A plant-based diet limits animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. Vegetarians and vegans prioritize plant-based foods, such as grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits. Some plants are more nutrient-dense than others, while some nutrients are mostly found in animal-based foods. Plants and animal foods offer different advantages and disadvantages you need to be aware of to balance your diet properly.
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Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
Vegetables, especially nons-tarchy vegetables, and fruits are the most dense sources of vitamins and minerals, according to a paper published in February 2005 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." In addition, vegetables and fruits also provide different antioxidants, which can further contribute to your health and prevent diseases. Although whole grains are plant-based foods, they have a poor nutrient density and do not provide as much nutrition per calories compared to non-starchy vegetables and fruits.
Fiber can only be obtained from plant-based foods. Most Americans are not getting enough fiber and are eating too many calories. Although whole grains provide some fiber, they also contain a significant amount of calories, which could prevent weight loss in overweight individuals. Non-starchy vegetables are the most dense source of fiber, which means that they provide a lot of fiber for very few calories. Fruits, especially berries, are considered in between non-starchy vegetables and whole grains regarding the nutrient density of their fiber content.
Some plant-based foods, especially grains like wheat, kamut, barley, rye and oats, contain gluten. The rates of celiac disease are increasing and new data indicate that gluten sensitivity is real and more prevalent than previously thought, according to the Center for Celiac Research. Following a plant-based diet can lead to a higher consumption of gluten and can be problematic for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Because plant-based foods are not able to run away from their predators, they defend themselves by producing different chemicals. Many of these compounds, such as lectins and phytic acid, have anti-nutritional properties that interfere with the digestion of protein and absorption of many minerals, especially calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium, according to the September 2004 issue of "Toxicon" and the book "Food Phytates." Eating a plant-based diet can prevent you from properly absorbing the nutrients your body needs.
A strict plant-based diet can prevent you from getting enough protein, especially that the protein found in plant-based foods are incomplete. Your body requires a certain balance between all the essential and non-essential amino acids. Unfortunately, the protein found in grains, legumes, soy and nuts are incomplete and may cause malnutrition in some people.
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Origins and Evolution of The Western Diet: Health Implications For The 21st Century; Loren Cordain, et al.; February 2005
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Study from University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research Places Gluten Sensitivity on Center Stage of Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders; March 2011
- "Toxicon"; Antinutritional Properties of Plant Lectins; Vasconcelos I.M., et al.; September 2004
- "Food Phytates"; N. Rukma Reddy and Shridhar K. Sathe; 2001