Plant-based diets: What is your trend?
The popularity of plant-based diets has been growing exponentially over the last decade. More and more people are looking to lower or eradicate, their reliance on animal-based products for a number of reasons, such as animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and health. If you are looking to make the change (or already have) to alleviate your inflammation, this week’s On Trend series is for you! In this session, I am looking at defining plant-based diets to see if they help or hinder your anti-inflammatory goals.
A plant-based diet is an umbrella term that refers to the following diet lifestyles:
A vegan diet contains no animal-based products at all. This means no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, or honey. Any protein sources are derived from plant-based products such as pulses, beans, nuts and soy.
A vegetarian diet does not contain any meat, poultry or fish, but does contain animal-based products such as dairy, eggs, and honey.
Other plant-based diets
Those that follow a plant-based diet consume mainly fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins, and whole grains, with animal-based products playing a less substantial role when compared to a typical western diet. Examples of such diets are the Mediterranean, Pescatarian (Vegetarians who also eat fish), Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarians (Vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy), and Anti-inflammatory.
So, you might be wondering what the science says about plant-based dietary patterns and inflammation.
There is some evidence that consuming less animal-based products and more plant-based products can help ease the symptoms of inflammation. The scientific theories are that you are increasing your fibre intake, reducing intake of saturated and trans fats, increasing consumption of polyphenols and reducing caloric intake; all of which can contribute to less chronic inflammation. Let’s take a look at each of these points in more detail.
Plant-based diets encourage the consumption of higher fibre foods such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and whole grains. These types of whole foods contain soluble and insoluble fibre that helps to slow down digestion for optimal nutrient digestion and helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. In addition, fibre helps to keep your bowel function regular and it feeds the good bacteria in your gut that regulates your immune system and helps to reduce inflammation. For more information on the benefits of a higher fibre diet on inflammatory arthritis, check out: Can Increasing Fiber Reduce Inflammation?
Reduction in saturated and trans fats:
Eliminating or cutting down on the consumption of meat, poultry and other animal-based products can significantly reduce your consumption of saturated fat and the small amount of naturally occurring trans fats that are found in ruminant animal meat (think beef and dairy). Saturated and trans fats may trigger inflammation, causing arthritis flare-ups. This is not to say that saturated fats can’t be found in processed plant-based products like baked goods and snack foods. Therefore, it is important to choose whole foods more often than processed plant-based foods.
However, it is important to know that not all fats are created equal! Essential fatty acids are the fats that your body needs to maintain optimal function. While saturated fats are also required by the body, we tend to consume more than we need through our regular diet. More often than not, we aren’t consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids, the one that helps to reduce chronic inflammation, so you need to be sure to get enough from your diet. If a plant-based or vegetarian diet is more your thing, you can obtain omega-3 fatty acids from occasionally adding fatty fish like salmon or enriched eggs to your plant-focused menu each week; while Vegans can obtain omega-3 fatty acid from plant-based foods like nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, beans and soy.
Increase in polyphenols:
Polyphenols are a type of compound that is found in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, tea, and wine that can act as antioxidants, and help to reduce systemic inflammation. An increase in the consumption of plants that results from a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet will, in turn, help to increase these beneficial polyphenols in your body.
Reduced caloric intake:
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for many diseases, but for arthritis warriors, it can really help to ease the pain of arthritic symptoms, reduce chronic inflammation and slow the rate of disease progression. Vegans, Vegetarians and those following a plant-based diet often choose more healthful, whole foods which can help regulate weight and prevent further weight gain. For more in-depth information on weight and arthritis, check out: Weight Loss Benefits for Arthritis
Tips to consider if you are choosing a vegan or vegetarian diet:
1. Many snack foods that are considered vegan or vegetarian can be highly processed and contain refined sugars, preservatives and saturated fats. French fries and potato chips are vegan, but they definitely shouldn’t become a mainstay of your diet! Be sure to enjoy these foods occasionally, rather than regularly.
2. It is important to ensure that you are consuming enough protein from non-animal sources. Excellent sources are soy products, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds.
3. Be sure to get enough essential fatty acids (particularly omega-3), calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins (particularly B12 – consider consuming nutritional yeast regularly) if you are eliminating all animal products from your diet. You can find these nutrients naturally in plant-based foods or in enriched foods (such as dairy substitutes), so check the labels when you are grocery shopping!
4. If you are thinking of making the switch, go slow. Start by replacing a few meat-focused meals per week with vegetarian or vegan recipes.
5. To make the change a sustainable one, slow and steady wins the race!
Check out this one-day meal plan with a focus on the main meals:
Breakfast: Edamame & Avocado pesto (see the original recipe here)
Lunch: Savoury Chickpea Salad
Dinner: Gut-friendly Fattoush
You can find some excellent plant-focused recipes at the following websites:
As with all dietary changes, there are things you should be aware of and cautious about. Always speak with your healthcare provider or a Registered Dietitian if you are considering any change in your diet.
Special thanks to Cheryl Anderson, 3rd-year nutrition student at Ryerson University who assisted with the research and writing for this post.
See other posts on this series: