Are plant based diets healthy? Nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan shares tips on its positive and negative sides
Plant-based diets have been extremely popular all around the world due to which people are going vegan currently. But are they really healthy and nutritious? Check what nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan, founder of ThriveFNC, has to say.
In the last few years, there’s a popular belief that exclusively plant-based or vegan diets are the key to achieving good health. While plant-based diets consist solely of consuming whole grains, pulses and legumes, fruits and vegetables, it cannot be regarded as a complete dietary practice. Some flaws and deficiencies are inherent to a solely plant-based diet.
Decoding the benefits and drawbacks of a plant-based diet by Mugdha Pradhan, Nutritionist and Founder of ThriveFNC:
Positive sides of a plant-based diet
Firstly, the concept that only plant-based diets are good for us, and animal foods are bad, needs to be challenged. Plant-based diets are effective in overturning the symptoms of diabetes such as insulin resistance primarily because they eliminate a lot of processed, junk food that’s cooked with vegetable oils. This is also why they are efficient in helping people lose excess weight. Also, a vast number of plants are proven to carry medicinal properties that work like medicine for a lot of ailments.
But this comes with a caveat, just like you wouldn’t eat medicines all the time, you wouldn’t want to pop medicinal plants and herbs without reason into your body all the time either. Which is why it is seen that plant-based dietary approaches are great for encountering various diseases and their accompanying symptoms during the initial phase, but thriving wholly on a plant-based diet becomes problematic.
Why it can be dangerous?
It has been seen that people who are on a 100 percent plant-based diet revealed multiple deficiencies of essential nutrients such as iron, protein, B-12, selenium, iodine, calcium, etc. This persistent deficit of essential nutrients in their body only grew with time, as they continued to stick to a plant-based diet unless they supplemented heavily. The thing is, plants can seem like a rich source of essential nutrients and minerals; however, due to their poor bioavailability and presence of antinutrients, our body is unable to absorb most of these nutrients. So, adhering solely to a plant-based diet does make you prone to a whole lot of nutritional deficiencies.
There are numerous misinformed views and discrepancies when it comes to the science of plant-based nutrition. For instance, not all plants are medicinal and fit for consumption. Some of them can also be full of toxins and cause major harm. Moreover, even plants that are benign atoxin-free when alive can initiate last-minute defence mechanisms at the point of their death. As no life-form on earth dies without putting up some form of fight, the defence mechanism in certain plants ensures that their would-be consumer is unable to gain the desired nutrition from that plant.
The defence mechanisms of plants operate like toxins in the body of their consumers and can cause unrest or trouble. This can prove quite effective for a life-form that is devoid of the ability to fight-or-flight. For example, people are prone to feeling bloated or flatulent after consuming rajma (kidney-bean). This is due to the formation of certain compounds known as Lectins in the plant which can even cause inflammation as part of the defence mechanism. Similarly, peanut butter which is generally regarded as a rich source of protein can have mold which can release harmful aflatoxins in our body.
Soy, which is deemed as one of the best plant-based sources of protein contains isoflavones and phytoestrogen. Eating soy may disrupt the hormonal balance in men by synthesizing the plant-based female hormone estrogen in their bodies. Even pulses and legumes are known to contain protease inhibitors that can impede protein digestion in our bodies. The antioxidant properties of grapefruit are weighed down by the fruit’s tendency to inhibit the synthesis of an essential enzyme called C450 which is utilized by the liver in the detoxification process in the body.
It is essential to understand that each individual reacts, digests, and absorbs each food differently owing to the principle of bio-individuality. The ingestion and absorption of each person depend on their genetic configuration. People who exhibit protein deficiencies due to sustained plant-based diets can significantly overcome these by adding small amounts of animal protein in their diet. Animal foods are loaded with nutrients that are easily absorbed in their most bio-available or easily accessible form.
It is important to understand your body and listen to its constant stream of feedback. With an emphasis on bio-individuality, it is also essential to be aware of what your body accepts and what it is likely to reject. Animal products also have a crucial role in fulfilling our nutritional needs. In case you are averse to eating animal products due to certain ethics or belief-systems, be ready to consume a significant amount of supplements as compensation for the same. But when it comes to choosing your animal protein, make sure it is not factory processed. It is highly recommended that you select only free-range pasture-raised animals.
Balancing our nutrition is a subtle phenomenon that requires a fine balance. It pays to know what your body lacks and how to fulfil that particular requirement. Diseases strike when the body is overrun with inflammation, nutritional deficiencies and toxins. Being disease-free involves primarily perceiving your body signals and eating what it needs. If you choose to maintain a plant-based diet for ethical or religious reasons then understand that you will need really good quality supplements to fill in the nutritional gaps that plant-based foods can create.
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