As with anything new, considering a plant-based diet can bring up all sorts of questions and concerns. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about taking up a plant-based diet.
WHAT IS A PLANT-BASED DIET?
It’s a dietary lifestyle that maximizes the intake of whole, plant-foods and minimizes the intake of processed and animal-derived foods. It’s a diet based on foods-as-grown: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, chickpeas, split peas, lentils, mushrooms, herbs, spices and small amounts of seeds and nuts. Consumption of meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil are minimized. For inspiration about plant based eating, take a look at our delicious recipes here and here.
I FEEL HEALTHY ENOUGH ON MY CURRENT DIET, WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER GOING PLANT-BASED?
Most of us don’t realize that the foods we eat — three meals a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks each year — often have more of an impact on our health than anything else in our lives. Each bite we consume is either one step toward health, or one step toward disease. Plant-based diets have been directly associated to a lot of health benefits such as lower risk of heart disease, reversing type 2 diabetes, and preventing/reversing even cancer. In addition, plant-based diets are great for maintaining your weight. People following a diet that is centered on vegetables and whole grains generally weigh less than non-vegetarians. For more information on this check our articles here.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PLANT-BASED DIET AND A VEGAN DIET?
On a vegan diet, people avoid animal-based products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. While people who eat a whole food plant-based diet are similar to vegans in avoiding animal-based products, they also avoid processed foods, including oil, white flour, and refined sugar. A plant based diet is centered on unprocessed or minimally processed veggies, fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
CAN YOU GET FULL EATING ONLY PLANTS?
The wonderful thing about eating plants is that you’re eating lots of fiber, and fiber makes you very full. Keep in mind, the less processed the plants are, the more nutrients you’re eating, which helps make you feel pleasantly full. Nutrients fill your cells with vitamins and minerals, which leaves you satisfied, but not stuffed. Also, the diversity of texture in plants require you to chew more, you actually spend more time getting through the meal. So a big bowl of salad with lots of stuff in it may not seem that heavy, but it can fill you up quite fast.
IS IT NUTRITIONALLY ADEQUATE FOR PEOPLE OF ALL AGES TO EAT ONLY PLANTS?
YES! A plant-based diet that includes a variety of foods and food groups contains everything needed to nourish us at any life stage. Children who eat a plant-based diet experience normal growth and development, and their risk of diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes is much lower than children who eat a Standard American Diet. Children raised on a plant-based diet also experience lower rates of acne, allergies and digestive issues. Eating habits are formed at an early age. By introducing whole, plant foods to children, you are laying the foundation for them to become healthy eaters for life. For growing children, adolescents and teens, adequate calorie intake is crucial. Because of this, they need to consume more fat than adults to meet their needs. Incorporate foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and nut and seed butters into their meals. Children can get optimal nutrition important for growth — such as protein, iron and calcium — from whole, plant foods and fortified foods like non-dairy milks and whole grain cereals. Just like adults on plant-based diets, children on plant-based diets need adequate B12. The most reliable source is a B12 supplement.
DOES EATING PLANT-BASED HELP PEOPLE LOSE WEIGHT?
Choosing to eat a specific way just for weight loss is never a good idea. Haven’t we all tried that? If weight-loss diet plans aren’t aligned for true health reasons they almost always backfire on us because they lack beneficial long-term results. Focusing only on weight loss or calorie counting can be extremely exhausting and oftentimes depressing. However, by following a plant-based healthy lifestyle, you’re focusing on eating well-balanced and nutrient-dense meals. You will start to feel great because your body isn’t deprived thus it functions efficiently. You will see that you’ll start to lose weight naturally.
IS IT DIFFICULT TO GET ENOUGH PROTEIN ON A PLANT-BASED DIET?
Protein is an essential nutrient. Our bodies require protein to build cells, organs and muscles. However, the obsession with eating enough protein is unwarranted; in the case of protein, more is not better. Excess protein is either stored as fat or it is excreted along with vital minerals such as calcium. Excreting excess protein can be taxing on the body, especially the kidneys.
Amino acids are the building blocks that combine to form proteins. Of the 20 amino acids, nine are “essential,” meaning the body cannot manufacture them — they must be consumed. It was once believed that all nine of the essential amino acids had to be consumed at once in order for the body to use them. This is a widespread myth that we now know is not true. All vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds contain protein — there is no such thing as an incomplete plant protein! The issue is that some have relatively few of one or the other when it comes to amino acids, so consuming a variety of these foods will provide all the protein your body needs. As long as you are eating enough calories from a variety of plant foods, getting adequate protein on a plant-based diet is easy! In fact, studies have shown that the average vegetarian or vegan meets or exceeds the recommended daily protein intake (0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight). Get plant-based protein from a variety of beans, nuts, seeds, soy, whole grains and vegetables. Check our article on Protein to learn the best plant-based sources of protein.
Many people believe that dairy is a necessary part of a healthy diet for optimal bone strength. Well, you don’t need milk for that. In fact you don’t need milk at all. We’ve been brainwashed by the industry and don’t ever pause to question it despite the fact that western countries with high consumption of dairy products have the highest rates of hip fracture, cancer and osteoporosis...
Did you know that plant-based foods like sesame seeds, leafy greens, molasses, legumes, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli,cabbage, cauliflower, watercress...), whole grains (oats, quinoa.....), tahina, edamame, almonds or almond butter and figs are extremely rich in calcium? These sources of calcium are also loaded with vitamins and minerals, making the nutrients much easier to absorb. Keeping your bones strong depends more on preventing the loss of calcium from your body than on boosting your calcium intake. Diets high in protein, sodium and caffeine affect calcium loss in the body. You can prevent calcium loss by exercising regularly, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exposure to sunlight to allow the body to make the bone-building hormone vitamin D.
WHAT ABOUT VITAMIN B12?
Vitamin B12 is important for the development and protection of nerve cells and red blood cells and aids in DNA production. B12 deficiency can result in weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, increased irritability, gastrointestinal distress, anemia, and nervous system dysfunction.
B12 is the only nutrient that cannot be adequately obtained from a whole food, plant-based diet. This is not because animal products are sole providers of B12. Vitamin B12 is not made by plants or animals, it is made by bacteria. Animals eat B12-containing bacteria via dirt and water, which then accumulates in their tissues and is passed on to humans who eat animal products. Because of our diligent sanitation efforts, humans rarely have the opportunity to consume B12-containing bacteria.
Therefore, the healthiest and most reliable way to ensure adequate B12 consumption is to take a B12 supplement. The most recent evidence suggests 2500 mcg as chewable, liquid, or under-the-tongue as an optimal adult dosage, but please check with your healthcare provider for his or her recommendation.
DOES IT COST MORE OR LESS TO EAT PLANT-BASED?
Except for a few delicacies, pound-for-pound plant foods are certainly more cost efficient. If you compare the cost for traditional Egyptian meals such as foul, falafel, and koshary for instance, (even when bought at restaurants) to meat, chicken or fish meals, you will find that they are much more of a bargain. Salads, veggies, soup, pasta, mostly plant-based options tend to cost much less than when your diet is composed of animal products. Check our classic recipes to learn about economic plant-based cooking.
HOW DO YOU GET IRON? WON’T YOU BECOME ANEMIC?
Iron deficiencies are rare in plant based diets and this position is supported by the American Nutrition and Dietetic association
Iron is a mineral in our blood that carries oxygen. There are two types of iron: blood-based (heme iron) found in animal foods and plant-based (non-heme iron). Heme iron is more easily and readily absorbed, but this might not be as beneficial, as is often presumed. Because our body does not have a mechanism for excreting excess iron, it actually might be safer to consume plant-based iron. People eating a plant-based diet do not experience higher rates of iron deficiency than do meat eaters. Plant foods can actually be considered better sources of iron than animal foods because they come packaged with countless beneficial nutrients, as well as iron enhancers like vitamin C. Calorie for calorie, many plant foods contain higher amounts of iron than animal foods.
Plant-based foods that are rich in iron include kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, spinach, raisins, cashews, oatmeal, cabbage, and tomato juice.
HOW CAN I GET THE OMEGAS IF I DON’T EAT FISH?
Omega 3, Omega 6, and Omega 9 are fatty acids, and all important dietary fats. Omega 3 and 6 are essential, which means we have to eat them. Your body needs essential fatty acids for optimal heart and brain functions. But not all Omegas are created equally. Omega-6 fatty acids are typically considered inflammatory that helps us fight infection, but since it’s found in meat & oils, most often humans have too much of this in their body. A high intake of omega-6 fatty acids, relative to omega-3, may promote several chronic diseases. The ideal is to eat just enough omega 6s to function, but no more, and to balance them with lots of omega 3s. The best ratio is yet to be determined by research but it suggest an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 2:1 is ideal– that's 2 omega 6s for every 1 omega 3.
Omega 3 fatty acids are AMAZING. They’ve been studied thoroughly and are an integral part of the membrane of cells throughout your whole body. Fatty, dark fish like salmon has a lot of omega 3 but today because of our toxic waterways and polluted oceans, fish comes with with mercury and other toxins which have a net negative effect on brain health so, you’re not doing yourself any favours. The single most important thing you can do to reduce your omega-6 intake is avoid processed seed and vegetable oils that are high in omega-6, as well as processed foods that contain them AND poultry, eggs, & Beef. Daily omega 3 intake is only 1.1 g for adult women and 1.6g for adult men. Excellnat plant based sources of Omega-3s include walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and leafy greens.
DOES EATING PLANT-BASED REQUIRE A LOT OF PLANNING AND PREPARATION?
A plant-based diet can be very simple. Focus on easily prepared foods to minimize planning and food prep time. You can go for whole grain breakfast cereals with plant-based milk, or toast with nut or seed butters. Try veggie burgers, pasta dishes, whole grain side dishes, bean burritos, bean or lentil chilis or stews, and vegetable dishes. Get creative with your salads, prepare big bowls of colorful nutritious salads, they never fail to fill me up. It is very common not to mention much more cost efficient to buy vegetarian ingredients, such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and seeds at most supermarkets today. Adding items such as non-dairy milk, tofu, nuts, or things like nutritional yeast might make things slightly more difficult, especially in the Arabic markets. But the good news is you don’t need those things to build a plant-based meal plan.
BUT WON’T A PLANT-BASED DIET BE BORING AND BLAND?
Think about it, meat choices are limited to a handful of varieties, such as beef, pork and chicken. Plant based choices on the other hand literally come in a variety of colors, textures, and flavors. There is no end to the combinations of flavorful foods that you can create with whole plant foods. Some of our favorite plant-based contributors get very creative in their kitchen. When you prepare plant foods with healthy fats, including extra virgin olive oil and avocados, you further enhance the flavor of these foods.
I’D LIKE TO TRY A PLANT-BASED DIET. HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Start where you are today! You are unique, and your journey to a whole food, plant-based lifestyle will also be unique to you and you alone. We advise you get started by going meatless once or twice a week. Then focus on swapping your breakfast for more plant-based choices. Start out the day eating plants or fruits. Try using plant-based milk and whole grain cereals, maybe try an oatmeal breakfast, or avocado on toast. If you like to get creative whip together some plant-based pancakes and eat them with fruit and organic maple syrup. Generally choose whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, plant-based milk products, fruits, and veggies. Choose a grilled vegetable salad or sandwich with soup for lunch. And try your favorite traditional meal for dinner. Did you know that most traditional egyptian recipes can be plant-based friendly. Join us on our 21-day-challenge to get started.