In the recent Nutrition in Medicine Conference, plant-based nutrition expert John Allman explained what hinders people from getting on board with the diet, as well as strategies to overcome these difficulties and help people switch to a whole food plant-based diet.
One challenge in switching to a plant-based diet is the taste: Most people, who have grown up with a typical high-fat Western diet, already have specific tastes wired to them. The food industry is mostly responsible for this, according to Allman, as they have produced pleasure-seeking foods that combine fat, sugar, and salt into products with addictive taste and texture. He further explained that humans have a biological mechanism by which the pleasure hormone dopamine is released. In turn, dopamine creates a behavioral condition that makes people crave for these kinds of foods.
As a result, food preferences often become an unconscious habit. Allman emphasized that it may take up to three months to stop eating these kinds of foods. He suggested that keeping a food diary is a way to keep track and be aware of food choices in terms of fat, sugar, salt, and calories.
To adopt a whole food plant-based diet, it is essential to both have cooking skills and the time to prepare meals — which make it more difficult for some people to switch to this type of diet.
“With new recipes, there’s an issue with convenience. We are all living in a society that’s really speedy; and often when you go speedy and you are plant-based you go unhealthy vegan,” Allman said.
Social environment also influences the ability of a person to adopt a plant-based diet. For example, in a household where the rest of the family members eat differently, it is hard to cook more than one set of meals. Allman also warned that the social isolation of following a different dietary pattern might have adverse health consequences as well.
It is important to raise awareness of the health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet, and health care practitioners should lead by personal example and practice their knowledge. However, one of the barriers also includes the lack of knowledge both on the patient and on the healthcare practitioner. The expert added that it is essential that healthcare providers have knowledge about nutrition and are willing to practice that knowledge. Then, they may share the information with their patients.
In addition, sharing of good experiences or evidence regarding plant-based nutrition would be a reasonable proposition for patients. However, this comes with another hindrance — time constraints. The standard length of appointments with doctors is only 10 minutes, which makes it difficult for them to learn about and to share nutrition information. In this regard, doctors might also be failing to do their job by not suggesting a dietary solution. Therefore, Allman suggested that they should keep the message as simple by saying: “It’s all about fruits and vegetables and beans and grains.”
He concluded that the choice of whole food plant-based items in restaurants and shops should also be widened.
Tips for adopting a plant-based diet
Although plant-based diets are known to ward off chronic diseases, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease, it may take some time to get used to it. To make it easier to adopt a plant-based diet, here are some tips:
- Try to have some meat-free meals each week. Substitute meat with eggs, beans, and tofu.
- Use legumes in place of some meat. For example, only add half the amount of meat and the other half with legumes like chickpeas.
- Pick wholegrain cereals more frequently than white varieties, such as wholemeal bread and pasta.
- Eat different colors of vegetables and fruits.
- If buying canned and frozen vegetables, choose the ones that are low in salt and sugar.
Read more news stories and studies on vegetarian eating at Veggie.news.