What is Plant Based Nutrition Anyway?
What is plant based nutrition exactly? The name would seem to hold the answer, but it’s not that simple. Almost all the foods we eat contain at least some ingredients from plants after all. Potato chips and french fries. Even a corn dog has corn flour in it. When we discuss plant based nutrition though, we do not mean any food that contains any part of a plant. Think about nutrition. Nutrition means providing the body with the consumable substances needed to support life, outside of air and water. Vitamins and supplements aside, nutrition is largely determined by the foods we eat. So for the purposes of this article, nutrition is referring to food.
Okay, What’s the Plant Based Part Then?
When we talk about a plant based diet, we mean a diet which, ideally, contains a primarily whole plant ingredients. That is minimally processed. Generally speaking, the closer we stick to the natural state of our foodstuffs, the more healthful the food is. A baked potato is healthier than potato chips. Whole grain brown rice is healthier than white rice. Steamed broccoli is healthier than some vaguely broccoli-flavored cheesy casserole that contains a few little bits of green here and there. So a diet based upon healthy, plant based nutrition will have lots of whole vegetables and fruits in it and whole grains, ideally in their natural form. So brown rice or quinoa rather than bread or pasta.
Why is Plant Based Nutrition Good For Me?
Simply put, a healthy diet based primarily on plants is low in saturated fat, high in fiber and promotes healthy and stable blood sugar levels. Fiber not only helps keep bowel movements regular. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels in part by slowing digestion. Fiber also contributes bulk without adding many calories (if any) so it can help us feel full sooner. A diverse diet with a good amount of fruits and vegetables also provides vitamins and minerals in their natural form which is the way the body can most easily absorb them.
Think about it. Vitamins in a carrot, along with the natural enzymes are going to be easier for your body to utilize than synthetic vitamins in a hard little pellet you swallow. A diet that contains a lot of processed foods, refined flour and sugar and meat is something quite different. It can lead to spikes in blood sugar which trigger binge eating. This type of diet usually lacks fiber, which interferes with healthy digestion. It rarely contains the right amounts of all the nutrients we need for good health in an easily absorbable form. Note that a healthy plant based diet does not have to be vegetarian. It can include meat. But the majority of the foods will be plant based, whereas meat will be more like a side dish or used for flavor.
Plant Based Nutrition Benefits:
- A plant based diet is naturally low in unhealthy saturated fat.
- Good plant based diets are high in fiber which helps regulate blood sugar by slowing digestion.
- Fiber also helps keep you regular and feel full sooner which can prevent overeating.
- Balanced diets high in plants provide lots of nutrients that are easier for the body to absorb than vitamin tablets.
How Can Plant Based Nutrition Help an Eating Disorder Though?
Disordered eating comes in many forms. They include anorexia/restrictive eating, bulimia and binge eating. Eating disorders are complex and originate in the mind rather than the body. That said, learning to change your relationship with food, including what you eat, is a critical part of any eating disorder recovery plan. Another part of eating disorder recovery is restoring the body to good health. A diverse plant-based diet can be very helpful there. Finally, we come back to behavior. We are trying to change our relationship with food. Why do we eat? The main reason is nutrition, not pleasure or entertainment. By eating a healthful plant based diet, the focus is on nutrition. Stable blood sugar makes cravings and temptation to binge eat much less likely. Eating a healthy diet makes you feel good physically and mentally. You feel good about eating because you know you are eating the right things, rather than feeling guilty and perhaps even purging.
Plant based nutrition diets can benefit just about anyone. For people living with an eating disorder however they can be especially helpful. Recovering from an eating disorder means changing your relationship with food. The focus becomes seeing food as a means to fuel the body. Not a means of reward and punishment. Nor something to feel guilty about. A healthy plant based diet helps maintain stable blood sugar, steady energy and mood and regular bowel movements. It also makes cravings much less likely and makes it easier to maintain a healthy bodyweight. All of these factors help support recovery from an eating disorder. If you or someone you love is living with an eating disorder, call Harmony Oaks Recovery Center at (423) 708-4961 .