Plant-Based Diets: The New Model

Vegetables and dip

For the last three years or so, the concept of vegan diets has been slowly replaced with the plant-based concept. Even though I’ve identified myself as vegan for over 28 years, I appreciate the plant-based concept for three reasons: 1) it focuses on what is eaten, instead of what is not; 2) it suggests a greater emphasis on nutrition, instead of simply avoiding animal foods; and 3) it is more welcoming, more open, more inclusive and less polarizing than “vegan”.

By definition, a vegan lifestyle excludes all animal foods: not only flesh, but dairy and eggs as well. We all know what isn’t eaten, but what is? By failing to define what is included, it focuses on the absence of something, not the presence of anything in particular. Family and friends might continue to wonder what is actually eaten on a vegan diet. In contrast, a plant-based diet concept focuses on the foods included. It focuses on presence, not absence.

We all know at least one junk-food vegan. Heck, many of us are or were junk food vegans. Including me. In my early vegan (pre-dietitian) years, I would eat nearly anything, including hydrogenated oils, as long as it was vegan. This is another problem with vegan diets: they aren’t necessarily healthy. Potato chips, fries, soda and no-egg donuts? All vegan— not necessarily healthy, but vegan. But age caught up with me, as it does with most everyone, so I started to pay more attention to what I was eating. I cut out a lot of processed foods, fried foods and many of the so-called vegan junk foods. Ultimately, I started to cook more, and that’s always a good thing.

This brings up a debate within the plant-based community: must all plant-based diets be vegan? Some would say they should, but “plant-based” only indicates the diet’s basis or foundation, not the limits. So, in my opinion, while plants form the foundation of the diet, it can also include small amounts of animal protein eaten relatively infrequently. From a pure-nutrition perspective, I’m not yet convinced that one serving of sardines or wild salmon per week is likely to increase your risk of disease, despite the wishes of many plant-based and vegan advocates.

This is precisely why the plant-based concept is more welcoming: because it’s less restrictive. And if one salmon meal per week helps another traditional eater make the transition, then I’m OK with that. Would I prefer that he or she was vegan? Sure, but most people, and the public as a whole, tend to change incrementally. If everyone reduced their animal protein down to one meal per week, that would provide essentially the same fundamental health benefits as the best 100% vegan diet, and it makes the concept appear less dogmatic and restrictive, and more welcoming. And we know the term “vegan” has become politicized, polarized and divisive. If the choice is politicized dogma or change, I’ll take the change. And we certainly don’t need to create more polarization. We have enough of that.

Having said that, all documents and recipes featured on my site will be vegan, although some webinars will discuss how to reduce, not necessarily eliminate, animal protein.

So welcome to my world: the plant-based world, where we focus on the healthy presence of good wholesome foods, without the politics.