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Plant-Based Nutrition: Episode # 5 – Fringe Diets


People have many different reasons for adopting a plant-based or vegan diet, and many different ways to do so. 

When you think of “plant-based” or “vegan” diets, you may think of kale, avocado and kombucha. Although this may certainly be true for some people, there are many different (yet, interconnected) types of plant-based diets – some more restrictive than others. So, let’s explore a few subcultures of vegan and plant-based diets and how they fare from a nutrition point of view!

1. Whole Foods Plant-Based (WFPB) Diet

You may have heard about this diet from mainstream media! A whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet emphasizes eating fresh plant-based foods and minimally processed ingredients. Although there are many claims about which diet may be the best for you, the health benefits of a WFPB diet are undisputed. So, experts generally agree that a WFPB diet sits on the healthier end of the spectrum [1]. 

This diet is backed by a ton of scientific research that suggests that eating highly processed foods is linked to weight gain, overeating and a greater risk of chronic diseases, while plant-based foods are associated with improved cardio-metabolic health [1,2]. Further, evidence suggests that WFPB diets may be important in preventing, treating and even reversing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity [3]! 

In a WFPB diet, animal products, highly processed or junk foods, refined grains and added sugars and other sweeteners are off the menu, whereas, whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits are the base of this diet.

2. Raw Foods Diet 

Here’s an interesting diet that is a bit less known. As the name suggests, the Raw Foods diet consists of limiting your diet to only eating raw foods! So give your cooking oil, fry pan and oven a rest, because you definitely won’t be needing them. 

The Raw Foods diet appears to stem from the belief that cooking or heating your food destroys the nutrients and enzymes present which are important for digestion. Ultimately, proponents of this diet argue that altering the natural state of your food through cooking, makes it toxic, unnatural and unhealthy.

However, while it may certainly be true that some nutrients are lost in the cooking process… for some foods, cooking processes actually enhance the bioavailability of certain nutrients for better absorption in the body. For example, cooking tomatoes helps break down fibers which can increase the bioavailability of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant [4]. 

On the contrary, some raw food fans argue that pureeing or dehydrating raw tomatoes can also increase the availability and concentration of lycopene, similarly to cooking [5,6]. While there seems to be some evidence that confirms this, more research is required when studying raw foods in general [7,8]. 

In the midst of all these claims, one thing that most agree on is that overcooking can significantly reduce the nutrient content of foods.

Also, another raw truth is that although heat destroys enzymes, humans are efficient in making their own digestive enzymes for breaking down foods. And regardless, many of the enzymes present in raw foods get denatured by the acid in our gut anyway. As such, some of these beliefs of Raw Food Dieters are not actually supported scientifically. 

Nonetheless, a raw food diet tends to be high in many healthful foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. And for some people, this unconventional diet seems to be working really well! 

If you want to take on this diet and need some recipe inspiration, check out FullyRawKristina on YouTube, an avid promoter of the Raw Foods diet! 

3. Fruitarian Diet

The Fruitarian diet is perhaps the strictest subset of vegan diets. This diet consists of eating mainly raw fruit, and to a lesser extent nuts and seed. While there is no hard and fast rule (as most fruitarians set their own limits), generally 55% to 75% of the diet should be raw fruit

The risk of nutrient deficiencies is high for the fruitarian diet, despite the nutrition load and healthfulness of fruits. Raw fruit alone may not provide all the nutrients your body needs, as they are often lower in crucial nutrients including vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. This diet may also lack sufficient levels of protein, as the main source for protein in a Fruitarian diet are nuts and seeds, and that too only in small amounts. Another concern is that fruits are generally high in sugar content (even if they’re natural sugars)! While some fruits are higher in sugars than others, it is important to note that this diet can negatively affect blood sugar levels. 

A more restrictive subtype of the fruitarian diet is the “30 bananas a day” (aka “Banana Island”) diet. Yep, you heard that right! Just as the name suggests, this 7-day fad diet involves consuming 30 bananas a day in an effort to lose weight. Some dieters even go as far as sustaining this radical diet for a whole 30 days (*gasps*). But it’s extremely important to be aware of the potential adverse consequences of this diet! It’s not surprising that solely limiting yourself to one food may be seriously malnourishing and damaging to your health. 

So, I guess it’s safe to say that this fad diet is literally B-A-N-A-N-A-S!  

4. High Carb Low Fat (HCLF) Diet 

A High Carb Low Fat (HCLF) vegan diet emphasizes carbs over fats, while excluding all animal products. The macronutrient ratio is typically somewhere around 80% carbs, 10% fat, and 10% protein. And let’s be honest…this macronutrient ratio is not too difficult to achieve on a vegan diet. 

You might be also pleased to learn that some research suggests that a HCLF vegan diet may even help with weight loss [9]! So, if you love carbs, this diet may be for you!

Here’s a few meal options you can try on the HCLF diet: 

  • Rice and beans
  • Potato salad
  • Pasta marinara
  • Sandwiches (with low fat vegan mayonnaise)
  • Quinoa salad
  • Vegetable pizza
  • Baked potato
  • Pasta marinara

A variation of the HCLF diet consisting of only raw foods is referred to the “80-10-10 (or the Low-Fat Raw Foods) diet – a phrase coined by Dr. Douglas Graham [10].

5. Keto Diet 

This is somewhat the opposite of a HCLF diet. The vegan ketogenic (or keto) diet is a high-fat low-carb diet. The macronutrient ratio hovers around 55-60% fats, 30-35% protein and just 5-10% carbs (although some people may tend to eat about 20% carbs). 

The goal of this diet is to achieve and maintain a state of ketosis – where your body will burn fat as opposed to carbs. 

Eating low carbs on a vegan diet is difficult, but not impossible. With careful planning vegans can also benefit from a keto diet. 

While researching focusing specifically on vegan keto is lacking, there is a lot of research that suggests that ketogenic diets in general help with weight management, insulin resistance and faster weight reduction [11].  

Here’s a list of a few vegan keto-friendly foods to try:

  • Avocado 
  • Vegan butter
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Soy and nut-based cheeses (check out our keto-friendly Neocheese)!
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oils (coconut, olive, avocado, nut oils)
  • Non-starchy vegetables (leafy greens, cauliflower, peppers)

6. The "Junk Food" Diet

And finally another diet that many vegans may choose to indulge in is the “Junk Food” diet, or an “eat whatever you want diet” (as long as it’s vegan). Of all the different kinds of vegan diets, the “Junk Food” diet is definitely the least restrictive. This diet sits on the opposite spectrum of the WFPB diet and is probably best representative of those who “live to eat”, rather than “eat to live”. And we’re all for it! 

This dietary pattern follows an intuitive eating approach [12]. This means that your food choices are not driven by strict calories, meal plans or carb-counting. Instead this guilt-free diet is focused on mindful eating and emphasizes following your cravings and internal body cues towards food! 

However, as with any diet, it is always important to strive for balance. So a plant-based burger and fries every now and then will probably not hurt you. But also ensure you’re meeting adequate nutrient intakes and incorporating more nutrient-dense foods in your diet while practicing mindful eating! 

Take-away

Plant-based or vegan eating means different things to different people. While collectively, evidence suggests that plant-based eating provides many health benefits, there are various approaches and variations of this lifestyle that must be considered. Some of these diets tend to be driven by balanced and healthy eating habits, whereas others are largely motivated by weight reduction or based on a set of beliefs that aren’t scientifically meaningful.        

Although some diets work for others (or are trendy!), that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will also work for you! Try paying attention to diets that feel too restrictive, as they may not be the most beneficial in the long run. 

And finally, when trying out a new diet, always be aware of the potential health implications associated with them. 

References

  1. Esselstyn C. B., Jr. (2007). We Can Prevent and Even Reverse Coronary Artery Heart Disease. Medscape General Medicine9(3), 46.
  2. Hall, K. D., Ayuketah, A., Brychta, R., Cai, H., Cassimatis, T., Chen, K. Y., … Zhou, M. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metabolism, 30(1), 67–77.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008  
  3. Kim, H., Caulfield, L. E., Garcia-Larsen, V., Steffen, L. M., Coresh, J., & Rebholz, C. M. (2019). Plant-Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All-Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle-Aged AdultsJournal of the American Heart Association8(16), e012865. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.012865 
  4. Fielding, J. M., Rowley, K. G., Cooper, P., & O' Dea, K. (2005). Increases in plasma lycopene concentration after consumption of tomatoes cooked with olive oilAsia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition14(2), 131–136.
  5. Norman, N. (2017, January 30). Tomatoes and Lycopene: To Cook, or Not to Cook? Natalie Norman – Plant-Based Health and Fitness. https://www.natalienorman.com/tomatoes-and-lycopene-to-cook-or-not-to-cook/
  6. Store, D. (2015, July 31). But what about Lycopene? Raw Super Foods. https://rawsuperfoods.com/en/but-what-about-lycopene/ 
  7. Gärtner, C., Stahl, W., & Sies, H. (1997). Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(1), 116–122. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/66.1.116
  8. Burton-Freeman, B.M., & Sesso, H.D. (2014). Whole Food versus Supplement: Comparing the Clinical Evidence of Tomato Intake and Lycopene Supplementation on Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Advances in Nutrition, 5(5), 457–485. doi: 10.3945/an.114.005231 
  9. Kahleova, H., Dort, S., Holubkov, R., & Barnard, N. D. (2018). A Plant-Based High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet in Overweight Individuals in a 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial: The Role of CarbohydratesNutrients10(9), 1302. doi: 10.3390/nu10091302
  10. Graham, D. (2014). The 80/10/10 Diet: Balancing Your Health, Your Weight, and Your Life, One Luscious Bite at a Time. FoodnSport Press.
  11. Gershuni, V. M., Yan, S. L., & Medici, V. (2018). Nutritional Ketosis for Weight Management and Reversal of Metabolic SyndromeCurrent nutrition reports7(3), 97–106. doi: 10.1007/s13668-018-0235-0
  12. Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. St. Martin’s Essentials.

 


Rahbika Ashraf

Rahbika Ashraf is a Business Development and Growth Marketing Assistant at Neophyto Foods, with a background in Human Health and Nutritional Sciences from University of Guelph. She is passionate about health and wellness research, and bridging knowledge gaps with science! When she is not typing away, you can find her meditating, hiking, playing sports and watching TV shows.


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