Everything you need to know about a plant-based diet.

Trying to lose some weight after birth? Maybe you just want to eat healthier or deal with a health issue? Maybe you are considering switching over to plant – based diet. If you are one of those people who are currently looking for more information on the benefits of a plant based lifestyle, then look no more. We have asked a plant-based nutritionist, Mirjana Kovacs, a few questions for you.

To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself as well as the training you went through to become specialized in this field?

I am a plant-based health coach and gastro blogger. I became certified in plant-based nutrition by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies by eCornell University in the U.S.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in November 2016. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research to find the best diet that will help me improve my disease as well as achieve the healthiest “me” ever. This is how I came across a low-fat, whole food plant based diet which is not only suitable for me, but it is the only lifestyle, that until today has proven to reverse type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and insulin resistance, control type 1 diabetes efficiently, as well as prevent and reverse cardiovascular diseases and several types of cancer.
When I experienced the outstanding health benefits – within one week of transitioning to this diet – I became passionate about showing this lifestyle to as many people as possible.

What is a plant-based diet and what exactly can one eat or not eat when you decide to go for it?

First of all, I would like to make clear that being vegan and following a whole food plant-based diet is not the same thing. You can be vegan and eat very unhealthy food, if you eat chips and Oreo cookies all day long. Those foods are vegan, yet they are not healthy. Veganism is an ethical concept, meaning that people condemn everything related to the exploitation of animals, including wearing leather clothes, buying cosmetics which have been tested on animals, etc.
A whole food plant-based diet (WFPB diet) on the other hand, focuses on the person’s health, preventing and reversing diseases and maximizing our lifespan.
A WFPB diet doesn’t include any meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, or heavily processed foods, e.g., white rice, white flour, refined sugar, vegetable oils (even olive oil).
The term “whole” describes foods that are not processed, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, or minimally processed (e.g. tofu).

What are the proven health benefits of this type of diet?

Many studies have shown that a whole food, plant-based diet is beneficial for weight loss and vegans tend to have a lower body mass index than omnivorous.
The results of an evidence-based review have also shown that a plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of deaths. It not only helps prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and several types of cancer (e.g. colon cancer), but it has also proven to reverse them. Vegetarians and vegans also appear to have lower LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and lower rates of hypertension than non-vegetarians.

Critics say that sometimes you can do more harm than good, because you don’t eat enough good quality protein and lack fats, such as omega 3. Can you comment on that?

The idea that animal proteins are better for our health than plant protein is simply outdated. Animal proteins are described as “high-quality” protein only because they tend to promote more efficient protein synthesis than plant proteins. Plant proteins have different amino acid ratios from animal proteins, therefore humans use them less efficiently, which is actually beneficial for us, because animal proteins tend to promote undesirable growth (such as that of cancer cells and atherogenic tissue) quite efficiently, unlike the ones in plants.
Scientists now know that plant foods contain all the essential amino acids we need, which is even stated by the World Health Organization saying that plant proteins are referred to as “incomplete” because they do not match our human amino acid profile, but they are not “incomplete” when it comes to fulfilling our dietary needs. A varied, whole food, plant-based diet provides all of the essential amino acids, and all the protein we need.
In addition to that, meat is very high in omega 6 and lacks in omega 3. The proportion of these two fatty acids should be very close to each other, however, usually we consume much more omega 6 than omega 3, which is harmful for the body in the long term.
Eating a plant-based diet helps you optimize the omega 3 and omega 6 proportion because the plants are usually lower in omega 6.
For example mung beans, chia seeds and flax seeds are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids.

Can you give us an example of a 1 day menu, from breakfast to dinner, which contains all the necessary nutrients?

Eating oatmeal with fruits for breakfast is one of the best ways to start the day. It fuels your body with energy.
One of my favorite meals for lunch is a vegan chili for example, loaded with protein and healthy carbs.
An ideal dinner would be a giant salad or Buddha bowl which is packed with nutrition

Is it for everyone? what about women who are trying to lose weight after birth but can’t go on diet because they are breastfeeding and need proper nutrition?

Both the American Dietetic Association and the British Dietetic Assiciation confirms that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages. Let me quote the position of the American Dietetic Association which was published in 2009:

„It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. (…) An evidence- based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes.”

Let’s say you want to lose weight by switching to plant based diet. Do you need to count calories? Or watch the amount you eat?

The best part of this lifestyle is that you don´t need to count calories yet you will lose weight, because whole foods are generally much lower in calories than processed food packed with refined sugars and oils.
If you eat 500 calories that comes from fruits and veggies, it makes your stomach full, but if you eat 500 calories coming from oils, you won´t even recognize it, you´ll still be hungry. Therefore, you will eat a lot of other things in order to make your stomach full, so you will consume much more calories. Fruits, veggies, legumes and grains on the other hand have a much higher volume and contain much less calories than oils, meat and cheese. So if your diet is based on these four food groups, you won´t need to count calories

You are diabetic yourself, how does a plant-based diet help you with this health problem?

After I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was advised to follow a low-carb diet because high carb meals may spike the blood glucose level. I wasn’t allowed to eat fruits, I didn’t have a single banana or watermelon until I finally heard about this new approach. As soon as I started following a low-fat, plant-based, whole food diet the results were remarkable! I started having to take less and less insulin right after starting this diet, and within seven days, my insulin use fell by 50% despite of eating more and more carbs. That’s a big deal when you are living with type 1 diabetes, because if you are supposed to inject insulin every single time you eat a meal, and you are using less and less insulin but eating more and more carbs, then clearly something very interesting is happening.
Following this wonderful lifestyle allows me to eat huge amount of fruits unlike before, I’m full of energy all the time, my insulin sensitivity is higher than ever, my need for insulin is lower than ever before and, last but not least, I reached my ideal body weight I had always dreamed of.

Decided to give it a try?

For more information or inspiration visit Mirjana’s instagram @plantbasedmiri and you can also download her eBook “How to beat diabetes naturally” for free under the following link: https://www.plantbasedmiri.com/how-to-beat-diabetes-naturally

We are also preparing some healthy recipes for you, which will be featured in our next post. Enjoy!