Why I Chose a Plant-Based Diet

Monday Sep 11 | BY |
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two snacks completely opposite, healthy vs unhealthy

Your biggest decision in health is what kind of diet you’re going to choose. I call this a decision because it has, at some point, to be a conscious choice.

Most people don’t choose anything.

They just continue consuming the foods they grew up on or the diet that people are eating around them.

On the other hand, a health seeker will evaluate all of the different dietary options and choose which one makes the most sense. They’ll also consider whether it’s feasible, or try and fail at a particular approach until they find one that works.

Ultimately, if you’re seeking health, you will make a choice.

What will that choice be? There are multiple options.

If you scrutinize them, I think it boils down to essentially two choices, each of which has its proponents and pundits. However, they’re not necessarily mutually inclusive.

Those two choices are:

1- The “Low-carb” approach.

2- The plant-based approach.

This first diet, in its many variations, typically will be a higher protein diet with an emphasis on removing or restricting carbohydrates.

The villains are some combination of gluten, starches, and sometimes even fruit. The focus is eating more protein and vegetables. This diet will feature daily animal protein in the form of fish, meat, chicken and eggs, and sometimes dairy products. There are many variations of this diet. But overall, the general pattern is higher protein, lower carb.

Next, we have the plant-based approach.

Again, there are many variations. The one that dominates is scientific plant-based diet and not the “ethical” vegan diet that is also popular in organizations such as PETA.

A plant-based diet would be a diet with an emphasis on unrefined carbohydrates and foods combined from the following categories: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains and legumes. This diet would be high in carbohydrates, lower in protein, and low in fat.

Some people will say that I’m cheating here and that it’s possible to design a low-carb, plant-based diet, for example.

While this is technically correct, there are not many examples of such a diet. Carbohydrates are mostly found in plants, so by definition, a plant-based diet is a high-carbohydrate diet, unless one artificially restricts food intake to a few select choices.

So, the two most important choices or approaches are a higher protein, higher fat, lower carb diet; and a higher carbohydrate, lower fat, lower protein diet. One is plant-based, and one contains animal protein.

Macronutrients

A quick parenthesis and recap here.

There are only three types of nutrients that provide calories — the so-called macronutrients. Those are:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Protein

If one category goes up, the other two must necessarily go down. A higher-carbohydrate diet automatically means a lower-fat or protein diet.

In reality, there only two primary macronutrients: fats and carbohydrates, because proteins are not per se an energy source.

It would be nearly impossible to consume enough protein to meet your calorie needs for the day. Protein foods tend to be associated with foods that also contain fats. For example: salmon.

A typical cooked plant-based diet contains about 10-12% protein while a paleo diet often contains 15-20% protein, but rarely significantly more than that.

The dichotomy is between fat and carbohydrates.

For example, here’s the macronutrient ratio of two popular diets:

Mark Sisson Primal Blueprint

  • 15% Protein
  • 20% Carbohydrates
  • 65% Fats

Dr. McDougall’s Diet

  • 12% Protein
  • 81% Carbohydrates
  • 7% Fats

Various variations of those diets will typically mainly affect the nutrient ratio between fats and carbohydrates.

Plant-Based versus Low-Carb

When we look at the different health experts in this field, it’s easy to categorize them. So let’s take a look.

Dr. Mercola, Mark Sisson, Dr. Lustig and many others all are proponents of a variation of the low-carb diet.

On the other hand, plant-based diet advocates include Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Esselstyne, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. John McDougall, and so on.

I personally, after many years of looking at this issue and through my own experiences, I concluded that the diet that was best for me and that would lead me to the best health is the plant-based diet.

I kept an open mind.

I was never a militant vegan.

At some point, I was ready to accept that I could have been wrong; that perhaps a plant-based diet wasn’t the right one. I looked at the different issues, and I tried the different approaches, but I also studied the books, went to the conferences and heard two sides of the same argument.

Here are the reasons why I chose a plant-based diet:

  1. Scientific consensus. Years ago, I used to side with the climate skeptics because it fit my view of the world better, but then I realized my mistake. I was selecting the information based on what I wanted to hear. That’s one example. When we look at all the research —not the odd study here and there—it all points to the same conclusion. Plant foods are beneficial, and animal foods are detrimental.
  2. The experts. Going to different conferences and hearing experts explain their points of view, I realized that the plant-based experts have more training and credibility. They all are incredibly talented and intelligent people with advanced degrees in many different sciences. They’re not the typical self-proclaimed diet experts. I respect that. They don’t imbue their information with hype.
  3. The results that I’ve seen in people following a plant-based diet, whether it’s raw or cooked, have been incredible. My years of involvement in the raw food movement have shown me how powerful diet changes can be. I just don’t see the same level of the incredible results from people promoting a higher protein diet. Yes, they’re often able to lose weight with that diet, but not necessarily getting the same overall health transformations.
  4. My blood test results. I have done periods eating much more protein, much more fat and fewer unrefined carbohydrates, and when I compare my blood test results, I can see the difference. Cholesterol levels are lower on the plant-based diet. My blood pressure is lower. My resting heart rate is lower. My triglycerides are also lower, and more importantly, my inflammation markers are much lower.
  5. My health history. I look at diseases that are common in my family, and I don’t see a lot of cancer, but I do see a lot of heart disease. In my experience, eating more fat and protein has a density to increase my cholesterol levels, so I know that if there is one aspect of my health that might be more sensitive genetically, it is heart health and blood pressure. It seems to me that the smartest choice is to eat a diet that controls this factor.
  6. Contaminants. No one will convince me that it’s healthier to eat at the top of the food chain than at the bottom. This is the fatal flaw experts don’t consider when they recommend eating fish. We are exposed to more contaminants when we eat at the top of the food chain. Animal tissues contain much more pesticides and toxic residues than plants that have been sprayed with the same chemicals. An animal will eat hundreds of pounds of food, and all of the toxins contained in those foods will accumulate in its tissues.
  7. Antioxidants. Whenever we hear of some cancer protecting food, it’s always a plant. We never find a study that discovers that mussels prevent diseases, or that lamb meat has an incredible amount of antioxidants. Why? The antioxidants are in the plants. They’re in the colorful fruits and vegetables. It seems to me that the foods that are the most protective should be the healthiest. Eat foods that prevent disease, and you might be sure that they are not food that will cause disease. They tend to be the same food.

Finally, there are many, many more reasons why plant foods are incredible, and this is not a discussion of whether you should be a strict vegan or not.

I do occasionally stray, usually because I’m traveling or unprepared, but that rarely happens on the whole. My diet is on the plant-based side.

Your thoughts?

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

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