Updated: Dec 8, 2020
So, you've thought about the benefits of changing to a plant-based eating pattern. You're now embarking on a conscious effort to add more plants to your diet while eliminating or sharply cutting back on animal and heavily processed foods.
Good for you! Yet, once you tell your family and friends about this decision, get ready for all the comments and questions they have about plant based eating to roll in!
They Will Ask a Lot of Questions
After eating a plant-based diet for a while now, we've faced these questions over and over again. Mostly people are curious and want to understand why we think eating the way we do is healthier. They come away from our conversations with a little better knowledge about food and our food system, piqued with interest to learn more. Of course not all are jumping in to abandon their steaks, but more are curious to learn about how to incorporate more plants in their diets.
Even now, with all the research and science about the detrimental consequences of a diet deficient in plant food and fiber, and how harmful animal and processed foods are for both our health and the health of the planet, there is still a lot of false and old information to combat.
Many who grew up and came of age in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are now learning that the fast food, animal protein and processed foods they relied on have caused more harm than good over time. Now, they just want to figure out how to “eat more plants”.
Here's some information to help you answer some of the most common questions you'll face about plant-based eating.
The 8 Most Common Questions About Plant-Based Eating
What Is a Plant Based Diet vs. a Vegan Diet?
Are You Able to Get Enough Protein On a Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet?
How Do You Get Enough Vitamins and Minerals Per Day?
Aren't Humans Naturally Supposed to Eat Animals?
Won’t You Be Hungry All the Time Eating Mostly Plants?
Isn't A Plant-Based Diet Boring, Eating Mostly Salads?
Is It More Expensive to Eat Plant-Based?
Can a Plant-Based Diet Help You Lose Weight?
Read on so you’re prepared with some easy answers to common questions people may have about your eating decision.
1) What Is a Plant Based Diet vs. a Vegan Diet?
A plant based diet is different than a vegan diet. A vegan diet is more about ethics and not wanting to cause any harm to animals. People have been switching to a plant-based diet for health reasons, and they don’t usually opt to stop wearing leather shoes or wool, or stop eating honey as a vegan does. They often don’t want to stop eating all animal foods or using all products made from animals. Some eventually switch to a vegan way of life, but most are motivated to reverse the trend of unhealthy eating that is so pervasive and get more whole foods on their plate.
They may already have, or be concerned about eventually getting one of the top chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes or cancer. They may be getting older and their weight is climbing up there, so they want to reverse that trend.
The vast majority of people want to work on getting to a place where their consumption of animal foods and processed foods are just 10-20% of their caloric intake. The science shows that the more you reduce your intake of animal and processed foods, the healthier you will be. In the US right now, the majority of the people eat just 10% of their calories from plants, so it’s totally reversed from the optimal way of eating.
If people focus on adding more nutrient dense foods, make conscious decisions and build new habits, they will be in a healthier place than where they started, even if they don’t become 100% plant-based. The key is “based on plants” or “plant-based”, so the focus should be just having plants be the large majority of what you eat.
2) Are You Able to Get Enough Protein On a Whole Food Plant Based Diet?
This is the most common question. People still think that animals are the only place to get protein. They somehow haven’t stopped to think about where the animals are getting their protein….from the plants! All plants have protein; it’s why both humans and animals eat plants. Some of the biggest, strongest animals (as well as our closest relatives in the animal kingdom) get their protein from plants. Gorillas, rhinos and elephants all eat plants.
And the vast majority of plant-based eaters get more protein than they need.
Of course there are outliers in everything, but it’s not quite as difficult as most people think. And with all the marketing around getting ‘enough’ protein, people don’t realise that current dietary habits take in too much protein.
It’s not a good idea to focus so much on this one nutrient (or any other one nutrient) above all others. We only need 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. A female weighing around 55 kg (such as yours truly) requires 44 grams of protein per day.
Good sources of protein include soy, beans, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds.
Here’s a quick list of some of the best sources of protein, with their average amount of protein per serving.
Hemp seeds, 1/2 cup = 25 grams of protein
Tempeh, 100 grams = 20 grams of protein.
Plant-based burger (Beyond Burger) = 20 grams of protein
Lentils, one cooked cup = 18 grams of protein.
Extra firm tofu, 100 grams = 15 grams of protein
Beans, one cooked cup = 15 grams of protein
Nutritional yeast, 2 tbsp = 9 grams of protein
Quinoa, one cooked cup = 8 grams of protein
Wild rice, one cooked cup = 7 grams of protein
Oats, one cooked cup = 6 grams of protein
The top protein-rich vegetables have around 4-5 grams of protein per cup and include artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, spinach and sweet potatoes.
3) How Do You Get Enough Vitamins and Minerals in A Day?
Eating a healthy, properly balanced diet not only allows plant-based eaters to get pretty much the same nutrients as omnivores, but even more.
A well-planned whole foods plant based diet actually has a higher amount of nutrients with a lower amount of calories than a traditional meat & processed foods diet.
One interesting thing about a lot of people adopting plant focused eating is that they are studying it and decide to move ahead with it because they know it’s good for their health. They are curious and motivated to learn a little about the proper way to adopt this healthy eating style. Even if they haven’t yet totally figured it out, and they don’t quite want to get into all the nitty gritty details (like the nutrition nerd yours truly) they do spend some time to learn the basics. They then get hooked because they feel and see the benefits of eating more whole food plants.
There are really only two nutrients that whole food plant-based eaters who have a thoughtfully planned eating pattern need to be aware of and they are vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, but usually it gets there by supplementation to the animal. Vitamin B12 is actually a bacteria in the soil. It’s difficult for even animals to get, because of how they are fed. It also is not so prevalent in the soil as it was one hundred years ago, because of how we’ve grown crops and treated the land. It also really isn’t in our food or water anymore because of chlorination and hygiene. The bioavailability of B12 coming from animals is not very good either.
It does come in some plant-based foods like shiitake mushrooms, nutritional yeast and fortified plant-based milks. Even so, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor and supplement vitamin B12 properly.
Vitamin D comes mainly from spending time in the sun, and both meat-focused eaters and plant-based eaters can be low in it. Nutrition advice is to spend 10-15 minutes in strong sun every day, eat fortified dairy-free milks, tofu and mushrooms or take a supplement as confirmed by your doctor.
There are a few other items that can be low in a very small number of plant-based eaters, though it really just varies from person-to-person. They can include nutrients like calcium, zinc, iodine and omega 3s. This can happen because people new to plant-focused eating haven’t had a properly planned out eating regime. They either haven’t figured out the best way to eat for themselves or worked with a coach or someone who can help them understand the right things to eat.
For Dalip and I, we LOVE what the folks over at Complement are doing. You can read more about what we think of there here. We really like the idea of complementing what we eat, rather than supplementing, which is their whole philosophy.
Traditional omnivore diets tend to be missing out on calcium, fiber, folate, iodine, magnesium and vitamins C & E. This eating pattern also gets a lot of additions like saturated fats, hormones and antibiotics. And eating processed, non-whole-foods also presents issues with the more than 10,000 food additives used in the making of those processed foods!
If we look at something like calcium, most people think you can only get enough from dairy, and don’t stop to realise that dairy comes packaged with some harmful things like saturated fat. In fact, diary foods are the top source of saturated fats in Americans diets.
The calcium in dark, leafy greens like broccoli and kale is absorbed by our bodies at nearly twice the rate as the calcium in milk too. We just need to make sure that some of these calcium-rich foods are on our plates everyday.
For omnivores, we keep learning more about the problems that a fiber deficiency will lead to. Fiber is found only in plants. In the US, studies show that 95% of people don’t meet the daily target of 25 grams of fiber for men and 38 grams for women.
We are learning that thinking about high fiber foods is much more important for our health than focusing on high protein foods. In fact, research in fiber and our gut microbiome has become one of the most studied areas of nutrition.
4) Aren’t Humans Naturally Supposed to Eat Animals?
No, they are not.
Our mouths and teeth are not the proper shape to hold prey that we might catch and try to get a grip on. We also cook our meats.
We originally ate algae and plants at the beginning of our evolution. We’ve only been hunting and then farming animals for the most recent 10% of our evolution, so while a paleo diet can be healthy, it depends how you do it, what percentage of your plate is plants. The Palaeolithic period only goes back about two million years. Yet, humans have been evolving for 20 million years.
Even when our ancestors started hunting meat, it formed a very small part of their diet. If we only ate animal products we would soon be malnourished and very sick, but if we only eat plants that wouldn't be the case.
5) Won’t You Be Hungry All the Time Eating Mostly Plants?
If someone tries to keep eating the same number of calories they ate with a predominantly animal-focused diet and then switches to eating 90% planet-based, they will actually have a difficult time NOT feeling full. All the fiber in the plants help you feel satiated, plus you need to eat a larger quantity of food with plants replacing all the calories of animal products.
One reason for making the switch gradually, besides building new habits is to slowly adjust to eating more fiber. Even though it is healthier, your digestive tract still needs to adjust and get used to a new way of eating.
6) Isn’t a Plant-Based Diet Boring With No Variety?
Any food can be made tasty! That hamburger as raw meat is not quite as exciting until you add all the toppings and sauces. There are so many new options coming out everyday that are similar to familiar animal foods, and even if sticking to a whole foods plant based diet, there are so many combos that can be put together.
Herbs, spices and sauces pull everything together. As long as you learn the tricks to pull together heat, acid, salt, bitter, unami and sweetness you can make meals that are even tastier than many processed and animal food meals.
7) Isn’t it More Expensive to Eat Plant-Based?
Not necessarily. Beans for your main are a lot less expensive than beef or fish for the main. Especially if you were eating grass-fed, organic and low-fat meats. The better quality of meat, the higher the price (just like anything else).
It can be a lot less expensive to eat healthy foods in their natural state, and you get more satiated with plant foods that have lots of fiber, so you don’t eat as much. If you want to eat a lot of organic foods, yes that can be more expensive than conventional. But think about it, it’s actually less expensive to buy the healthy foods now, than to pay doctor or hospital bills later, trying to manage chronic diseases.
8) Will a Plant-Based Diet Help You Lose Weight?
If properly planned, in many cases a healthy whole foods plant based diet does lead to weight loss and is an easy way to maintain your proper weight. I say easy, because once you feel the benefits, develop habits around eating mostly or all plants and have learned how to make some foods you love it’s not complicated. There are no calories to count, no food charts to consult. Like anything else, you’ll want to keep learning new ways of cooking and stay up-to-date about what new companies might be creating that fit into your plant-based lifestyle.
A coach can help you learn the best way to integrate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds into a healthy diet, while helping you find replacements for processed foods and the vast majority of animal products.
Stay tuned to the blog to continue learning more about making the move to plant-based eating. We’ll be adding more and more information every week. I look forward to sharing my knowledge, recipes, tips and tricks as we move along.