Singer Miley Cyrus, former President Bill Clinton and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres are among the celebrities who’ve adopted a plant-based diet. Athlete Novak Djokovic, who recently won the men’s singles at this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament, is the latest celeb catching waves over his plant diet.
These diets are both trendy and healthy — this is nothing new. Rachel Quinlivan West, a Birmingham, Alabama-based registered dietitian and nutrition writer at eMeals.com, says people haven’t lost their appetite for plant-based diets for a number of reasons.
“People are learning more about the vast and varied benefits of eating plants and the positive effects they have on both short- and long-term health,” West says. “There are heaps of studies that support that eating more plants leads to better health across the spectrum.”
Countless research has shown that plant-based diets lower the risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, says Valerie Williams, founder and CEO of Foodies Vegan in Cincinnati.
“A diet filled predominantly with vegetables offers higher nutrients, healthy fats and denser calories, overall,” Williams says. “Mushrooms, for instance, offer inherent health benefits — the flavor of umami and a meaty texture that can mimic that of meat, if needed in any given recipe. Tofu, as well, is a staple in most Asian cultures and has become more prominent in Western cultures, as it is able to adapt to a variety of recipes.”
People who consume plant-based diets live up to 10 years longer compared with the general population and are less afflicted with chronic diseases, says Hana Kahleova, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C.
“Plant-based diets are good for your health but also for the animals and for the environment,” Kahleova says. “Switching from animal to plant protein has many cardiometabolic benefits. Additionally, plant foods don’t contain any cholesterol, are very low in saturated fat, and on the other hand, provide a lot of fiber, vitamins and minerals.”
A beef with the leaf?
When it comes to storage and where to buy these meat alternatives, Williams says it’s easier nowadays because everyone wants to eat better.
“With the emergence of healthy eating, it has become relatively easy to find meat alternatives in all conventional markets, such as Kroger and Walmart, as well as independent retailers, specialty stores and farmers markets,” she says. “Most meat alternatives last up to a week in the refrigerator, as long as they are stored in an airtight container.”
But package labeling can be tricky because not all terms that may appear on the package are regulated, according to West.
“Buzzwords like ‘natural,’ ‘clean’ and ‘superfood’ are not,” West says. “It’s always a good idea to check the ingredient list to see everything that a product contains — the more whole food and recognizable ingredients you see the better — and also check the nutrition facts label to make sure calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar aren’t higher than you would expect.”
Consumers should avoid products made with texturized soy, texturized vegetable proteins or isolates, according to Williams. Unfortunately, these ingredients are used in a majority of the vegan and vegetarian products on shelves today, especially most veggie burgers.
And in the interest of avoiding highly processed foods, shoppers should instead look for brands that don’t rely on fake meat products, lab ingredients or processed foods, she says. “No matter what your diet, reading ingredient labels is a must,” Williams says.