Plant-Based Diet Facts and Fiction
Myth 1: Plants don’t have enough protein.
Truth: All plant foods contain all the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. The essential amino acids are called ‘complete proteins’ and called essential because the body does not produce them and must be obtained from our diet. For example, broccoli contains 45% protein from its calories and beans contains 23% to 54% depending on the variety.
As long as one is eating a variety of plant foods in sufficient quantity to maintain one’s weight, the body gets plenty of protein. Plants are the only foods eaten by elephants, horses, and hippos, and all three have no trouble growing all the muscle, bone, and tissue they need.
Myth 2: Where do I get my calcium?
Truth: All plant foods contain generous amounts of calcium. The most healthful calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes (beans). Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients. The exception is spinach, which contains a large amount of calcium but tends to hold onto it very tenaciously, so that you will absorb less of it.
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral found in the human body. The teeth and bones contain the most calcium (about 99%). Nerve cells, body tissues, blood, and other body fluids contain the remaining calcium. Calcium is one of the most important minerals for the growth, maintenance, and reproduction of the human body. Calcium helps form and maintain healthy teeth and bones. Proper levels of calcium over a lifetime can help prevent osteoporosis.
Some examples of calcium in plants are:
- Brown rice (1 cup) has 20 mg of calcium
- Broccoli (1 cup) 94 mg
- Kidney beans (1 cup, cooked) 50 mg
- Sweet potato (1 cup) 70 mg
- Collard greens contains about 360 mg of calcium
- Kale (1 cup) 94 mg
Myth 3: Carbs cause weight gain.
Truth: Carbohydrates are our primary source of energy for our body. They’re the main source of calories in virtually every diet worldwide. They supply 4 calories per gram, the same as protein. Fat has more than twice as many calories (9 per gram). Plus, there is abundance of fiber in complex-carbohydrates, and fiber has no calories, because it isn’t absorbed by the body.
Carbohydrates alone provide energy for red blood cells, and certain cells of the kidneys, and the preferred fuel for the central nervous system, including the brain. Fat, is a secondary source of energy that can be used by some tissues, such as muscle, but is more often stored for use in times of famine. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.
Simple carbs are refined, processed carbohydrate foods that have had all or most of their natural nutrients and fiber removed in order to make them easier to transport and more ‘consumer friendly’. Pure sugars have been stripped of many of their nutrients, except for the simple carbohydrate—thus they are called “empty calories.” Most baked goods, white breads, pastas, snack foods, candies, and non-diet soft drinks fit into this category. Bleached, enriched wheat flour and white sugar – along with an array of artificial flavorings, colorings, and preservatives are the most common ingredients used to make ‘bad carb’ foods.
Complex-carbohydrates are unprocessed plant foods, such as brown rice, potatoes, squash, broccoli, and apples – just to name a few – are loaded with carbohydrates. They are long chains of sugars that are harmoniously mixed with other plant materials. These long chains must be broken down inside your intestine before they can be used as fuel. The process of digesting these complex sugars is slow and methodical, providing a steady stream of fuel pumped into your bloodstream as long-lasting energy.
The belief that sugars in complex-carbohydrates (starches) are readily converted into fat and then stored in the body i.e., abdomen, hips, and buttock is not true. The science shows after eating, the complex carbohydrates found in starches, such as rice, are digested into simple sugars in the intestine and then absorbed into the bloodstream where they are transported to the cells in the body in order to provide for energy.
Carbohydrates (sugars) consumed in excess of the body’s daily needs can be stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. The total storage capacity for glycogen is about two pounds. Carbohydrates consumed in excess of our need and beyond our limited storage capacity are not readily stored as body fat. Instead, these excess carbohydrate calories are burned off as heat (a process known as facultative dietary thermogenesis) or used in physical movements not associated with exercise.