Tips and modifications to make a plant-based diet work for you, by Dr. Natasha Turner.
Have you ever heard someone describe their diet by saying they “don’t eat anything that has a face.” If not, I am sure you are familiar with “vegan” or “vegetarian” diets. The current trend is to refer to this style of eating as a “plant-based diet.” In very simple terms, it means trying to eat more plants and less animal products.
A whole-food, plant-based diet is centred on whole, unrefined or minimally refined plants. It’s based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oils. Currently, over three million Canadians are vegan or vegetarian, according to research by Dalhousie University; with most being under 35 years of age.
Important Reasons One May Choose to Eat Only Plants Include:
Many people switch to eating plants because they want to lose weight, improve their heart health, stay healthy as they age, improve blood pressure or deal with diabetes. A plant-based diet has been shown to help with all of these things—if you also stay away from processed foods.
The biggest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop eating animal products. The animals we raise for food production use a ton of resources, eat way more plants than we do (which, in turn, also require resources to be grown), give off huge amounts of planet-warming methane, breathe out a lot of carbon dioxide and create a lot of pollution.
In my opinion, compassion is the most important reason to move away from eating animals and their products. To me, the idea of massive chicken and dairy farms, which no longer permit the animals to move from their cages or stalls, is very disturbing. The heartbreaking process of pig farming and transport to slaughter is another reason to quit eating pork and to consider a plant-based diet.
Most large prospective observational studies show plant-based diets to be at least modestly cancer protective (with a 10 to 12 per cent reduction in overall cancer risk.) A broad body of evidence links specific plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, plant constituents such as fibre, antioxidants and other phytochemicals, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight to reduced risk of cancer diagnosis and recurrence. Also, research links the consumption of meat, especially red and processed meats, to increased risk of several types of cancer.
The Hormone Diet Approach to a Plant-Based Diet:
While a completely vegan diet can run the risk of protein deficiency, which often leads to weight gain and hormonal imbalance (I had a patient gain 30 pounds on a vegan diet!), this does not have to be the case. In addition, I have concerns for these groups:
• Pregnant and breast-feeding women—due to risk of nutrient deficiency unless care is taken with nutrition and supplements.
• Those with low muscle mass, low bone density and athletes—due to the risk of low protein intake unless essential adaptions are made.
• Middle-aged women who can run the risk of hormones plummeting (including growth hormone, estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone) on a completely plant-based, raw food diet as I have seen in clinical practice.
If you want to try the plant-based trend, modifications have to be made to correct for nutrient and macronutrient imbalances and protein intake to maintain hormone balance (specifically insulin, cortisol, thyroid hormone and sex hormones), muscle mass, metabolism, energy and strength.
5 Hormone Diet Tweaks To A Plant-Based Diet:
A vegan or vegetarian diet is free of animal products but it does not ensure freedom from food sensitivities that can contribute to immune imbalance, fatigue, inflammation and more. The inclusion of corn, gluten and wheat as permitted foods in a plant-based diet can be problematic for some. I highly recommend the Supercharged Hormone Diet three-week detox as the best way to determine if these plant-based foods could be an issue for you. The detox involves the removal of allergenic and inflammatory foods for two weeks, and the re-introduction of them one at a time during the third week of the detox, while noting possible reactions and foods sensitivities. This is the most important part of any detox as it allows you to identify how foods make you feel.
A completely plant-based diet must include protein supplements to ensure the minimum daily protein intake is met to maintain muscle mass. For non-active people, this is 1.6 grams per kg of body weight. More active people should aim for 2 to 2.2 grams per kg of body weight. This makes pea, hemp, or pumpkin seed protein powders a must. I suggest two shakes per day, and rotating your protein sources daily to avoid sensitivities. For instance, you could have two hemp protein shakes one day, and two pea-based protein shakes the next.
Restrict your consumption of legumes and grains (lentils, black beans, quinoa, rice, rye, buckwheat, etc.) to your evening meal. When starchy carbs such as these are consumed at breakfast, lunch or mid afternoon it tends to increase cravings during the daytime or hunger after dinner, as well as weight gain. Meanwhile, including one source of these, about the size of your fist in your evening meal, will improve cortisol and serotonin balance, which is important for sleep and stress reduction. Excess consumption of starchy carbs and low protein is what increases the risk of weight gain on vegan diets.
There are now excellent plant-based omega and protein supplement products available. For instance, you can avoid whey protein by opting for pea, rice, pumpkin or hemp protein powers. And, you can avoid fish oils with plant-based omega supplements. My favourite choice is Pure Form Omega, which has zero risk of rancidity and carries an outstanding list of benefits.
Several supplements are essential to ensure a plant-based dietary approach is safe. These include:
Vitamin B12: Suck, do not chew, one per day that provides 1000 to 2000 mcg of vitamin B12, typically only sourced from meats.
Lecithin: two capsules, two times a day—as a source of phosphatidylcholine, a nutrient that is deficient in all plant-based diets and often in pregnancy.
Iron: Blood levels of ferritin should be monitored. If levels are lower than 70 in women, a supplement of iron glycinate may be a good idea. A prenatal multivitamin is another option, as these tend to contain more iron and can help prevent deficiency.
Vitamin D3: 2,000 to 5,000IU per day to prevent deficiency.
Zinc: I suggest 50 mcg of zinc picolinate at bedtime for 12 weeks to restore optional zinc levels and then to continue with a multivitamin.
Taurine and Carnitine: Two amino acids that become deficient in a vegan diet. These can be replaced with supplements of each taken once or twice daily.
In 20 years of clinical practice (and through my own personal healthy choices), I have observed that these adaptions make a plant-based dietary approach one of the best health-promoting and preventative lifestyles to follow and apply to your everyday health & lifestyle.
About the Author
Dr. Natasha Turner is a New York Times bestselling author and one of North America’s leading naturopathic doctors, a sought-after speaker, natural health expert, and the founder of Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique in Toronto. In2014 she was recognized by her professional organization as a leader in her field and in 2016 was awarded the top […]Read Bio Read Posts