Myth #1: “Plant-based” is just another term to describe a vegan diet. Not necessarily. Plant-based is often synonymous with plant-forward—these are broader terms used to describe a diet which emphasizes plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Someone who claims to eat a plant-based diet might still consume animal products less often and in smaller portions. By default, vegetarian and vegan diets can also be considered plant-based. Vegetarian restrictions vary to some extent, but they generally exclude meat (beef, pork, lamb, etc.) and may include a certain variety of eggs, dairy, seafood, and/or poultry. People who follow vegan restrictions eliminate all animal products.
Myth #2: I won’t be able to eat enough protein. False. The standard American diet is heavy in animal proteins, but that doesn’t mean a shift toward plant-based eating wouldn’t provide adequate protein. There are lots of plant protein sources including tofu and other soy foods, nuts and seeds, split peas, oatmeal, and quinoa. Some have argued that plant proteins are not a quality protein source because most (except for whole soy foods) aren’t considered a “complete protein” or don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids. Side note: Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein, and essential amino acids have to be consumed while nonessential amino acids can be produced by our bodies. There are some amino acids considered to be conditionally essential, but that’s another topic for another time. You don’t have to play a complicated game of mix ‘n match to create a complete protein. Research supports this. Just try to incorporate a variety of protein-rich foods at every meal or snack.
Also, keep in mind you can continue eating animal protein sources in smaller amounts if you’d like (ex: Greek yogurt, eggs, baked chicken, steak, salmon). One of the keys to lasting change in your eating habits is to continue eating foods you actually enjoy. If you want to eat a juicy steak or fried chicken every now and then, that is fine! Healthy eating has more to do with being realistic and finding balance on a daily basis versus following strict rules and eliminating all kinds of foods.
Myth #3: It’s too expensive. False. Plant-based foods don’t have to be expensive. You can buy fruits and vegetables frozen and/or in season to help lower your grocery bill. You can also buy canned beans and canned vegetables, just look for low sodium varieties as canned food often contains added sodium to act as a preservative and extend shelf-life. Fruit cups and canned fruit are another option to help save money, but my suggestion would be to read the label and choose products with less added sugars.
Dry foods like beans, nuts, oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa are perfect to buy in bulk. If you eat seafood, poultry, and meats, you can save money if you buy only what you need for the upcoming week, buy in bulk and freeze, or use coupons and buy items on sale. Shopping ahead of time on a mobile app makes it super easy to use coupons, and it can save you some time!
Myth #4: Eating with friends and family will be difficult. False. This may have been true several years ago, but most restaurants include vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) entrees on their main menu. Look for menu items with a “V” or leaf next to it—that usually indicates it is appropriate for vegetarian or vegan diets. Just be sure to ask what different sauces are made of, and don’t be afraid to request an alternative if possible! For example vegetable pad Thai may be vegetarian friendly for some, but it likely contains fish sauce and wouldn’t be appropriate for a vegan diet or a more strict vegetarian diet. If you’re going over to someone else’s house and worried about having limited options for yourself, offer to bring 1-2 dishes to share.
Myth #5: Plant-based diets contain too many carbs (carbohydrates) and would increase my risk for diabetes. False. Well-planned meals that emphasize plant foods could actually help lower your risk for certain chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Read the official position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) which acknowledges the long-term benefits of eating patterns with decreased intake of saturated fat and increased intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains:
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases… Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease.”
COPYRIGHT © 2016 ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS. PUBLISHED BY ELSEVIER INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PMID: 27886704 DOI: 10.1016/J.JAND.2016.09.025
If you’re trying to shift towards more plant-based eating but have questions or concerns, I encourage you to speak with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN) for some guidance and support. You can also check out the American Institute for Cancer Research for recipe ideas. I’ve referenced them before, but they have a recently updated healthy recipes database that fits nutrition guidelines for reducing your cancer risk. Of course Pinterest is a great way to discover new recipes, too!
What is a juice cleanse?
A juice cleanse consists of consuming only juice from fruits and vegetables for a short period of time (anywhere from 2-14 days is what I have seen). It's usually promoted as a detoxification diet, or a way to eliminate toxins that have accumulated in the body, while also kick-starting weight loss. While there may be potential benefits in doing a juice cleanse, the support is mostly from anecdotal evidence (personal testimony) lacking scientific proof. You've probably seen this all over social media profiles of celebrities or so-called "health enthusiasts" posting attractive photos with hashtags like #detoxify, #cleanseyourbody, #juicecleanse, or #itreallyworks...
Juicing is different than blending because it involves the process of removing and separating the pulp (or fiber) of fruits and vegetables from the juice. Yes–this can serve as a concentrated source of vitamins/minerals and help you consume more fruits and vegetables altogether. However, by definition, you’re significantly reducing the amount of fiber you take in. Different types of fiber help promote a healthy digestive tract, regulate bowel movements, reduce cholesterol, manage blood sugar spikes, and help you feel fuller for longer. Unless you need to follow a special diet for medical reasons, fiber is generally beneficial.
Juice cleanses can lead to weight loss because you’re limiting yourself to consuming only juice. The amount of calories taken in while following this particular diet varies but it is generally much less than what you’d typically consume, so it’s no surprise you might lose weight. However, weight loss from a juice cleanse is oftentimes related to a reduction in water weight often due to the use of food or supplements with a laxative-like effect. Not only would this make it easier to re-gain weight after reintroducing real foods, but it’s risky and can cause potentially dangerous side effects including dehydration and electrolyte imbalances such as hyponatremia (low sodium level in the blood). Side effects of hyponatremia may include headaches, fatigue, weakness, dizziness or fainting, and nausea.
Moreover, very low calorie cleanses cause your body to shift into starvation mode. This may be counterproductive by causing an increase in cortisol. Often referred to as the “the stress hormone”, cortisol is released in response to stress to help your body maintain homeostasis and survive. Research suggests an increased cortisol level is likely a response to the psychological and physiological stress of dieting and calorie restriction. Increased levels of this hormone have been been associated with weight gain, partly due to its role in stimulating appetite and facilitating fat storage. Researchers have also found increased cortisol levels can persist after transitioning back to eating real foods which could make it harder to continue losing weight or keep lost weight off. (FYI: references can be found at the end of this post)
Juice cleanses and other detox diets are often promoted after a period of overeating or unwanted weight gain (after the holiday season, at the start of a new year, “summer body goals”, etc.). I advise caution as this could create unhealthy habits like using food as reward or punishment.
IMO: the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits. You don’t need a special diet to detox your body — your liver and kidneys run a tight ship to filter and eliminate toxins.
If you want to include juicing as part of your healthy lifestyle, I suggest the following:
For other resources to help you plan meals, I suggest checking out What’s Cooking? by the USDA for tools, recipes, budget tips, and more. Also, the American Institute for Cancer Research has a recipes database with everything guaranteed to fit nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention and reducing your individual risk. More on that to come!