Is going plant-based a healthier option?
Be mindful to read the food labels.
There has been an uptick of plant-based foods in restaurants as well as in supermarkets. There are also a number of plant-based meats for those who want the taste of meat but a more healthier option.
Ageless Online speaks to Kohila Govindaraju, a nutritionist from THE BERRIES Nutrition Consulting to find out more about this trend and what we need to be aware of:
Can you explain the difference between plant-based foods and vegetarian foods?
The plant-based style of eating are primarily from plant sources that is proportionally rich in wholegrains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, and less portion of meat, eggs, fish, seafood and dairy. Plant foods are good sources of fibre, as well, that keeps us full for a longer time. Both soluble and insoluble fibre help keep good gut-health, preventing us from constipation.
A vegan-style diet excludes animal products (meat, egg, fish, poultry and dairy) whereas a few versions of the vegetarian diet includes eggs, dairy and seafood. Here’s a breakdown:
- Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian includes eggs and dairy products like milk, yogurt and a small amount of meat, poultry and fish.
- Pescatarian includes eggs, dairy, fish and seafood, and excludes meat and poultry.
- Ovo-vegetarian includes eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
- Lacto-vegetarian includes dairy, and excludes egg, meat, poultry, fish and seafood
- Vegetarian includes eggs and dairy, and excludes meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
What are common ingredients in plant-based foods with “faux” or “substitutes” of meat/seafood, etc? Are these made in laboratories?
Plant-based meat are produced with plants and plant proteins that taste like meat, in food production facilities. Heme, one of the ingredients in some plant-based meat, is made in the lab with soy and yeast.
There are many plant proteins used to make plant-based foods. The ingredients of meat substitutes are soybean, wheat gluten, peas, mung beans, lentils, brown rice, lemon juice, lecithin, yeast, potato starch, mushroom (that has a meat flavour), carrots and some substitutes have milk and eggs too, to enhance the consistency and the flavour of the food.
Why do we have them in the first place? So people who don’t want to eat meat can feel they are eating meat?
The plant-based meat substitutes are high in protein and low in saturated fat that can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Good to read that they contain fibre when compared to meat products which again help to reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes. Though it gives a feel of eating meat, it is still processed food where most of the nutrients are lost during the process of making the food.
What are the concerns about eating plant-based food like Beyond Burger, Omni-Meat, Impossible, Garden Protein, etc?
These meat substitutes which are loaded with sodium and flavouring agents is of great concern and some ingredients in the product might be a potential allergen that causes dangerous reactions when consumed. People have reported having digestive complications from the high protein and fibre in the product. Reading the food label is crucial when opting for meat substitutes.
In addition, plant protein is considered as an incomplete protein as it lacks one or two essential amino acids. Not all plant protein contains all the essential amino acids.
Do you feel we should sooner than later embrace plant-based as a future to come since we are trying to save the earth, etc?
Plant-based food to save the earth sounds good but as for the human health is concerned, it is good to go with less meat, and more fruits and vegetables. The protein in meat is considered a complete protein with all essential amino acids and the iron from meat is easily absorbed by the body.
What are your healthier picks for plant-based food, if any?
Tofu, tempeh, wholegrains (wholegrain bread, brown rice, quinoa and barley), peas, beans, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Anything to add?
The food we consume plays a vital role in our body towards health, appearances and elevating our mood. It is important to adopt a daily meal that is rich in fruits and vegetables, for they are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Also, 30 minutes of moderate physical activities every day can increase our blood circulation to distribute oxygen and the nutrients to all parts of the body.
Half of our plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables that provides vitamins and minerals, a quarter of the plate should be filled with protein food (meat/egg/fish/seafood/poultry or beans and peas (for vegetarian)) and another quarter to be filled with carbohydrate-rich food such as brown rice/wholemeal bread/wholemeal pasta. Consumption of water also keeps the body well hydrated and helps to eliminate toxic and waste from the body. Also, healthy cooking can retain nutrients in the food. A few healthier cooking methods include baking, grilling, stewing, steaming, boiling and stir frying.