Does eating a plant based diet mean you are vegan?

Just recently we listened to Michael Pollan here at the Nutrient Rich® Super Foods office in Livingston, NJ. He’s was being interviewed by John Robbins at The 2015 Food Revolution Summit that is taking place over the course of a week. He is the author of The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food… where Michael proposed a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
One of the topics he is talking about with John Robbins (the founder and host of this annual summit) is the subject of whether or not eating some meat is a significant detriment to your health.

Note: this is not an article on the scientific validity of dietary positions or a referenced nutritional position paper from our company.

As you may know, few people or nutritional studies implicate vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds and with some exception whole grains in the causation of disease. Sure, there may be allergies to one food or another for one reason or another, and some may stay away from a category of plants foods for purposes of digestion or weight management given their current condition and nutritional biases; but hands down, these micronutrient-rich foods are the greatest health and performance promoters around.

There is also no doubt, and its undebatable, that junk food is undeniably bad for your health and performance. No one fights against that reality. Donuts, chips, soda and any of the myriad of manufactured products that are loaded with refined and added salt, oil, sugar and countless chemicals are nutrient-barren “foodstuffs.” They aren’t categorized as real foods.

Now what’s not so clear are animal foods. Are they healthy, and are they nutrient rich?

This is not merely a question, but rather a subject that we have been talking about allot with colleagues over the years, and have been asked countless times by others interested in learning more about healthy eating. The questions and inquiry into the health effects of animal foods on the body, and the impact of their production on the environment abound.

This subject is also contentious, especially today with the rise of black and white, clear cut food tribes that have begun to dominate the nutritional landscape such as Paleo, Plant Based, Vegan, Superfoods and many more related to countless diets that tow-the-hardline of their position. If you look closely you’ll see many, if not most, nutrition professionals in the field sort of gloss over this subject in their marketing. Though they may address it passionately in private, it’s often unspoken in marketing unless you are selling pure Paleo or Vegan, because you never really know where it’s going to land with the consumer.

This leads to some big questions that have emerged in recent years…

If you are eating a plant based diet, do you need to be vegan? And if you are eating Paleo can you still be eating a plant based diet?

The answers are no, and yes and it’s all about your perspective on eating animal foods.

No: Eating a plant-based diet does not mean you have to be vegan.
There is a reason why the term says plant “based” and not vegan. Vegan (no animal products at all or any products in use in your life from the killing of sentient beings) is vegan, and can be plant based the way many people think about it; but in reality, a plant based diet does not mean you have to be vegan. You can still eat small amounts of what are micronutrient-poor animal foods, and still be eating a whole foods, plant based “nutrient rich” diet on a total dietary intake basis.

When you consider that micronutrient rich foods, nourish and detoxify your body, stabilize and strengthen your immune system and ultimately optimize the way you eat; if you are eating predominantly plant foods, not EVERY food you eat has to be optimally rich in micronutrients for you to live a long and healthy life!

Of course we know that many people use the term plant based and vegan synonymously and define the difference by more subtle criteria, but we are not driven by that perspective here, even though we do respect it. At the Nutrient Rich Super Foods Co, you’ll notice we don’t necessarily promote animal foods, or include animal products in any significant quantities in any recipes on this site. The reason is simple, we promote the consumption of more micronutrient (phytochemical, fiber, vitamin and mineral) -rich super foods in the natural products we create and as the cornerstone of healthy eating.

We want people to eat more vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds and optionally whole grains for the health of their body and the planet, and that means eating more plant based nutrient-rich foods. Align with this one idea, and you’ll transform the way you eat for sure, without all the stresses caused by diets and trying to stick with ways of eating that can feel more like a religion. If a person does not want to be vegan, that does not mean they should be deterred from eating more of these micronutrient-rich plant foods to their hearts content.

We want people to stay on the path of eating a plant based diet and take it as far as they want and can go, and if that’s vegan, great. If you want to consume predominantly plants, smaller amounts of animal and refined foods, then it’s your prerogative. And if you are in transition, it may be necessary for one reason or another. You can be sure that the more you eat nutrient-rich foods, the more you’ll eat nutrient-rich foods. These foods work for you.

Yes, you can eat paleo and still be eating a plant based diet.
In the Paleo movement, the talk is about eating in the way nature intended, which is always debatable. This community promotes grass fed meats, wild caught salmon, vegetables herbs and spices, some fruit, nuts and seeds and healthy fats. They avoid or limit grains, sugar, legumes, starches, processed foods and alcohol.

Surely, this is a major improvement over the SAD, Standard American Diet, and the Paleo diet does get people eating more nutrient-rich plant foods than most people eat, even if it’s a meat-based diet for many.  Paleo eaters just tend eat a good deal of meat for several reasons, not the least of which is the very popular Crossfit community that focuses on athletic and muscular development. Not that you need to eat animal foods or animal protein to accomplish either; it’s just a long a deeply held and addictive belief across many dietary worlds that you need to eat higher animal protein, carbohydrate-controlled diets to build muscle and lose weight. This is a driving force in the Paleo eating style even if it is marketed, arguably, as the way nature intended us to eat.

The thing is, you can still eat various amounts of animal foods, and still be eating “paleo” and be eating a plant-based diet. This is true even if you avoid or limit beans or grains, if the majority of the foods you eat comes from plants you are eating a plant based diet.
If the majority of the foods you eat come from plants you are eating a plant based diet.

So, why are we addressing this question?

As the founder of the Nutrient Rich® Super Foods Company; and a bonafide Superfoodie; I have learned a few things over the years. We all eat in a variety of different ways, for different reasons, even if guided by similar principles; yet, people love a sense of inclusion. In particular, as most of us seek to improve the way we eat, we don’t want to be judged or feel restricted by how we eat in any one moment in time. There are countless reasons why people eat the way they do and not all are nutritional.

But one thing is true and has been true for some time, no matter how you identify with respect to food, there is an almost ubiquitous movement towards eating more plant-based, micronutrient rich “superfoods;” and the results that can be achieved by paying attention to and incorporating more of these foods into the way you eat are transformational!

There is a reason why companies supplying your shampoo, face mask or skin care cream, or your favorite grocers (with some exception) showcase cucumbers,  berries, vegetables, tomatoes etc., on their bottle or window and not chicken legs. It’s simple; these, among many other super foods, are the epitome of micronutrient-rich, un-controversially healthy and likely fresh foods. And we superfoodies, love em’.

To answer the question, are animal foods healthy, and are they nutrient rich; since our company occupies NutrientRich.com, we’ve worked hard to come up with a definition for what makes a nutrient-rich food “nutrient rich,” and it comes down to a few golden rules.

See if you can come to your own conclusion and let us know.

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