Why You Shouldn’t Go “Plant Based” With Your Diet


plant based
Plant based eating: mostly great, except….


The term “plant based” is very popular vernacular in foodie circles.

It’s not without merit, and definitely better than “Atkins”, or “alkalizing”, but the term needs to be clarified in order to be properly understood.

I’m not about to say that vegetables aren’t good for you……we all know that’s nonsense.  And in that way, yes, “plant based” is a great way to eat.

However, being “plant based” doesn’t shed light on the most important question concerning your diet:  where will you get the bulk of your calories from?

Here’s a hint:  not from plants.

At least not from the leafy green kinds.  Are they wonderful for your health?  Yes, absolutely.  Will they give you enough calories to consistently feel full?  Probably not.  At least not in the long run.

Even if your diet is as nutrient-dense as humanly possible, you’re still going to need a minimum number of calories in order to fend off hunger.  And in order to solve that problem, you’ll need to go beyond your salad.

Your Primary Source of Calories: Three Choices

When it comes to getting the bulk of your calories you basically have three categories of foods to choose from:

  1. Processed Foods.  Regardless of the source or food group you can usually lump these together.  Quickly digested, added sugar, preservatives and its nutritional content has been added back in after it’s already been stripped out.  Refined sugar counts as a processed food in my book.
  2. Animals.  Beef, steak, shrimp, etc.
  3. Starch.  Long chains of carbohydrates linked together.  At its best it comes in the form of beans, legumes, or sweet potatoes, at its worst it’s white flour.   (And yes, I’m aware that technically starch is a plant too, but it’s a distinct type of food very different from most other vegetables).

If you want to be healthy you have to remove option #1 as your source of calories as much as possible.  Probably at or below 20% if you want to avoid consistent weight gain.  If it’s more than 50% you’re probably doomed to the sorts of metabolic disorders that plague half the planet.

So that leaves the choice of animals and starch as the chief way to fill your tummy.  It’s also the principle difference between vegan and paleo diets.   They both advocate removing junk food, but differ in the portions of macronutrients for what’s left over.

Is one better than the other?

As far as your health is concerned, you can go either way or mix and match them both.  Don’t believe me?  It’s dead simple to find plenty of success stories for either of them.  Maybe they’re exaggerating, but most of the time I think they’re true.  In the long run most people need some combination of both (But it is possible to do without one entirely if you’re careful).

Cravings Are Guaranteed Failure

Cravings are the biggest reason for junk food relapse.  They have four causes:

  1. You’re not getting enough calories
  2. You’re not getting the right mix of nutrients
  3. Your environment is giving cues that triggers hunger associations in your brain.  (Our appetite is very pavlovian).
  4. Taste and calorie associations activate pleasure sensations that make your body want to stockpile food.

At the end of the day, it’s all about getting what your body needs today and doing what it can to make sure it’ll have enough of what it needs tomorrow.

When people start on the vegetarian diet their meals consist largely of salads, smoothies, and various oils added on top.  They usually feel fantastic and start plastering their Facebook wall with how great they their new regime is, and they probably do feel fantastic.  They’re taking care of items #2-4 on the above list.  Life is good.

However, over time #1 becomes more of a glaring problem, and here people fall into traps.  Either by cheating or filling the caloric void with soy based meat substitutes and dishes that have lots of flour.  This is why you see more and more vegetarians and vegans who are still overweight.  Plant based and still fat.

Dr. McDougall stresses the importance of being “starch based” as an alternative.  I think he’s mostly right, except he thinks all animal products are inherently unhealthy and I do not.

Mark Sisson stresses the importance of being “fat based” as an alternative.  I think he’s mostly right, except he thinks all grains are inherently unhealthy and I do not.  (More on that thought here).

However, it really is important to nail down where you get the majority of your calories.  If you do that, you might actually be surprised how flexible you can be with your food choices.

Doing this won’t guarantee great health, but will go very far in preventing the total collapse that’s the default outcome for most people’s crappy eating habits.

7 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Go “Plant Based” With Your Diet”

  1. When I saw the title I thought you were being an attention mongering idiot, which is not your style.

    When I finished the article I thought you made a really good point that many people get wrong. Well said.


  2. i’m always amazed at how the world can product so many diet books when they all boil down to the same thing. vegan, paleo, atkins, etc. i’ve read them all and ultimately they all promote the same eating habits but like you said they end up differing in the different portions of macronutrients tahts optimal and find a way to add some twist to help them sell books. i don’t read them anymore after realizing i had been reading the same things for 5 years.


  3. If more people just made it simple with logic like this the world would be a happier place – but the diet book marketers would not! And I’m curious, what animal meats do you think are good choices? You didn’t mention it.


    1. Thanks 🙂 The most important is eliminating the very bad ones, after that wild caught fish and some organ meat, with traditional choices thrown in from time to time assuming they’re prepared well. I’m honestly not sure if the grass vs. grain fed is an important distinction or not, even though that seems to be a big deal to a lot of people.


  4. The title had me wondering how this was going to turn out. Enjoyed it–good points. Ah, to find that perfect balance for our own body!


  5. I am also curious as to what meat products you think are okay because if choosing between animal and starch is what separates a vegan from a paleo dieter, I definitely think eating the right grains, legumes, and beans is A LOT healthier and better for you than a piece of chicken or a turkey leg. Wouldnt you think? I am curious to know what you would say are the benefits of eating meat and if those benefits (such as protein, maybe?) are the very best in meat or if you can find them in other healthier, less fatty ways. I say this because as I do my own research, I,m beginning to believe that we really don’t need animal products in our diet at all.


    1. Hi Suva.

      In my opinion the differences in protein are not very important. Your body breaks down all proteins into their constituent amino acids, and most people get enough protein in their day to day diet. So where you get it from is not that important.

      I think humans are meant to be omnivorous, and to be honest, I flip-flop between vegan and paleo eating….which basically means switching out starch for animal fat as your primary source of calories.

      Why do I flip flop? Because I think by and large the benefits of both are non-linear. By this I mean when you go vegan, the initial benefits can be HUGE for a lot of people, but for many they can taper off after time, since it can be easy to continually get everything your body needs on a vegan diet. (Keep in mind that I know many people can and do subsist on a vegan diet, I’m just saying it’s easy for holes to appear after a certain amount of time).

      And believe it or not, there are a lot of benefits of getting fat as your primary energy source, which is just much easier to do on a paleo eating regime than a vegan one.

      Hopefully I’m making sense?

      I think most raw cuts of meat are pretty good as long as you stay away from the stuff that has a lot of preservatives and packaging.

      I don’t like to eat meat that comes out of a can or anything, but what you can get at your deli will usually suffice.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s