Following on from my previous blog about eating healthily at Christmas, this week I have decided to focus on open up my readers to a plant based way of eating. A plant-based diet otherwise known as Vegan, encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods.
Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. A plant-based diet is not an all-or-nothing program, but a way of life that is tailored to each individual. It may be especially beneficial for those with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, or cardiovascular disease. A plant-based diet has been shown to decrease plaque in the blood vessels, and lower risk of diabetes and stroke.
This style of eating aims to maximize consumption of nutrient-dense plant foods while minimizing processed foods, oils, and animal foods (including dairy products and eggs). It encourages lots of vegetables (cooked or raw), fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, seeds, and nuts (in smaller amounts) and is generally low fat.
In my experience as a Nutritional Therapist at the Life Practice clinic in Hitchin, I have recommended plant based diets for individuals with inoperable or severe coronary artery disease. Low-sodium, plant-based diets may be prescribed for individuals with high blood pressure or a family history of coronary artery disease or stroke. A patient with obesity  and diabetes may benefit from a plant-based diet. Patients with kidney disease may need a plant-based diet with special restrictions, for example fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium and phosphorus. Finally, patients with thyroid disease would need to be careful when consuming plants that are mild goitrogens, like soy, raw cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, and corn. These patients would be informed that cooking these vegetables inactivates the goitrogens.
It is interesting to read about a cardiologist in the US by the name of Kim Williams, MD, also president of the American College of Cardiology, who became a vegan in 2003, after finding out his cholesterol levels were high. He went vegan because he was impressed by how much heart scans of one of his patients improved after she tried a plant-based diet. She went from a high-risk of heart disease to normal risk in a matter of months. So from a medical point of view, plant based diets do offer benefits to health.
Lucy Fisher and her team at Chia Naturally Healthy run a wonderful vegan cafe in our local market town of Hitchin where they serve naturally healthy, meat free and dairy free food & drink. The menu specialises in juices & smoothies, raw foods, gluten free options & organic produce.
So to give us some insight into plant-based eating here are my questions to Lucy…..
Why is it that someone would follow a plant based diet?
There are many reasons why someone would choose to follow a plant based diet and way of living. The most obvious is for health reasons. At Chia Naturally Healthy we believe everyone is intolerant and for a good reason too.
With the latest news reports stating that we are now becoming resistance to antibiotics , does this mean that plant based diets are better for us?
With all the antibiotics that animals are now being fed due to mass animal agriculture you just cannot get pure meat, dairy or eggs now without it having a negative side effect. So often you hear that someone is dairy intolerant. Our genetic make up is not designed to consume milk from another species hence all the dietary issues people come across.
We have also heard in the media that the way in which meat is processed can also be bad for our health, is this to be believed?
The World Health Organisation is now warning how processed meats can be cancer causing. It is only a matter of time before they realise that in the state it is that all meat, dairy and eggs are disease causing. Eating an organic, varied diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes gives you far more dense nutrients, vitamins and minerals than any other diet or fad.
What other reasons would someone follow a plant-based diet?
There are people who also approach a plant based diet from ethical and sustainable point of views. Over 50% of the worlds methane gas emissions comes from farmed animals and around 50% of the worlds grains are fed to farmed animals instead of the millions of people starving in poorer countries. Whether meat, dairy and eggs are organic, red tractor or free range either way the animal has been used for our benefit and our benefit only and none of these trademarks ensure the quality of treatment to the animals. Living a plant based lifestyle gives you a great feeling of not only doing your part towards the future of our planet but to your future health also.
What are the benefits?
There are many benefits you can gain from switching to a plant based diet and here are a few of the common ones that people often struggle with.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds contain zero cholesterol and actually have a way of lowering your cholesterol rates therefore reducing the risk of heart disease. You think you are eating healthy. However, 1 egg contains twice the amount of cholesterol of that of a burger. Fish also contains a lot of cholesterol. You need good fats such as coconut oil and avocado and these contain no cholesterol at all.
Lower blood pressure
A lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains that you would eat more of whilst eating a plant based diet are rich in potassium. Potassium lowers our blood pressure. Animal products contain little or no potassium and actually increase our blood pressure which can lead to stress and anxiety and also raise our cholesterol.
Lower risk of cancer
Eating a plant based diet is the best road you can take to avoiding cancer. Animal products have now been directly linked to cancers especially that of the colon and breast. Our intestines are extremely long up to 15 times the length of our body. This mimics intestines of herbivore animals. Carnivorous animals have much shorter intestines so that rotting flesh would not get stuck for long periods and cause problems (such as cancer) This is how we know our body is better designed to eat a plant based diet.
Reduction of blood sugar levels
Plant based diets are plentiful in fibre and this helps slow down absorption of sugar into the blood stream. This also works in keeping us fuller for longer so therefore we don’t over eat. This is why a plant based diet suits people with type 2 diabetes  so well and why many people can actually reverse their diabetes this way.
What plant foods contain protein, omegas and iron?
Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which, called essential amino acids, cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from food. Essential amino acids are found in meat, dairy products, and eggs, as well as many plant-based foods, such as quinoa. Essential amino acids can also be obtained by eating certain combinations of plant-based foods such as brown rice with beans, and hummus with whole wheat pita. Therefore, a well-balanced, plant-based diet will provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids and prevent protein deficiency.Great sources of protein on a plant based diet include Nuts, seeds, broccoli, mushrooms, corn, chickpeas and lentils.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids are needed for our bodies to function healthily. They promote healthy brain function and support heart and joint health amongst other uses. These can be found in foods such as flax and walnuts in particular or why not go straight to the source of where the fish get it from and eat an algae rich diet.
It’s clear to see that a lot of these food sources are repeated when it comes to what nutrients they have in them, which is why it is so rewarding to eat a plant based diet. Plant-based foods that are rich in iron include kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, spinach, raisins, cashews, oatmeal, cabbage, and tomato juice, chickpeas, lentils, dried fruit, nuts and seeds as well as the increasingly popular quinoa. So just a meal containing these will offer a wide range of nutritional value. Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron so if you eat any of these with some dark leafy vegetables your well on your way.
Is it expensive to lead a plant based lifestyle?
I saw a great quote recently that read ‘Pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later’. Now we don’t directly pay for our healthcare. However, what this is saying is that to invest in your health is a very small price to pay. It doesn’t have to be expensive as many students manage on a plant based diet.
Would you recommend a plant based diet for children?
Most definitely! With all the fast food and bad choices there are out there these days, almost all contain something that you wouldn’t consume on a plant based diet so that limits the amount of bad food they would be tempted to eat on a daily basis. As long as your growing child gets enough calories for all the energy they use for growing and they get their added nutrients from fortified mylks and cereals there is no reason why a child wouldn’t thrive on a plant based diet and be far healthier than a omnivore child. Scientific research also shows that plant based diets are associated with a lower body mass index (BMI) and a lower prevalence of obesity in adults and children 
What are mylks?
The word Mylk is a medieval spelling for the word milk. We now use it to differentiate between cows milk and dairy alternatives as a fun way of letting it be known it contains no dairy.
What do you eat at Christmas?
There are lots of meat alternatives around like tofurkey and nut roasts. However, personally I don’t believe you can beat a whole spread of good old veg, legumes and pulses. Roasting sprouts with shallots, garlic and rosemary with new potatoes. Kale with a deliciously creamy cashew dressing and cranberries are just a couple of ideas. There is a growing number of people adopting a meat and dairy free lifestyle and therefore an abundance of healthy plant based cook books out now and lots of information and recipes on the Internet. Get googling!
So what culinary delights are Chia putting together for the Christmas season?
This is our Christmas juice that we shall be offering. It contains orange, pineapple, Apple, lemon, ginger and cinnamon. So you have all the festive flavours of fruity Christmas cake without any nasties and all the goodness!
Here we have one of our well known power balls Christmas pudding style. Containing hazelnuts, sultanas, walnuts, dates, raw cacao powder, orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. These are great for all occasions be it breakfast on the run or an afternoon pick me up. Along with one of Chia’s favourites with a festive twist, our raw cacao peppermint hot chocolate made with a choice of hazelnut, almond, soya or oat Mylk. Raw cacao is naturally caffeine free and known to improve heart health, cholesterol, stress levels and inflammation.
A warming bowl of parsnip, sage, thyme and rosemary made with coconut mylk with toasted rye topped with coconut oil which is a great healthy fat.
You can find Chia Naturally Healthy at 25 Churchyard, Hitchin (overlooking the St Mary’s Church) tel: 01462 457777 http://chianaturallyhealthy.co.uk/
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Siddique H: Antibiotic use in food fuels resistance to vital drugs, Antibiotics, Guardian Newspaper. 2015 Dec http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/dec/08/antibiotic-use-food-fuels-humans-resistance-vital-drugs-report
 Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care.2006 Aug;29(8):1777–83. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/dc06-0606. [PubMed]
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About the Author:
Karen Shields is a BANT Registered Nutritional Therapist and runs her clinic at the Life Practice 107 Bancroft, Hitchin.
She offers a FREE 20 minute telephone consultation which gives her clients a chance to assess whether our services are right for you. Prior to your first face to face consultation you will be required to complete a detailed medical history questionnaire. We look at what has happened in the past and how it may have influenced your present health. We have access to laboratory testing for food intolerances, gut health and stress. We can also prescribe supplements for a range of conditions. Initial consultations start from £85.00 for 90 minutes.
To book an appointment please call Tel: 01462 431112 or visit our website