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:
- 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.
- Animals. Beef, steak, shrimp, etc.
- 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:
- You’re not getting enough calories
- You’re not getting the right mix of nutrients
- Your environment is giving cues that triggers hunger associations in your brain. (Our appetite is very pavlovian).
- 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.
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.