultures in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle, and the Far East. There are currently nearly 1000 studies on the healing powers of Black Seeds. Black seeds used in modern times are mostly in the form of the oil that is extracted from the seeds. The oil’s health benefits have been shown to support many health concerns, including cardiovascular health, skin health, immune function, liver health, fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, weight gain, energy production, and so much more.
Fiber is well accepted as a key part of the daily diet to support digestive health and other conditions such as blood sugar[i], weight[ii] and cardiovascular health[iii]. With regards to fiber, insoluble and prebiotic fibers are all required for digestive health. Fiber is often referred to as “the toothbrush for the colon,” which may have come about due to its effects on constipation[iv]. Ironically though, fiber is also helpful with diarrhea[v]. This is thought to be due to fiber’s ability to absorb water.
Ginger is highly effective against nausea. Its benefits for nausea and vomiting have been proven in pregnancy, motion sickness, and post-anesthesia.[vi] Ginger has also been shown to enhance digestion and support overall gastrointestinal function[vii]. This last function may be the root of why ginger is also helpful for indigestion.[viii]
Medicinal Mushrooms (Chaga, Maitake, Reishi, etc.)
Like adaptogens mentioned above, medicinal mushrooms can be so much to so many. When I speak of medicinal mushrooms, I am not talking about hallucinogenic mushrooms (they are being heavily researched these days). For our purpose here, the three mentioned above are usually considered beneficial for immune health. Of the three, chaga (SibeliusTM: MyceliAid (SM)) may be the rising star. SM is wild harvested from the world’s largest certified organic forest, grown on birch trees (not on grain like most), and has unparalleled quality. SM is an example of a supplement I suggest for long-term immune system support.
Roman Chamomile (SibeliusTM: Chamomile (SC))
Like most of the botanicals mentioned in this blog, the use of Roman chamomile dates back centuries. Chamomile was even mentioned in the children’s story Peter Rabbit (his mother used it to calm his tummy down when he returned from Mr. McGregor’s Garden. SibeliusTM: Chamomile provides numerous benefits in stress, sleep, digestive health, female health (may help reduce cramps), and respiratory health. Studies specific to SC show improvements in sleep quality and duration, minor hay fever symptoms, and immune response concerning how the body responds to inflammation.
The use of saffron as a spice dates back thousands of years. In modern natural health, saffron, or in our case affron®, has provided multiple health benefits besides being a great color, flavor, and taste in our foods. Studies with affron® have shown it to help in several critical areas of health, including stress, mood, sleep, and menopause.
Sage (SibeliusTM: Sage (SS)
Dating back over 4000 years, Ancient Egyptians believed it helped with infertility.[ix] Sage has a longstanding reputation as a traditional herbal remedy used by ancient Greek and Roman, Ayurvedic, Native American, and Chinese folk medicines. For centuries, sage has been used for conditions such as pain relief, oxidative stress, inflammation, hot flashes, digestive problems, gas, bloating, high blood fat, cognitive performance, and memory.[x] SibeliusTM: Sage has excellent research showing it improves word recall, and short-term memory, enhances focus, improves secondary memory, and has been used safely in people 12-90 years of age. I have used it and can usually feel it working in about 20-30 minutes after taking it.
HydroCurc® is one of the most studied and most bioavailable forms of the powerful antioxidant botanical turmeric. Turmeric has been shown to benefit numerous areas of health, including antioxidants, Mental Health (Cognition), Liver health, Cardiovascular health, Hay fever, Joint health and discomfort, muscle health and recovery, Immune support, and Digestive disorders. This ingredient is part of my daily supplement program.
If you haven’t been particularly fond of the foods involved in a plant-based diet, dietary supplements are an excellent way to get started. Supplements are exactly that, a supplement to make up for what may be missing from your everyday diet. Having said this, it is in your best interest health-wise to start consuming more plant-based foods. Try this each time you go to the grocery store, and buy something you have never eaten before that comes from a plant. Assuming you go to the store once a week, you will have tried 52 new items in one year. You will most likely like many of these new items. Also, consider looking up recipes that incorporate the foods you already like. Adding a bit of garlic to your broccoli will add new flavors. Don’t be afraid to spice things up too. Spices are plants and also pack a powerful health punch.
[i] Frati-Munari, A. C., Fernandez-Harp, J. A., Becerril, M., Chavez-Negrete, A., and Banales-Ham, M. Decrease in serum lipids, glycemia and body weight by Plantago psyllium in obese and diabetic patients. Arch Invest Med (Mex) 1983;14(3):259-268.
[ii] Dehghan P, Gargari BP, Jafar-Abadi MA, Aliasgharzadeh A. Inulin controls inflammation and metabolic endotoxemia in women with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized-controlled clinical trial. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2014;65(1):117-23.
[iii] Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21 (21CFR 101.81). Chapter IB, part 101E, section 101.81 “Health claims: soluble fiber from certain foods and risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).” Available at www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=101.81. Accessed December 3, 2016.
[iv] Collado Yurrita L, San Mauro Martín I, Ciudad-Cabañas MJ, Calle-Purón ME, Hernández Cabria M. Effectiveness of inulin intake on indicators of chronic constipation; a meta-analysis of controlled randomized clinical trials. Nutr Hosp 2014;30(2):244-52
[v] Spapen H, Diltoer M, Van Malderen C, et al. Soluble fiber reduces the incidence of diarrhea in septic patients receiving total enteral nutrition: a prospective, double-blind, randomized, and controlled trial. Clin Nutr 2001;20:301-5
[vi] Anh NH, Kim SJ, Long NP, et al. Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):157. Published 2020 January 6. doi:10.3390/nu12010157
[vii] Anh NH, Kim SJ, Long NP, et al. Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):157. Published 2020 January 6. doi:10.3390/nu12010157
[viii] Hu ML, Rayner CK, Wu KL, et al. Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. World J Gastroenterol. 2011;17(1):105-110. doi:10.3748/wjg.v17.i1.105
[x] Natural Medicines Website: https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=504 Last reviewed 8/14/2019, Accessed September 4, 2019