Switching to plant-based diets may help manage weight issues better

March 24, 2021
Switching to plant-based diets may help manage weight issues better

Plant-based diets are not just a momentary fad – in fact, an international survey conducted late last year by global nutrition company Herbalife Nutrition has indicated that this trend will gain momentum, especially in Asia Pacific. Out of 8,000 respondents in eight Asia Pacific countries, two out of five APAC consumers said that they were more open to plant-based foods and meatless options, with almost 80% citing health as the number one reason for doing so; of those who changed their diet, the majority agreed that they would keep those changes even after the current pandemic ends.

As explained by Susan Bowerman, a registered dietician and senior director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, Herbalife Nutrition, a plant-based diet is more of an approach to eating rather than applying a label — it is a way of eating such that places emphasis on plant foods in the form of colourful fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. 

Although the diet is plant-based, it is not necessarily a vegetarian diet.Some of the common forms include the following: a vegan (or total vegetarian) diet, which excludes all animal products, including meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and animal by-products; a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which excludes meat, seafood and poultry but includes eggs and dairy products; a Mediterranean diet, which may include small amounts of animal protein such as fish, chicken and dairy products, with red meat once or twice per month, and emphasises plenty of vegetables, beans, nuts, olive oil, spices, and herbs; and/or a whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet, which encourages plant foods in their whole unprocessed form, especially vegetables, fruits, legumes as well as seeds and nuts (in smaller amounts). 

Plant foods are known to be nutrient-dense, which means that they provide an abundance of nutrients relative to their calorie cost, according to Bowerman. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, and are naturally cholesterol-free.

Most plant-based foods also contain a fair amount of fibre, which helps to fill one up and keep their digestive tract running smoothly. When you include plenty of these nutritious and filling foods in your diet, it leaves less room in your stomach for anything less healthy.

While the filling, high-fibre content of plant-based diets may appear to help people seeking weight loss* faster, its health benefits may still vary in others depending on the age and any pre-existing conditions that the person has.

[*There have been many studies done which suggest that a plant-based diet is better for managing obesity and weight issues. One such research does show that a shift to a plant-based diet has beneficial health effects on body weight and BMI in individuals who are overweight. The weight reduction can be explained by an increased intake of fibre, polyunsaturated fats, and plant proteins, including a reduced intake of energy, saturated fats, and animal proteins.]

For healthcare practitioners, nutrition experts and dietitians who are looking to recommend this plant-based diet to their patients, besides education, it is important to do a thorough assessment of eating habits and nutritional needs of the patient before suggesting this plant-based diet to them. If suitable, recommend simple and easy plant-based recipes with ingredients that can be conveniently purchased and incorporated into daily meals; in addition, suggest a meal planner or app tracker to make for easy reference on the amount of plant-based food consumed in meals and where changes are necessary.

As for the individual, adding more plant foods to a regular diet should be relatively easy and can be accomplished with a gradual approach. Bowerman said an easy way to incorporate more plant foods into the diet is to consume a fruit or vegetable with each meal or snack, or add one or two vegetarian meals per week. Gradually replace animal-protein based meals with plant-protein based meals while ensuring that nutritional intake of essential vitamins and minerals are still being met, such as through dietary supplements, she added.

Read: UN recommends plant-based diet, revised land management to fight climate change

Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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