Saturated fat can create quite the dietary dilemma.

For most of your life, you’ve probably been told it’s unhealthy. That saturated fat clogs your arteries and leads to heart attacks.

On the other hand, type in the right Google search words, and you’ll find research-based articles that say that thinking is outdated and wrong.

A frequent claim: The idea that saturated fat is “bad” was based on bad science, and that, in reality, it’s perfectly healthy. So healthy, in fact, you don’t need to restrict it. (Some say you should even eat more of it.)

There’s also this: Foods that contain saturated fat often taste delicious.

You get the picture.

It’s enough to leave you standing in your grocery store’s butter section, frozen in indecision. In the end, maybe you grab a stick but secretly wonder if you’re holding a grenade.

Like many other things we eat (carbs! red meat! soy!) saturated fat is… controversial.

But in order to make informed food choices for yourself and your family—or if you’re a coach, help your clients do the same—you want some clarity.

Here’s the truth about saturated fat.

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Why do we think saturated fat is bad?

In 1978, the Seven Countries Study was published. This study, led by American physiologist Ancel Keys, noted:

  • a higher incidence of heart disease in countries where the consumption of saturated fats was high (like the US)
  • a lower incidence of heart disease in countries where the consumption of saturated fats was low (like Italy, Greece, and Spain)

From this observation, Keys hypothesized that saturated fats cause cardiovascular disease (CVD), and should be avoided. He also proposed that unsaturated fats from plants were protective, and should be emphasized.

(Cool fact: These observations led to the concept of the Mediterranean diet.)

It’s in large part due to the Seven Countries study and Ancel Keys that we have this association between saturated fats and heart disease.

But is it true?

Well, yes, but it’s complicated. If you’ve been following us for a while, you may have noticed that nutrition science is seldom black or white.

For example, it’s rare that we can say one entire category of food is “bad” for everyone—or, for that matter, “good” for everyone.  (Learn more: Why we’ve told 100,000 clients: There are no “bad” foods.)

The same is true of saturated fat. While for some people it may increase cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease, for others, it doesn’t.

And, as with many other things, “it’s the dose that makes the poison.”

Excess saturated fat isn’t good for anyone. (But that advice applies even to less controversial things, like water, so we’re not saying anything interesting there.)

It’s been about half a century since Keys made his observations. Since then, science has continued to chip away at the truth about saturated fat.

We’ll tell you everything we know, including what saturated fat does in the body, what foods it comes from, and how much of it to eat.

Fats: A crash course

Before we discuss the different types of fats, let’s zoom out and talk about fats in general. (If you’re aren’t up for a biochemistry lesson, you can skip right to the next section if you want.)

All fats are composed of fatty acids and a compound called glycerol. Fats we eat tend to have one glycerol “backbone” with three fatty acids attached to it. These are known as triglycerides.

To help you visualize, when drawn, the chemical structure of a triglyceride looks a lot like a capital letter “E” (the arms of the “E” are fatty acids).

See?

Each fatty acid is composed of a “chain” of carbon atoms that are chemically bonded to each other.

This “chain” can be 2 to 24 carbon atoms in length. In other words, fatty acids can vary in size.

What’s more, each carbon atom has two open “spots” where it can bond with up to two hydrogen atoms.

How these spots are filled are what determines a fatty acid’s chemical structure. (Sometimes, hydrogen only fills one of the two open spots.)

If you had to re-read that a couple of times—and still don’t quite get it—don’t worry. For one, that’s normal. This is abstract stuff. (We’re talking about atoms!) And secondly, it doesn’t really matter.

Just know this: The terms “saturated,” “monounsaturated,” and “polyunsaturated” all describe fatty acids with slightly different chemical structures, due to the kinds of bonds they have.

These structural differences in chemical structure result in different functions and effects in the body.

What are saturated fats?

Saturated fatty acids (and fats) are called “saturated” because if you look at their chemical structure, each carbon atom forms a single bond with two hydrogen items.

The result:  Their carbon chain is “filled” to capacity (saturated!) with hydrogens. (You can’t fit any more.)

Saturated fat isn’t one single thing. It’s actually a family of many different types of fatty acids.

Remember how we said fatty acids have different chain lengths? You can have 4-carbon saturated fatty acids, 6-carbon saturated fatty acids, 8-carbon… you get the point.

Here are a few examples of types of saturated fatty acids (SFA):

  • Butyric acid (a 4-carbon SFA produced by gut bacteria via fiber fermentation)
  • Caprylic acid (an 8-carbon SFA found in coconut)
  • Palmitic acid (a 16-carbon SFA found in palm oil and animal fats)
  • Stearic acid (an 18-carbon SFA found in red meat and cocoa butter)
  • Arachidic acid (a 20-carbon SFA found in peanuts)

(Note: We’ve used the common names for these fatty acids. For the scientific names, consult the chart in this nerdy document, courtesy of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)

Saturated fats vs. unsaturated fats: What’s the difference?

Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats have one double bond (thus the prefix “mono”) because two spots aren’t taken up by hydrogen. (When two carbons have an open spot, they form a double bond with each other.)

Polyunsaturated fatty acids have multiple double bonds (thus the prefix “poly”), because they have multiple spots that aren’t taken up by hydrogens.

Here’s an easy way to tell if a fat is saturated or unsaturated:

If it’s solid or semisolid at room temperature (21℃), it’s probably saturated. (There are a few exceptions.) Think: butter, coconut oil, and cocoa butter.

If it’s liquid, it’s very likely unsaturated. For example, sunflower oil, canola oil, and olive oil.

This is why: Because unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds, there’s a “kink” or a bend in their physical shape. They can’t pack together as tightly, making them ”loose” and liquid at room temperature.

Meanwhile, saturated fatty acids are straight, and can pack tightly together. That keeps them solid at room temperature.

Most dietary fat sources are made up of some combination of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Trans fats: The real “bad” fat

The last type of fat is trans fatty acids. And if there’s one type of fat you want to avoid, it’s this one.

Trans fatty acids are usually the product of industrial food processing, where polyunsaturated fats are artificially “saturated” with extra hydrogen.

As we’ve seen, the chemical structure of saturated fatty acids makes them straight, while the chemical structure of unsaturated fatty acids gives them at least one bend. This shape affects their function in the body.

When unsaturated fatty acids go through chemical hydrogenation, the fatty acids take a trans configuration, which straightens the molecule so that it looks (and acts) more like a saturated fat.

Food manufacturers like using trans fatty acids in their products because it extends the shelf life of a food.

Human bodies though, don’t deal with trans fats so well.

In fact: Trans fatty acids are directly linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, complications during pregnancy, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, and allergy.1,2,3

The FDA has even determined that industrially hydrogenated fats are no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), and have taken steps to have them removed from our food supply.4

However, trans fats are still around. Vegetable shortening, some margarines, some cooking oils, and the processed foods and baked goods made from them all have trans fats.

That’s why it’s still important to read ingredient labels: Any product that lists “partially hydrogenated oil” contains trans fats.

If you’re thinking about your health, you should minimize or avoid these products as much as possible. The World Health Association (WHO) recommends that people limit their consumption of trans fats to 1 percent or less of daily calories.5

Note: There are also a few naturally occurring trans fats, called ruminant trans fatty acids, like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vaccenic acid (VA).

These trans fatty acids get their name because they’re created via bacteria in the stomachs of “ruminant” animals, such as cows, sheep, and goats. Unlike industrially produced trans fatty acids, ruminant trans fatty acids aren’t associated with negative health effects.6

Which foods are high in saturated fat?

As we mentioned, most fat-rich foods are a mix of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

And actually, even foods that are considered “fats” are a mix of nutrients overall. (For example, avocado also contains carbs and protein in addition to fats, as do walnuts, and most other whole-food fat sources.)

Foods we call “fats” usually have fat as the predominant macronutrient. Similarly, foods we call “saturated fat sources” have saturated fat as the predominant fat type.

Dietary sources of saturated fat

Foods with a higher proportion of saturated fats include:

  • Butter
  • Whipping cream
  • Whole fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Coconut (oil, milk, flesh)
  • Cacao butter (dark chocolate)
  • Fattier cuts of beef, lamb, and pork
  • Palm oil

Foods with a higher proportion of unsaturated fats (but still have some saturated fats) include:

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Flaxseeds
  • Avocado
  • And others

Okay, but will butter kill me faster or not?

Finally, an answer to your burning question.

No. Saturated fats aren’t inherently bad.

A healthy diet will naturally include some saturated fats, because saturated fats are in many healthy foods (such as nuts and seeds, animal products, coconut, and avocado).

But, like most foods, saturated fats are best consumed in moderation.

Here’s why…

Saturated fats, cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease

Those Mediterraneans—the ones observed by Ancel Keys—may have been on to something. With their diets based around vegetables, whole grains, fruits, seafood, olives, nuts, and a little bit of dairy, they showed remarkably low rates of heart disease.

In contrast, the Americans in that study—with their diets rich in saturated fat, meat, dairy, and dessert, and lower in vegetables—had some of the highest rates of heart disease in the world.

With the help of science, we now understand those observations a little better.

Here’s what we know:

▶ Saturated fats consumed in excess (over 10 percent of daily calories) increase LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol, as well as the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular events overall.7,8

As saturated fat intake goes down, so does the risk of cardiovascular events.8

However, saturated fats don’t increase your risk of dying. They also appear to have little to no effect on cancer risk, diabetes, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure.8

▶ Trans fats, on the other hand, increase both your risk of cardiovascular diseases and death.9

▶Meanwhile, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat intake is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death.10

What does this all mean?

Well, it means that when it comes to fats, we should:

  • Prioritize foods rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like most nuts and seeds, seafood, olives and olive oil, and avocado.
  • Moderate foods rich in saturated fats, like fattier cuts of meat, high fat dairy products and the foods made from them, palm oil, and coconut.
  • Reduce or eliminate foods rich in trans fats, like processed foods, vegetable shortening, and margarine / cooking oils made with hydrogenated oils.

So, should everyone just cut down on saturated fats?

Most people in Western countries eat a fairly high proportion of saturated fats. So many people should think about reducing their saturated fat intake.

(Also, as far as we know, reducing saturated fats doesn’t seem to have any harmful effects.)8

But…

Cutting back on saturated fat isn’t always a good thing, because it depends on what you’re adding in its place.

We know that when saturated fats are eaten in excess, replacing some of those saturated fats with unsaturated fats can improve health.11

However, when people lower their consumption of saturated fats, replacing those calories with refined carbohydrates, the risk of heart attack goes up.12

Also, not all saturated fatty acids in the saturated fat family have the same effect. For example, stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid found in beef and cocoa butter, seems to decrease or have no effect on LDL cholesterol.13

The reality is this: How saturated fat affects the body is influenced by lots of other things, like:

  • Amounts and types of other fats in the diet
  • Fruit, vegetable, and fiber consumption
  • Calorie excess
  • Exercise frequency and intensity
  • Stress load and management
  • Genetics

And more.

So, it’s complicated.

Based on the body of evidence, it seems that when it comes to keeping dietary fats in a healthy range, we want to consider two things:

  1. Amount: Not too much and not too little. Roughly 30 percent of your daily calories should come from different types of fat (saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated).
  2. Ratio: Aim for roughly equal proportions of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.

Specific numbers aside, the take-home message is this: If you’re eating a pretty balanced whole foods diet, and you’re not eating excess calories, you probably don’t need to worry too much about your saturated fat intake.

But, you also probably shouldn’t purposely increase your intake of saturated fats for so-called “therapeutic” effects (example: the butter coffee trend).

That puts saturated fats squarely in the “enjoy in moderation” category.

How much saturated fat should I eat?

As always, the answer is: It depends.

But a good general guideline is that saturated fats should make up about 10 percent or less of total daily calories.14

That means a sample 2,000 Calorie diet can have about 200 Calories—or about 22.2 grams—coming from saturated fats. (Adjust up or down according to your specific energy requirements.)

Here are a couple examples of what this might look like:

  • 7 oz sirloin steak = 12 grams saturated fat
  • 1 oz chunk of cheddar cheese = 6 grams saturated fat
  • 3 large eggs = 5 grams saturated fat

= 23 grams saturated fat

Or:

  • 6 oz salmon = 5 grams saturated fat
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil = 12 grams saturated fat
  • 1 avocado = 4 grams saturated fat

= 21 grams of saturated fat

As you can see, it’s easy to meet this 10 percent.

It’s also easy to go over 10 percent, especially if fattier cuts of meat and cooking fats like butter, coconut oil, or palm oil are regulars in your diet.

However, if along with these sources of saturated fat, you’re also getting…

  • A good balance of unsaturated fats (from extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds)
  • Adequate protein, carbohydrates, and colorful fruits and vegetables from a variety of minimally-processed whole foods (Learn more: “What foods should I eat?”)
  • Daily movement from stretching, walking, resistance training, dancing, old-fashioned butter-churning

… you probably don’t have to be anxious about saturated fats.

If you want to find out exactly how much fat—and carbohydrate, protein, and vegetables—your (or your client’s) body needs for your preferred eating style, check out our awesome Nutrition Calculator.

Our big-picture advice for your everyday life: Don’t get too caught up in (or overwhelmed by) the numbers.

Instead, focus on the following four points.

1. Get a mix of fats.

Humans evolved eating a varied and seasonal diet. We thrive best on a mix of fat types—in relatively equal balance—from different types of foods.

This balance comes naturally if we choose a wide selection of diverse, whole, minimally-processed foods that contain fat, such as:

  • nuts and seeds
  • avocados
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • fatty fish
  • beef, pork, and lamb
  • poultry
  • wild game
  • olives and extra-virgin olive oil

Include one or two of the above fat sources at every meal, and you’ll probably meet your fat needs.

2. Avoid trans fats.

Try to minimize or eliminate refined and processed foods containing industrially produced fats and artificially hydrogenated fats (read: trans fats).

This happens naturally the more you center your diet around whole foods. (Learn how: The 5 principles of good nutrition.)

3. Consider the whole person.

Most importantly, match your saturated fat intake to your (or your clients’) unique body, preferences, and needs.

People who have cholesterol or cardiovascular issues in their family may be (genetically) more sensitive to the negative effects of saturated fats, and therefore should limit their consumption.

However, sometimes eating slightly higher amounts of saturated fat is appropriate. For example:

  • Larger, more muscular, and more active people can eat proportionately more in general, including more saturated fats. Though, it’s still a good idea to keep saturated fats in the range of 10 percent of total daily calories.
  • If it’s meaningful for you or your client to have croissants, dark chocolate, and coffee with cream, don’t “ban” it. Moderate it, understand the tradeoffs, and savor the heck out of it.
  • Some people feel good on a higher fat diet. For those folks, eating more fats (including saturated fats) might be appropriate. However, if saturated fats are a main calorie source, consider working with your doctor to test cholesterol levels and blood lipids periodically to ensure they’re in a normal range.

4. When in doubt (but still curious): Experiment.

Above, we suggested limiting saturated fat consumption to about 10 percent of total daily calories.

Now, for most people, that’s a good, conservative recommendation, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease.

But what if you want to try a higher fat diet—say, the keto diet—and increase your consumption of fats overall?

Well, just try it.

To do this in a way that helps you know whether this kind of diet works for you or not, just adopt this mindset: Think like a scientist. 

Decide what outcome you’re looking for while trying a higher fat diet: Reduced cravings? Fat loss? Better energy? (Read more: 3 diet experiments that can change your eating habits—and transform your body.)

Then, take some baseline measurements:

  • Weight, girth measurements, photos
  • Energy level, sleep quality, digestion, mood (you can simply gauge these on a scale from 1 to 10)
  • Cholesterol (LDL, HDL, and total), triglycerides, fasting blood sugar (work with your medical doctor to get and interpret these measurements)
  • Anything else you want to track, like cravings or meal satisfaction.

Next, begin your experiment: Increase your fat consumption.

“Check in” every week or two to assess (most of) the above measurements. (If you’re working with a medical doctor to check cholesterol and other blood markers, repeat a blood test after about three months.)

If things seem to be going well for you, keep going. Every few months, evaluate how you’re doing overall.

Feeling and looking better? Avocado and coconut shakes still delish? Blood tests get a thumbs up from doc? Cool! Keep going and re-assess in another six months or so. (For a quick and easy way to determine how your diet is working for you, try our Best Diet Quiz.)

Feeling crappy and blood lipids creeping up? Okay then. Scale back the fat—saturated fat especially.

Tinker with things until you (and your doc) are happy.

Ignore the marketing claims for butter coffee—as well as the ones for celery juice—and see what your own body says.

Most likely, that stick of butter isn’t a grenade. Nor is it a golden elixir of health.

It’s just butter.

References

Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

 

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We all know kids are little sponges. They just absorb everything that’s around them — from our words to our actions to how we talk about and treat others. (Confession: I remember the first time my daughter cussed when she couldn’t get a snack out of the package, and I was like — whoops — I need to watch my language there!) And, most of the time, here on Fit Bottomed Girls, we share a lot of tips on how to improve your relationship with your body, your workouts, and your food, so that your kids naturally have a positive,…

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Basics | Benefits | Risks | Coaching Advice | What to Eat | Diet Quiz

In my experience, there are at least two types of vegans:

Person #1: Their eyes twinkle, skin glows, and energy soars. They’re a walking, talking endorsement of 100 percent plant-based eating.

Person #2: Tired and pale, they look as if they’ve just lost two pints of blood.

In comment fields all over the internet, you’ll see Person #1 telling Person #2 that 100 percent plant-based diets are the absolute best way to eat—for everyone. And in the very same comment fields, you see Person #2 saying: “100 percent plant-based diets are dangerous!

Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

Both—and neither.

I’m sure that answer sounds confusing. That’s because, as I’ll soon explain, the pros and cons of fully plant-based diets are nuanced. Some people benefit, while others struggle—and the reasons why are pretty surprising.

In this article I’ll dive into all of that, as well as:

Let’s start with a question that isn’t remotely straightforward:

What are 100 percent plant-based diets?

Not everyone defines “fully plant-based” and “vegan” the same. Because of that, it’s helpful to start this story by explaining how Precision Nutrition uses these terms.

Plant-based nutrition

Though some people define “plant based” as “plants only,” our definition is broader and more inclusive.

For us, plant-based diets consist mostly of plants: vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

In other words, if you consume mostly plants with a small amount of animal-based protein, you’re a plant-based eater by our definition.

(Read more: A complete guide to plant-based nutrition.)

Whole-food plant-based diet

This eating pattern emphasizes whole, minimally-processed plant foods. Essentially, you’re eating plant-based foods as close as possible to the way nature grew them.

Fully plant-based diet

This eating pattern emphasizes foods from the plant/fungi kingdom, without any animal products.

Vegan diet

A vegan diet is a lifestyle. Vegans strive to avoid actions that bring harm or suffering to animals in any way.

In addition to not consuming animals, their eggs, or their byproducts (such as milk or honey), vegans often avoid purchasing products made from animals (such as fur or leather) as well as products that have been tested on animals or created with animal experimentation.

They also tend to boycott businesses that rely on animals for entertainment, such as circuses, rodeos, and bullfights.

Within the four main types of plant-based eaters listed above, there’s quite a bit of variation.

Take whole-food, plant-based eaters.

Few people eat only whole foods, so think of this eating style as a continuum.

On one end: Fully plant-based eaters who subsist mostly on store-bought cookies, crackers, white bread, and vegan hot dogs.

On the other end: people who consume lots of veggies, fruit, legumes, seeds, nuts, and grains.

We’d consider someone to be on a whole-food, plant-based diet if the majority of what they consume is both minimally-processed and plant-based.

Similarly, some fully plant-based eaters and vegans are more strict than others.

I’ve counseled some people who never consume animals or animal products. I’ve also worked with clients who are more flexible. They’ll make exceptions for certain foods in certain situations—such as when they’re at social gathering and vegan options are not available.

If you’re a coach, these nuances are important because they affect the health benefits and pitfalls your client might experience.

The Benefits of Fully Plant-Based Diets

Many people assume that one of the big benefits of plant-only diets is this: They reduce risk for disease.

And a number of studies seem to support this.

For example, when researchers in Belgium used an online questionnaire to ask nearly 1500 vegans, vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, pescatarians, and omnivores about their food intake, they found that vegans scored highest on the Healthy Eating Index, which is a measure of dietary quality.1

Because of this improved dietary quality, fully plant-based eaters and vegans tend to have a lower risk for a wide range of diseases.2,3,4,5,6

But there’s an important caveat: Vegans and fully plant-based eaters score higher on the Healthy Eating Index not because they forgo meat, but rather because they tend to eat more minimally-processed whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds.

In other words, many fully plant-based eaters tend to follow a whole-food, plant-based approach.

And according to a huge, long-term study, the inclusion of minimally-processed whole foods may be key to reaping the benefits of a vegan diet.

When researchers looked at health outcomes of hundreds of thousands of female nurses as well as dozens of male health professionals over more than two decades, they found that heart disease risk depended on the types of plant foods people consumed.

Vegetarians and vegans who consumed mostly minimally-processed whole foods had a lower risk of developing heart disease. Vegetarians and vegans who consumed an abundance of fries, sweets, sugary beverages, and other highly-processed foods, however, had an increased risk.7

The Cons of Fully Plant-Based Diets

Any time someone omits entire food groups, that person must work harder to get all the nutrients their body needs. People who are fully plant-based or vegan tend to struggle with four nutrients in particular.

Calcium

In addition to keeping bones and teeth strong, calcium helps muscles—including your heart muscle—work properly.

Because vegans omit dairy products—which supply nearly a third of the 1000 to 1200 milligrams of calcium the typical person needs everyday—they’re at risk for calcium deficiency.

Case in point: A recent review of 20 studies involving 37,134 people found that vegans had lower bone mineral density and higher fracture risks than meat eaters—or even vegetarians.8

To get enough calcium from non-dairy foods, use this advice.

▶ Consume several servings of high-calcium plant foods a day.

Calcium-rich plant foods include leafy greens (collards, turnip greens, kale), calcium-set tofu, calcium fortified plant milks, sesame seed butter, black strap molasses, okra, broccoli, figs, beans, almonds, edamame, and soy nuts.

To increase absorption, cook calcium-rich greens before eating.

▶ Cut back on salt, alcohol, and soft drinks.

When people consume a lot of alcohol, salt, and soft drinks, they tend to take in fewer nutrient dense, minimally-processed whole foods.

For example, when someone chooses a soft drink, they’re not choosing a calcium-enriched plant milk. When they sit down with a bowl of salty chips, by default they’re not having broccoli, figs, or soy nuts.

Many soft drinks are also a rich source of phosphoric acid, which may throw off the body’s calcium-phosphorus balance.9,10,11,12,13

▶ Exercise.

Resistance training (like weight lifting) and weight-bearing cardio (think jogging and tennis) both stimulate bones, helping to protect against bone loss.14

Vitamin B12

This vitamin helps bodies to form DNA, strengthen and repair blood vessels, and protect nerves.

Because B12 is involved in red blood cell formation, deficiency can lead to a decrease in red blood cells (a condition called pernicious anemia).

Though a few plants contain substances that the body can convert to B12, we don’t absorb and use these substances as readily as the form of B12 present in animal products.15

Plus, many people over age 50 are already deficient, whether they eat meat or not. That’s because, as we age, our stomachs make less acid (which helps metabolize B12) and intrinsic factor (which helps the body absorb B12). And some medications—such as acid blockers—reduce absorption even more.

For these reasons, a daily B12 supplement is the best approach for:

  • People over 50.
  • People who take medications that interfere with vitamin B12 absorption, such as those used to treat reflux, ulcers, and diabetes.
  • People who are partially or fully plant-based.

Even with supplements, some people might show signs of deficiency: fatigue, dizziness or loss of balance, and reduced mental function.

In those cases, their health care provider can check their B12 levels with a blood test and potentially prescribe intramuscular (injected) B12, which is better absorbed than oral (including sublingual) supplements.

Omega-3 fats

These fats help prevent heart disease. They’re also involved in the development of eye, nerve and brain tissue (especially in fetuses and babies).

Omega-3 fats come in a few forms:

▶Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA)
The richest sources of EPA and/or DHA generally come from the oceans. Fatty varieties of seafood are particularly rich sources: salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, and oysters. Vegans can get smaller amounts from sea vegetables (think: seaweed and algae).

▶Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Plant foods rich in ALA include flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds/hearts, walnuts, soy, dark leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables.

Our bodies must convert ALA into EPA or DHA before using it. About 90 percent of the ALA fat is lost during the conversion. In other words, if you consume 2.5 grams of ALA from plants, your body will only convert and use about 10 percent, or about .25 grams.16

Bottom line: To optimize their omega-3 intake, fully plant-based eaters should try to consume legumes, nuts, flaxseed oil, ground flaxseed, walnuts, and other ALA-rich foods daily.17

If needed, consider adding a vegan (algae-based) DHA supplement.

Iron

Because iron carries oxygen around the body, low levels can lead to fatigue.

Animal products are a particularly rich source of a type of iron called heme that our bodies easily absorb. Plants like beans, peas, and lentils contain non-heme iron that isn’t as readily absorbed. To help boost iron intake and absorption, use this advice:

▶ Cook with cast iron cookware. It can increase the iron content of the food you eat.18

▶ Don’t drink coffee or black tea with food. These drinks contain tannins that inhibit the absorption of iron.

▶ Consume vitamin C powerhouses. They can boost absorption when consumed with iron-rich foods. Use the chart below for ideas. For example, make a tofu stir fry with broccoli or a bean salad with tomatoes, peppers, and a squeeze of lime.

Rich in non-heme iron Rich in vitamin C
Pumpkin seeds

Tofu

Tempeh

Edamame (soybeans)

Lentils

Beans

Peas

Sunflower seeds

Nuts

Hummus

Almond butter

Leafy greens

Fortified foods

Potatoes

White and oyster mushrooms

Amaranth

Spelt

Oats

Quinoa

Dark chocolate

Citrus fruit and juices (ex: oranges)

Cantaloupe

Strawberries

Broccoli

Tomatoes

Peppers

Winter squash

Watermelon

Guava

Kale

Kiwi

Potatoes

People who thrive on vegan and fully plant-based diets

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, some people flourish on vegan and fully plant-based diets, whereas others tell me they can’t perform in the gym, are hungry 24-7, and just feel terrible.

Here’s what makes the difference.

People who do best:

✓ Have a genetic predisposition that suits them for this eating style. They feel fantastic when they eat more plants and less (or no) meat.

✓ Like eating minimally-processed whole plant foods such as vegetables, beans, and lentils.

✓ Are willing to put in the effort to include foods rich in key nutrients or/and take supplements as needed to avoid deficiencies.

✓ Have an open-minded “I’ll try anything once” approach to eating. No vegan option is off-limits. (Algae smoothie, anyone?)

✓ Have the time and inclination to search out vegan restaurants, meal-delivery options, and recipes.

✓ Have support from family/friends.

✓ Have a deep “why” for being 100% plant-based, such as, “Protecting and preserving the wellbeing of animals is a priority for me.”

✓ Are flexible about their plant-based identity. They’re okay consuming eggs, dairy, seafood, or even meat from time to time, if no other options exist.

People who struggle:

Feel physically terrible when they stop eating animal protein, even if they’re taking steps to patch deficiencies.

Cook for picky eaters who either love meat or hate plant foods—or both.

✓ Prefer highly-processed refined foods over whole plant foods.

Lack a strong “why” for going plant-based.

Lack the time and energy to investigate new recipes or restaurants.

How to coach someone on a fully plant-based diet

To help clients avoid deficiency and stay consistent, use this advice.

Don’t assume a vegan or fully plant-based eater never eats meat.

It’s counterintuitive yet true: Some people who identify as vegans or fully plant-based eaters will consume animal products in certain situations.

As a coach, this is important information—because flexibility can help your clients avoid deficiencies.

Ask questions like:

  • What does “vegan” or “strictly plant-based” mean to you?
  • Could you tell more a little more about what foods you enjoy eating and what foods you choose to eliminate?
  • What do you eat and how often?
  • What did you eat yesterday?

The answers may surprise you.

When I posed those questions to a college-aged client, she said, “I am a strict vegan, except when I’m drunk. Then I get fast food and will order a hamburger.”

When asked how often she drank, the client answered, “Well, I party three times a week, so I get hamburgers three times a week. But otherwise I am a strict vegan.”

Help clients ease in.

Some of your clients will attempt to go from a meat-heavy to a strict vegan diet overnight. Often after they’ve watched a documentary about the benefits of plant-based diets.

While this commitment to big, fast dietary change is commendable, it often ends in frustration. Why? Strict vegan and fully plant-based diets require clients to know and use several skills. Consider:

  • How does one make tofu taste like bacon? Or chicken? Or paneer?
  • What brands of vegan yogurt taste the best? What about plant-milk?
  • Which vegan-sounding packaged foods actually contain animal-based ingredients such as rennet, chicken broth, or gelatin? (Hint: Your clients will want to carefully read the labels on commercially-prepared breakfast cereals, soups, condiments, stuffing mixes, yogurt, and candy, among other foods.)
  • What should they say when friends invite them over for dinner and all of the options include meat or animal products?

In other words, switching from omnivore to vegan will mean learning how to cook a wide range of foods and recipes, shopping for different foods, and navigating social situations in completely new ways.

Because of that, I’ve found that clients ultimately are more successful if they ease in.

To do this, imagine a fully plant-based or vegan diet as a volume dial. A 10 on the diet is 100 percent plants, 100 percent of the time. A zero is their current way of eating.

They might turn their dial up to a 1—cooking one vegan meal a month or week. Then, if that goes well, they might advance to what they define as 2 or 3. And so on. They might not ever get all the way to 10—and that’s okay. As long as they’re adding more plant foods to their diet, they’re making progress.

Should you talk clients out of a vegan diet?

In a word, no.

When you dictate the terms, your client no longer feels like you’re in it together. Rather than your carefully thought-out reasons, your client hears: “My coach thinks I’m wrong.”

And that doesn’t feel good.

So what do you do if your client wants all-in on a vegan diet—but you suspect they may not be ready? You might say:

“Wow, that’s so great that you’re really taking initiative and learning more about nutrition on your own time! That’s awesome.

We can go at this a couple of ways. We can explore a strict plant-based plan right off the bat.

Or we can continue on with the old plan for a while.

Another option: We blend the two plans and see if we can find the best of both. In other words, you would keep what you like about your current plan, and adopt a few things from plant-based eating.

Maybe, for example, you try a meatless meal once or twice a week. Or if you really want to ramp up your plant-based eating, aim for meat-free before dinner, most days of the week.

Of those options, what feels like a good fit to you?”

Once they’ve chosen a direction, respect that decision, and use your coaching wizardry to help them overcome obstacles.

Ask clients about their favorite foods.

There are plenty of super high-tech ways to test people for nutrient deficiencies, such as running their food diary through a nutrient database.

But if you don’t have access to decent nutrition software, there’s a low tech option: Show clients lists of foods that are rich in calcium, B12, iron, and healthy fats. Then ask them to do two things.

  1. Cross out foods they don’t eat
  2. Circle foods they do eat

For example, let’s say you’re looking at a list of calcium-rich foods. The client might cross out cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and all other dairy products. Then, of the foods that are left, the client circles leafy greens, calcium-set tofu, broccoli, figs, beans, edamame, and almonds.

“I really don’t like sesame seed butter,” the client says, “And I’ve never heard of blackstrap molasses.”

That gives you something to work with. Once you know what foods the client likes to eat, you can work together to come up with recipes and meal prep strategies to help your client eat those foods more regularly.

Know that, for some people, fully plant-based and vegan diets just don’t work.

As I’ve mentioned: Some people do amazing on fully plant-based and vegan diets. Their skin glows. They have a pep in their step. They seem energized, healthy, and vibrant.

Other people, however, seem as if they’re wasting away.

They’re hungry all the time. They can’t stop thinking about cookies, brownies, and bread. And they may even have signs of deficiencies: fatigue, insomnia, thinning hair, brittle fingernails, and broken blood vessels.

The most telling piece of evidence: When they tell me, “If I eat a little bit of meat, I feel better.”

It’s tempting to assume this is evidence the client is doing vegan “wrong.” But for at least some people, there may be a deeper, genetic component.

I’ve counseled couples who are doing vegan diets together. One person is vibrant whereas the other is struggling. Same diet (heck, even the same table). Just different bodies.

I call this “failure to thrive on a plant-based diet.”

If this describes a client who otherwise seems to be eating an abundance of minimally-processed whole foods, it’s time to ask the question: Is this diet really working for you? (The self assessment below will help you find out).

The fully plant-based diet: What to eat

This is probably a bit of a no-brainer, but I’ll say it anyway: People on 100 percent plant-based diets tend to eat a lot of plants: veggies, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and vegetable oils.
Depending on the person, they might occasionally include animals or animal products—a little fish sauce here, a whipped cream topping there.

Ultimately, the goal for all plant-based clients isn’t perfection.

Rather, it’s progress: Eat more minimally-processed whole plant foods and fewer highly-processed refined foods and animal products.

For a more complete, customized plan, plug your info into our Nutrition Calculator. (It’s FREE and is personalized for your eating preferences, goals, and lifestyle.)

Fully plant-based diets: Do they work—for you?

For best results, think of a new plant-based or vegan diet as a mini research study with a sample size of one—you (or your client).

▶Define what fully plant-based means to you or your client.

▶Try it for a few weeks and then evaluate how it all went. Did it work? Do you look, feel, and perform better?

For help, use this short quiz—it’ll help you assess if your vegan diet is working for you. You can come back to the quiz time and again—and for any diet approach—so you might want to bookmark it.

▶Based on what you learn from your experiment, either stay the course, make some changes to improve your success (say, more beans, fewer chips), or abandon the mission.

No matter your results, remember this: it’s okay.

This isn’t about earning awards for plant-based perfection. It’s about progress, consistency, and finding out what works for your body

And if you ultimately decide that fully plant-based eating just isn’t for you, it’s no big deal. There are so many other ways to eat—Mediterranean, keto, intermittent fasting, or paleo, to name a few. Or consider trying the “anything” diet laid out in our Precision Nutrition Macro Calculator. Keep experimenting with new things.

Eventually, you’ll land on the best diet—for you.

References

Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

The post Fully plant-based and vegan diets: Your complete how-to guide appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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The following post is sponsored by HydroJug. For our sponsored post policy, click here. We all know we need to drink more water. Because water and staying hydrated is SO good for us! From digestion to energy to brain power to just feeling good, water is where it’s at when it comes to being healthy and feeling good. So, if we all know it’s good for us and we want to drink more water, then why do so many of us not get enough of it each day? Why is it that most of us struggle with staying hydrated? In…

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“What can I actually eat on a plant-based or vegetarian diet?”

It’s natural to wonder about your options.

Carrots and broccoli are givens—of course. But are all plant-based foods “okay” to eat?

So often, our clients want to know things like:

  • Is peanut butter a decent source of protein?
  • How often should I eat soy products?
  • Since I don’t eat fish, how do I get enough omega 3 fats? 
  • Are plant-based burgers okay?
  • Can I eat pasta on a plant-based diet? (Please say yes…?)

It can also be tricky to figure which plant-based foods fit into which macronutrient categories.

Take chickpeas, lentils, and veggie burgers. Are they mostly protein? Carbohydrates? Fat? (HELP!)

Questions like these are why we created this handy, visual food list for plant-based and vegetarian eaters. 

Fair warning: We’re not going to tell you that some foods are “good” and “bad”—or tell you there’s a “right” way to eat.

That’s just not our style. But we will show you how to think about foods on a spectrum from “eat more” to “eat some” to “eat less.”

This approach promotes one of the most crucial philosophies of our nutrition coaching method: Progress, not perfection.

Use our continuums to make choices that are “just a little bit better,” whether you’re browsing the grocery store aisles, cooking a homemade meal, or ordering from a menu.

Plus, learn how to:

  • Incorporate a mix of plant-based proteins, vegetables, carbohydrates, and fats.
  • Strategically improve your food choices—based on what you eat right now—to feel, move, and look better.
  • Customize your intake for your individual lifestyle, goals, and (of course) taste buds.

As a bonus, we’ve provided space to create your own personal plant-based foods continuum. That way, you can build a delicious menu of healthy foods that are right for you—no questions asked.

(And if you want a FREE plant-based nutrition plan that’s personalized for your body, goals, and lifestyle, check out the Precision Nutrition Calculator.)

Download this infographic for your tablet or printer and use the step-by-step process to decide which foods line up with your (or your clients’) goals.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

The post ‘What should I eat?!’ How to choose the best vegetarian and plant-based foods for your body. [Infographic] appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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The Basics | Research | Pros | Cons | How to Coach It | Food List

First popularized in the 1970s, the Paleo Diet encourages the consumption of foods ancient humans are thought to have eaten hundreds of thousands of years ago—before the dawn of modern agriculture. Think: roots, seeds, fruits, fish, game, and other morsels people could easily gather or club to death.

What are the benefits of this diet? The risks? And is it right for you?

This article will provide those answers.

That way, you can maximize the diet’s benefits while minimizing the diet’s pitfalls. (And yes, they ALL have pitfalls.)

So if you or your clients want to try Paleo—but don’t know where to start—keep reading. You’ll learn:

Paleo Diet Basics

The Paleo diet—also referred to as the Paleolithic diet, Primal diet, and Ancestral diet—is based on two central ideas.

Idea #1: Humans adapted to eat particular kinds of foods.

According to Paleo enthusiasts, our ancient human genetic blueprint doesn’t match our modern diet and lifestyle.

Until about 10,000 years ago, humans ate what they hunted (meat, fish) or gathered (fruit, vegetables, roots, tubers, nuts, seeds, eggs, honey).

Then most of the world figured out agriculture. We moved from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period. Planting and farming provided us with a consistent and relatively reliable food supply, without which modern civilization could never have developed.

Fun fact: The 10,000-year time frame since the dawn of the Neolithic period represents only about one percent of the time we humans have been on Earth.

Idea #2: To stay healthy, strong, and fit—and avoid the chronic diseases of modern times—we need to eat like our ancestors.

Paleo enthusiasts claim that eating like our ancient ancestors will improve your health and our well-being.

The Paleo diet also makes some key evolutionary assumptions:

  • Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were robust and healthy. If they didn’t die young from accident or infectious diseases, they lived about as long as we do now.
  • When Paleolithic hunter-gatherers shifted to Neolithic agriculture, they got relatively sicker, shorter, and spindlier.
  • Modern hunter-gatherers are healthy, and their health declines when they switch to a modern diet.

Paleo Diet: The Truth

So you might have noticed that we attributed the two central ideas to “Paleo enthusiasts.”

And that phrasing was intentional.

Because there are some issues with both ideas.

Hunter-gatherers were not pristine models of health.

To begin with, they harbored various parasites. They were also subject to many infectious diseases.

What’s more, a study in The Lancet looked at 137 mummies from societies ranging all over the world—from Egypt, Peru, the American Southwest, and the Aleutian Islands—to search for signs of hardening of the arteries (a condition known as atherosclerosis).

They noted probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from all four geographical regions, regardless of whether the people had been farmers or hunter-gatherers, peasants, or societal elite.

The deciding factor? It was age, not diet. Mummies who were older than 40 when they died tended to have hardening in several arteries, compared to mummies who’d died at younger ages.1,2

There wasn’t just one Paleo diet—there were many different ones.

Our ancestors lived pretty much all over the world, in diverse environments, eating varied diets.

And some of them did indeed consume foods that are typically shunned on the Paleo diet.

Like grains.

Like cereals.

Like beans.

Ancient humans may have begun eating grains and cereals before the Paleolithic era even began—up to three or even four million years ago, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.3 And not only did our Paleolithic ancestors eat legumes, these were actually an important part of their diet, several research reviews reveal.4-6

In other words, the idea that Paleolithic humans never ate grains, cereals, and beans appears to be a bit of an exaggeration.

Modern fruits and vegetables aren’t like the ones our ancestors ate.

Early fruits and vegetables were often bitter, much smaller, tougher to harvest, and sometimes toxic.

Over time, we’ve bred plants with the most preferable and enticing traits—the biggest fruits, prettiest colors, sweetest flesh, fewest natural toxins, and largest yields. We’ve also diversified plant types—creating new varieties such as hundreds of cultivars of potatoes or tomatoes from a few ancestral varieties.

For example, over many years, farmers selectively bred Brassica oleracea—also known as wild mustard—into plants with bigger leaves, thicker stalks, or larger buds. This eventually created the many different vegetables of the Brassica family: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kohlrabi.

These vegetables seem quite different from one another, but all originated from the same plant species.

Most modern animal foods aren’t the same.

Beef (even if grass-fed) isn’t the same as wild game such as bison or deer meat. Because wild game move around a lot more than domesticated animals, they’re leaner and their meat contains less fat.7

This doesn’t make modern produce or modern meat inherently inferior or superior. It’s just different from nearly anything available in Paleolithic times.

So the claim that we should eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and meats because we’re evolved to eat precisely those foods is suspect. The food we eat today didn’t even exist in Paleolithic times.

No matter how you slice it, Paleo proponents’ evolutionary arguments don’t hold up.

But that doesn’t mean the diet itself is bad.

Maybe it’s good for completely different reasons than they say.

(For a deeper dive into the science, see The Paleo Problem.)

Paleo Diet Pros

Despite our qualms with the historical underpinning of Paleo, the diet likely gets more right than it gets wrong.

Paleo-style eating emphasizes whole foods.

This is a massive improvement over the average Western diet. The top six calorie sources in the U.S. diet today are grain-based desserts (cake, cookies), yeast breads, chicken-based dishes (and you know that doesn’t mean a grilled chicken salad), sweetened beverages, pizza, and alcoholic drinks.

Those aren’t ancestral foods—nor foods that, when consumed in abundance, promote good health. So when proponents of the Paleo diet claim that our modern Western diet isn’t healthy for us, they’re absolutely correct.

Paleo-style eating has been extremely effective for improving several chronic diseases.

According to several studies, the Paleo diet can help improve blood pressure, glucose tolerance, inflammation, thyroid levels, and blood lipids.8-11

Paleo will likely leave you feeling satisfied.

The Paleo diet may be more satiating per calorie than some other eating styles.12,13

Why? Paleo encourages the consumption of vegetables and meat—two food groups that dampen hunger and increase post-meal satiety.

Vegetables contain relatively fewer calories than other foods. Meat is rich in protein, which helps to trigger the release of appetite-regulating hormones.

Paleo Diet Cons

All restrictive diets, including Paleo, share two potential pitfalls: inconsistent compliance and nutritional deficiency.

We’ll start with compliance.

Paleo can be tough to maintain.

Restrictive diets like Paleo can be easier in the short term because you don’t have many decisions to make. It’s simple—just eat the foods the diet says to eat. Don’t eat the foods the diet says not to eat.

No thinking. No measuring.

But long term? It’s harder—because not everyone in your life is following Paleo.

Not every restaurant serves Paleo meals.

Plus, some of the foods on your “don’t eat” list may be foods you love.

Like fresh-baked bread.

Like most desserts.

Like pumpkin lattes.

This is why strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods tends to be problematic for many people. It’s less effective over the long-term—because ultimately, it decreases our consistency. (Read more: The problem labeling foods as “good” or “bad.”)

So it makes a lot of sense that people struggle to remain consistent on Paleo over the long term.

In a study of 250 people, only 35 percent of dieters stuck with the Paleo diet for a full year, compared to 57 percent of people on the Mediterranean diet and 54 percent of people who tried intermittent fasting. When compared to the two other diets, people who tried Paleo lost less weight, too.14

Restrictive diets make deficiency more likely.

Anytime you cut out foods and food groups, you must work harder to replace what you lose. It takes more effort to get the nutrients you need.

In the case of Paleo, you’ll have to work harder to get enough of these nutrients:

Calcium: Dairy offers a rich source of highly absorbable calcium. As the chart below shows, our bodies take up 97 percent of the calcium from cheese, yogurt, and milk—but much less from non-dairy sources.15

This chart shows the calcium content and absorption of common foods, starting with the highest (the first number is calcium content; the second number is how much is absorbed): Cheddar cheese (1.5 ounces): 361 mg/350 mg; Yogurt: 332 mg/319 mg; Milk (1 cup): 311 mg/299 mg; Tofu (3/4 cup): 230 mg/187 mg; White beans (3/4 cup, boiled): 141 mg/35 mg; Spinach (1/2 cup cooked): 129 mg/77 mg; Bok choy (1/2 cup cooked): 84 mg/36 mg; Chinese cabbage (1/2 cup shredded): 79 mg/75 mg; Broccoli (1/2 cup cooked): 33 mg/7 mg; Spinach (1 cup chopped, raw): 31 mg; 2 mg

To get enough calcium while on Paleo, make sure you’re eating at least a fistful of dark leafy greens (collards, kale, bok choy) every day.

Riboflavin and Thiamin: These B vitamins are present in high amounts in cereals, grains, beans, and milk—all foods that are off limits on Paleo. To make sure you’re getting enough, consume plenty of green veggies, fish, mussels, and eggs.16

Carbohydrate: If you train intensely, you may struggle to get enough carbohydrate on the Paleo diet. If you exercise intensely on a regular basis, the modified Paleo diet (see next section) may be a better option.

Fiber: Early humans actually ate a lot of fiber—as much as 100 grams a day.17 Many health organizations recommend somewhere between 25 and 35 daily grams—and most people consume half that amount, even when they’re not omitting fiber-rich beans, legumes, or grains for the Paleo diet.

To make up for the fiber from those foods, consume high-fiber produce several times a day. Good options include beets, apples, figs, berries, spinach, okra, Brussels sprouts, pears, and avocados. See the “Top Paleo-Approved High-Fiber Foods” below.

Top Paleo Approved High-Fiber Foods

Food Soluble Fiber (g) Insoluble Fiber (g) Total Fiber (g)
Avocado (medium, California) 3 6 9
Guava (1 cup raw) 2 7 9
Raspberries (1 cup) 7 1 8
Hubbard squash (1 cup cooked) 4 3 7
Jicama (1 cup raw) 3 3 6
Brussels sprouts (1 cup, cooked) 2 3 5
Pear (1 medium) 2.5 3 5.5
Broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi (1 cup cooked) 3 2 5
Turnip, mustard, or collard greens (1 cup cooked) 2 3 5
Cabbage (1 cup cooked) 2 2 4
Apple (1 medium) 1 3 4

Enter the Modified Paleo Diet

Because of the pitfalls we just mentioned, the Paleo diet has evolved to include moderate amounts of starch (especially sweet potatoes, but also white potatoes and white rice), as well as some dark chocolate, red wine and non-grain spirits (such as tequila), and limited amounts of grass-fed dairy.

Beyond making life more pleasant, these additions make social situations a lot easier to navigate.

They also make healthy eating more attractive and achievable.

In the end, moderation, sanity, and your personal preferences are more important than any specific food list.

How to Coach Someone on Paleo

Maybe you’re a big believer in Paleo.

Or perhaps you don’t believe in it at all.

Or… you’re agnostic about the whole thing.

Regardless of which camp you’ ve decided to set up a tent, remember that your client’s wishes come first.

So rather than spending a lot of emotional energy thinking about how to talk your client into Paleo (or out of it), get curious about helping your client do Paleo—or any other diet—even better.

Here we’ve included sample conversation openers and advice for situations that will likely come up. (You can use these questions on yourself, too.)

The situation: In looking over your client’s food log, you’ve noticed a pasta dinner here, a cookie there.

As the weeks go on, you see more and more non-Paleo foods.

Bring it up, with non-judgement and warmth. You might say:

“Hey, based on your food logs, it doesn’t seem like you’re strictly following Paleo anymore. Which is totally okay. But I’m wondering: Is this something you want to continue to try doing?”

The situation: Your client tells you, “I really want to do Paleo, but I’m struggling. I don’t think I can stick with it.”

Explore why your client is struggling. You might say:

“Okay, so what does that mean to you? What does struggling look like? What parts are harder for you? When is it easier for you?”

Depending on what your client reveals, you can work together to find solutions to help your client overcome obstacles.

The situation: Your client says, “I know I should get back to it. I really should do this for my health. I know that. But. I don’t know. I feel so stuck.”

The word “should” indicates that your client may like the idea of Paleo, but may not truly want to follow the diet. To dig deeper, you might ask:

“So why do you think you should do this? Can you tell me more about that? Why do you feel this diet would help you progress toward your goals?”

Your client’s answer may either reveal that following a strict diet actually doesn’t align with their values anymore, or they may revive a more compelling reason to keep going. Either way, you have a clearer sense of how to continue.

(For even more guidance, check out this article: How to talk to your clients about the latest Netflix documentary.)

The Paleo Diet: What to eat

Traditionally, the Paleo plate includes:

  • animals (meat, fish, reptiles, insects) and usually, almost all parts of the animal, including organs, bone marrow, and cartilage
  • animal products (such as eggs and honey)
  • roots/tubers, leaves, flowers and stems (in other words, vegetables)
  • fruits
  • raw nuts and seeds, coconut, avocados, and olives

Many Paleo proponents have recommended that eaters start with the above, then slowly gravitate to the modified Paleo diet by introducing grass-fed dairy (mostly yogurt and other cultured options), and small amounts of legumes that have been soaked overnight.

With that in mind, consider how you could move along a spectrum, starting from your current eating pattern to choices that are more Paleo-aligned.

For a complete guide that includes how much protein, carbs, fat you should eat, plug your info into our macros calculator. (It’s FREE and gives you a customized plan based on your diet preferences and goals.)

Please keep in mind…

There is no one-size-fits-all Paleo diet.

You’ll find NUMEROUS “eat this / not that” Paleo lists all over the internet, but even Paleo experts aren’t all in agreement.

Our advice: Focus on minimally-processed whole foods while also keeping your overall fat intake in balance.

If you’re a coach, you may have clients who follow a wide range of food lists—and that’s okay. The important part: helping them to stay successful based on whatever list they choose.

Don’t try to be perfect.

Doing a few good things pretty well (like eating more veggies or protein) is much better than trying to get a lot of things perfect (and then giving up completely because it’s impossible).

And by introducing small changes slowly over time, you increase your chances of long-term success.

Modify Paleo to fit your lifestyle and needs.

For example, if you’re following the Paleo diet and you’re also fully plant-based, to reach your protein requirements, you’ll want to include some soy. You may also want to prioritize nuts and seeds.

Paleo diet: Does it work—for you?

There’s really only one proven way to know if the Paleo diet works for you:

Try it.

Treat it like an experiment. Go all-in—for at least two weeks.

Then, after at least 2 weeks, use this assessment—Quiz: How’s that diet working for you? — to decide if your eating strategy is working.

No matter your results, remember this: it’s all okay.

Even if you never quite master the Paleo diet and instead gravitate toward a “Paleo Lite” style of eating (80-90% Paleo, 10-20% non-Paleo), you’ll most likely still see benefits.

That’s because just slight shifts toward the “eat more” foods and away from many of the “eat less” foods can make an enormous difference.

How do we know?

We’ve seen it happen with client after client after client.

And if you decide that Paleo isn’t for you? No biggie. It’s not the only eating style around. There are many other ways to eat—Mediterranean, vegetarian, fully plant-based (vegan), Keto, carb cycling, reverse dieting—that can also help you reach your goals.

Keep experimenting with new foods, new strategies, and new eating styles. Adopt what works. Deep six what doesn’t.

Eventually, you’ll discover the ultimate best diet—for you.

References

Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

The post The Paleo diet: Your complete how-to guide. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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Types of Diets | Benefits | Risks | Coaching Tips | What to Eat | Diet quiz

Pop quiz: Which of the following is a plant-based diet?

  1. The Mediterranean diet
  2. The vegetarian diet
  3. The vegan diet
  4. The flexitarian diet

The answer: All of the above.

If you’re surprised by that revelation, know this: You’re 100% normal.

After all…

When it comes to plant-based diets, there’s a heck of a lot of confusion.

In this article, we’ll attempt to clear things up by exploring several questions.

Plus, you’ll find a quiz that can help you test your diet.

What are plant-based and vegetarian diets?

Let’s start with the debate about plant-based diets and meat.

Some plant-based eaters include meat—and some don’t.

This even includes people who identify as vegetarians.

Imagine a continuum, with 100% carnivore at one end and 100% vegan (no animals or animal products) at the other.

On that continuum, plant-based eaters fall closer to vegans than they do carnivores, eating more plants than meat. But, as the graphic below shows, “more plants than meat” allows for lots of variations.

Graphic that shows the variation of plant-based diets, placing foods on a scale from low to high Meatiness of Plantiness.

▶Strict vegans fall into the “plant-based” bucket, as the “plantiness” of their diet is 100 percent.

▶Generally, vegetarians don’t eat meat or seafood, but do sometimes consume animal products such as eggs and dairy. Though their food choices are less plant-focused than a vegan’s, they’re still plant-based eaters.

▶ Flexitarians, semi vegetarians, or part-time vegetarians tend to consume meat and seafood—either occasionally or in small amounts. But because they eat more plants than meat, they also fall into the plant-based bucket.

▶People who follow Mediterranean or Paleo diets might eat meat as often as every day. But they tend to also eat a lot of whole plant foods. As long as plants make up a significant portion of what they eat, we’d consider them plant-based, too.

This chart (see below) shows what different plant-based eaters are willing to eat and not eat.

Chart shows what different types of plant-based eaters are willing to eat and/or do. 1) Flexitarian: red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, plants, buy leather/furs; 2) Pollo-vegetarian: poultry, eggs, plants, buy leather/furs; 3) Pescatarian: seafood, plants, buy leather/furs; 4) Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eggs, dairy, plants, buy leather/furs; 5) Lacto-vegetarian: dairy, plants, buy leather/furs; 6) Ovo-vegetarian: eggs, plants, buy leather/furs; 7) Fully-plant based: plants, buy leather/furs; 8) Vegan: plants

The above only paints a partial picture—as many plant-based eaters don’t fit into just one box. There are pescatarians who eat seafood, eggs, and dairy—as well as pescatarians who eat seafood, but no other animal products.

Similarly, some vegetarians and fully plant-based eaters are okay with products made from animals (such as leather or fur), while others are not.

Still other people allow animal products into their lives sometimes—but not other times. For example, one of our clients sees herself as a vegan who never eats animal products in any form—except for cupcakes. If she’s in a bakery and no vegan options are available, she’ll enjoy whatever looks delicious.

Pros of Plant-Based and Vegetarian Diets

Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Gallbladder disease 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

However, plant-based eaters may be healthier not because they eat less meat—but rather because of the following reasons:

Reason #1: Plant-based diets attract health-conscious individuals.

Generally speaking, plant-based eaters are the kind of people who floss their teeth, exercise, take the stairs, sleep 7 to 9 hours, and get regular check ups.6

In other words, they might be healthier not only because of what they do and don’t eat, but also because of their overall lifestyle.

Reason #2: Plant-based eaters tend to eat more plants. (Duh.)

Plant-based eaters tend to score pretty high on something called the Healthy Eating Index, which is a measure of dietary quality.

Because plant-based eaters usually consume more minimally-processed whole plant foods that have known health-protective effects, they drive down their risk for disease.7

Reason #3: Minimally-processed plant foods tend to be nutrient-dense.

Just one example: A cup of broccoli, berries, or black beans contains more nutrients than a slice of pizza, for much fewer calories. Depending on the plant food, these nutrients can include:

  • Antioxidants, which help protect our DNA from free radical damage.
  • Phytonutrients, plant chemicals thought to promote good health.
  • Myconutrients, health-promoting compounds found in mushrooms.
  • Fiber, indigestible plant material that bulks up stool (reducing constipation), as well as helps regulate appetite and control cholesterol and blood sugar.
  • Healthy fats like the monounsaturated fats found in avocados and the polyunsaturated fats found in seeds and nuts.

Reason #4: Minimally-processed plant foods tend to fill us up, crowding out processed foods.

Plants contain a lot of water, which adds weight and volume to food, without adding calories. They also contain fiber to slow digestion.

End result: They’re pretty dang filling.

So when people consume more plants, they tend to eat fewer ultra-processed refined foods like chips, cookies, and mac and cheese. 8, 9

(If you’ve ever had a “salad baby,” you know how hard it is to follow up with a milkshake or a bag of chips.)

The Cost of Restricting Food Groups

Whenever you make a dietary change, you face some tradeoffs.

See the chart below: As dietary restrictions increase, time-commitment and nutrient deficiency risk go up, too.

On the other hand, as consumption of highly-processed foods increases, time-commitment drops—while deficiency risk rises.

This chart is titled “The Continuum of Nutrition.” At the top of the chart is a horizontal green bar: On the left end it reads, “Greatest Nutrient Variety”; on the right end, it reads, “Greatest Deficiency Risk.” On the left side of the chart, there’s a vertical orange bar. On the bottom end it reads, “Harder to Maintain”; on the top end, it reads, “Easier to Maintain.” Types of eating styles are plotted based on where they fall on both continuums. “Whole food omnivore” ranks well on “easier to maintain” and “greatest nutrient variety.” “Whole food pescatarian” is a little harder than that in both categories, but still scores well overall. “Whole food vegetarian” and “whole food vegan” both move farther away on both continuums, with “whole food vegan” being the hardest to maintain and having the least nutrient variety of the aforementioned approaches. However, all of these approaches provide great nutrient variety than the processed food version of each approach. Those fall in the same order, but are each at progressively greater risk of nutrient deficiency.

Reason #5: Strict food rules can work.

It takes work—label reading, food prep, menu scrutiny—to follow a well-rounded plant-based diet, which leads to healthier choices. Plus, if someone’s a strict vegan or vegetarian, the “don’t eat” list can eliminate less nutritious, high-calorie foods, like wings and pork rinds.

(Learn more: The modern diet dilemma: Is it better to eat meat? Go vegan? Something in between? The truth about what’s right for you.)

Is it possible to eat enough protein on a plant-based diet?

Despite popular belief, many plant foods contain decent amounts of protein.

So, protein deficiency among plant-based eaters isn’t as common as you might think.

Check out how plant proteins stack up.

FOOD PROTEIN (in grams)
Animal-based protein sources Per palm-sized portion*
Skinless chicken breast, grilled 31
Cottage cheese 25
Greek yogurt, plain 22
Shrimp, cooked 21
Eggs 12
Plant-based  protein sources
Seitan, cooked 22
Tempeh, cooked 18
Tofu, drained and cooked 16
Plant-based fat sources Per thumb-sized portion*
Pumpkin seeds 2
Peanut butter 3.5
Plant-based carb sources Per cupped hand*
Cooked lentils 8
Bread, multigrain 5
Pasta 4
Non-starchy vegetables Per fist*
Broccoli 3
Spinach 1
Carrots 1

* Palm-sized = 3-4 oz cooked meat / tofu, 1 cup cottage cheese / Greek yogurt, 2 whole eggs; Cupped handful = 1/2-2/3 cup cooked grains / legumes, medium-sized fruit / tuber;
Thumb = 1 tbsp; Fist = 1 cup

A couple of caveats:

▶  Whole foods are important. Clients who regularly consume tempeh, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds will have little trouble meeting their protein requirements.

On the other hand, clients who eat mostly refined pasta, refined bread, vegan cupcakes, and toaster pastries may struggle.

▶Plant-based proteins are generally not as rich in essential amino acids—nor are they as well-absorbed—as animal-based proteins.

For folks who rely solely on plants, protein needs slightly increase, compared to omnivores, to account for this protein quality discrepancy. See our article about plant-based proteins to learn more.

The Cons of Plant-Based Diets

Here’s the bad news…

Anytime you omit entire groups of foods, you must work harder to get all the nutrients your body needs. This is especially true if someone:

  • Is fully plant-based or vegan.
  • Tends to eat a diet rich in highly-processed foods.

To reduce the risk for deficiencies, aim for a diet composed of 80 to 90 percent whole, minimally-processed foods.

Also, consider the following nutrient-specific advice.

Calcium

In addition to keeping bones and teeth strong, calcium helps muscles—including your heart muscle—work properly.

Dairy products offer a particularly rich source, with each serving supplying nearly a third of the 1000 to 1200 milligrams the typical person needs every day.

To get enough calcium from non-dairy foods, use this advice:

▶ Consume several servings of high-calcium plant foods a day. Calcium-rich plant foods include leafy greens (collards, turnip greens, kale), calcium-set tofu, sesame seed butter, blackstrap molasses, okra, broccoli, figs, beans, almonds, edamame, soy nuts, and fortified plant milks. To increase absorption, cook calcium-rich greens rather than consume them raw.

▶ Cut back on salt, alcohol, and soft drinks. When people consume a lot of alcohol, salt, and soft drinks, they tend to take in fewer nutrient-dense, minimally-processed whole foods. For example, when someone chooses a soft drink, they’re not choosing a calcium-enriched plant milk. When they sit down with a bowl of salty chips, by default they’re not having broccoli or figs. 

▶ Exercise. Weight-bearing exercise stimulates bones, helping them to increase their density and reduce risk of fractures.

Vitamin B12

Our bodies need B12 to make DNA, strengthen blood vessels, and keep nerves working. Because B12 is involved in red blood cell formation, deficiency can lead to anemia.

Though a few plants contain substances that the body can convert to B12, we don’t absorb and use these substances as readily as the B12 present in animal products.10 Plus, many people over age 50 are already deficient, whether they eat meat or not.

That’s because, as we age, our stomachs make less acid (which breaks down B12) and intrinsic factor (which helps the body absorb B12). And some medications—such as acid blockers—reduce absorption even more.

For these reasons, a daily B12 supplement is a good idea for:

  • People over 50.
  • People who take medications that interfere with vitamin B12 absorption, such as those used to treat reflux, ulcers, and diabetes.
  • People who are partially or fully plant-based.

Even with supplements, some people might show signs of deficiency: fatigue, dizziness or loss of balance, and reduced mental function.

In those cases, their health care provider can check their B12 levels with a blood test and potentially prescribe intramuscular (injected) B12, which is better absorbed than oral (including sublingual) supplements.

Omega-3 fats

These fats are helpful in preventing heart disease as well as important for the development of eye, nerve and brain tissue (especially in fetuses and babies).

Omega-3 fats come in a few forms:

▶Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA):
The richest sources of EPA and/or DHA are found in sea vegetables (such as seaweed) and seafood, especially fatty varieties like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, and oysters.

▶Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): 
Flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soy, dark leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables are all rich sources of ALA.

Our bodies must convert ALA into EPA or DHA before using it. About 90% of the ALA fat is lost during the conversion. In other words, if you consume 2.5 grams of ALA from plants, your body will only convert and use only about 10 percent, or .25 grams.11

Bottom line: Non-seafood-eating clients will want to include legumes, nuts, flaxseed oil, hemp, ground flaxseed, walnuts, and other ALA-rich foods daily.12

Iron

Because iron carries oxygen around the body, low levels can lead to fatigue.

Animal products are a particularly rich source of a type of iron called heme that our bodies absorb more easily than the non-heme iron found in beans, peas, lentils, and other plants. (Your body absorbs about 15 to 35 percent of the heme iron you eat, but only about 2 to 20 percent of non-heme iron.)

To help boost iron intake and absorption, use this advice:

▶ Increase absorption by consuming iron-rich plant foods with foods high in vitamin C. Use the chart below for ideas. Maybe you make a tofu stir fry with broccoli or a bean salad with tomatoes, peppers, and a squeeze of lime.

Rich in iron Rich in vitamin C
Pumpkin seeds Citrus fruit and juices (ex: oranges)
Tofu Cantaloupe
Tempeh Strawberries
Edamame Broccoli
Lentils Tomatoes
Beans Peppers
Peas Winter squash
Sunflower seeds Watermelon
Nuts Guava
Hummus Kale
Almond butter Kiwi
Leafy greens Potatoes
Fortified foods
Potatoes
White and oyster mushrooms
Amaranth
Spelt
Oats
Quinoa
Dark chocolate

▶ Cook with cast iron cookware. Research shows it can increase the iron content of the food you eat.13

▶ Don’t drink coffee or black tea with food. These drinks contain tannins that inhibit the absorption of iron.

People who thrive on plant-based diets

Some people jump right into plant-based eating with gusto and stay immersed for life. They look and feel amazing, so much so that they can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t eat this way.

Other people? They struggle. They don’t feel good and/or just can’t get in the hang of it.

What makes the difference?

People who do best on plant-based diets:

✓ Have an open-minded “I’ll try anything once” approach to eating. Sea veggies? Slimy fermented soy? Bring it.

✓  Embrace minimally-processed whole foods such as vegetables, beans, and lentils.

✓ Have the time and inclination to search out vegetarian recipes, restaurants, and meal-delivery options.

✓ Have support from family/friends who may also follow their lifestyle.

✓ Have a deep “why” for being plant-based, such as “I just can’t stand the idea of harming animals” or “I want to do everything possible to shrink my carbon footprint.”

✓ Are flexible about their plant-based identity. They’re okay consuming eggs, dairy, seafood, or meat from time to time, if no other options exist.

People who struggle on plant-based diets:

Cook for picky eaters who either love meat or hate plant-foods—or both.

✓ Prefer highly-processed refined foods over minimally-processed plant foods.

Lack a strong “why” for going plant-based.

Lack the time and energy to investigate new recipes or restaurants.

How to coach clients on plant-based diets

To help clients succeed, consider this advice.

Strategy #1: Don’t assume you know what clients mean when they say, “I’m a vegetarian” or “I’m plant-based.”

As we mentioned earlier, there are many types of plant-based and vegetarian eaters. So ask questions like:

  • What does “vegetarian” or “plant-based” mean to you?
  • Could you tell me a little more about what foods you enjoy eating and what foods you choose to eliminate?
  • What do you eat and how often?

Clients have given us a wide range of answers to those questions.

Some say they’re vegetarian before dinner. Pre-dinner they eat no meat. During dinner, however, they’ll have whatever everyone else is having.

Others eat vegetarian while at home, but anything goes in social settings.

Strategy #2: Understand their why.

Different people have different reasons for adopting a plant-based diet—and some of those reasons are more powerful drivers of motivation than others.

It’s probably easy to see how someone who is allergic to eggs could easily stop eating them for the rest of their life.

But let’s say someone has a vague notion that “meat is bad”—based on a documentary they watched. And they happen to love bacon. And burgers.

Sure, their vague “meat is bad” perception might motivate them… for a while. But as the memory of the documentary fades, they’ll probably find that bacon and other beloved foods creep back in.

(BTW, if nutrition fads leave you frustrated, check out: How to talk to clients (and your mother) about the latest Netflix documentary.)

In these cases, we like to use an exercise called “the 5 Whys.”

Originally used by the Toyota Motor Corporation and adapted for nutrition coaching by Precision Nutrition, it cuts to the core of why we want something.

Ask your client: Why do you want to go plant-based?

Then, based on whatever the client offers, ask why again.

And so on, up to five times.

Here’s an example from one of our vegetarian clients. It took 4 whys to get to his true reason:

Coach: So, tell me a little more about your reasons for being a vegetarian. Why do you want to do this?
Client: Well, I grew up vegetarian. In my religion, we don’t eat meat.
Coach: That’s really interesting. Tell me a little more about that. Why do you believe you shouldn’t eat meat?
Client: {Laughs} I don’t personally believe that. My religion says that.
Coach: Okay, I see. But why do you do it if you don’t really believe it’s bad?
Client: See, it’s my family. My siblings and parents are more devout than I am. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still religious. I’m just not as religious as they are. And I don’t want them to think badly about me.
Coach: I can understand why you’d want to remain close to your family. I’m curious: If you’re only a vegetarian because you don’t want your family to think badly of you, why do you remain vegetarian when they’re not around?
Client: Truthfully? I don’t. I mean, I don’t eat a lot of meat, mostly because of guilt. But, if my family isn’t around, I’m happy to go to rib fest, you know?

This conversation helped this client to understand that he was probably going to eat meat from time to time. His “why” just wasn’t powerful enough to help him completely abstain.

Plus, he was okay with eating meat—as long as his family didn’t see him do it.

Strategy #3: Talk about likely obstacles.

Work together to brainstorm situations likely to arise—and how clients plan to deal with them.

  • What will they do when they’re out with friends who encourage them, “Oh come on, just have one wing”?
  • How will they respond when grandma says, “I know you love meatloaf. That’s why I made this—just for you honey”?
  • How will they handle restaurants with little to no plant-based or vegetarian options?

After talking through some of these likely situations, ask clients: How comfortable are you with flexibility?

In other words, do they want to choose plant foods no matter what? Or are some animal products okay… in certain situations?

Remind clients that:

An imperfect plan done consistently beats a perfect plan done rarely.

Some of our clients have said that an imperfect plan means they’re okay eating:

  • Commercially-prepared soups made with chicken broth, but not if they contain chunks of meat.
  • Meat, if a friend serves it to them, but not if they’re home preparing their own meals.
  • Salads, even if it comes with small bacon bits sprinkled on top.
  • Wings, if it’s a special occasion.
  • Turkey, stuffing, and/or gravy at a holiday meal with extended family.

Flexible clients can think about health habits being like a volume dial.

If they’re new to plant-based eating, they might want to start with the dial pretty low. Maybe it’s at a 1, with them consuming a plant-based meal once a week or even once a month.

Over time, they might want to up the dial to a 3, with all of their breakfasts 100-percent plant-based.

They might decide that a 5 is as far as they want to go. Or they may want to keep increasing the volume, eventually ending up at a 10, with every single meal coming from plants.

But just because they get to a 10 doesn’t mean they need to stay there.

Some days, it’s easy to eat at a 10. Other days, many people find they must lower the “volume,” allowing for a little meat or animal products.

By turning the volume down and up as needed, people can continue to embrace plant-based eating consistently.

(To learn more, check out this infographic: How to use the “dial method” to improve your diet, fitness, and health.)

Strategy #4: Brainstorm ways to shape their environment.

Plant-based eaters live in the same environment as everyone else—which is to say, chances are good they’re:

  1. Surrounded by highly-processed food options.
  2. Often choose foods based on convenience.

This environment will influence their food decisions.

You’re more likely to eat food that’s close and easy to grab than food that’s farther away or out of sight.

And you’re less likely to eat food that requires work to prepare—washing, peeling, slicing—than food that can go straight from the fridge or cupboard and into your mouth.

To eat enough minimally-processed whole foods, clients will want to make those foods easy to eat. At that same time, they’ll want to make highly-processed refined foods harder to eat. To accomplish this, they might:

  • Always have ready-to-munch sliced veggies in the fridge.
  • Soak beans and/or lentils every Sunday.
  • Buy bagged, prewashed salad mix.
  • Store highly processed snacks on a high shelf, out of sight.

By making these tweaks, they’ll be much more likely to grab and eat the foods that help them meet their nutrition requirements.

The Plant-Based Diet: What to eat

Traditionally, a vegetarian’s plate is filled with a lot of plants: vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, and oils. Depending on the person, there might also be some dairy, fish, or eggs.

Using the food lists shown in this infographic—a visual guide to plant-based eating—consider how you could move along a spectrum, starting from your current eating pattern to choices that are more whole food and plant-based, and less processed.

For a complete guide that includes how much protein, carbs, fat you should eat, plug your info into our macros calculator. (It’s FREE and gives you a customized plan based on your diet preferences and goals.)

Plant-based diets: Do they work—for you?

There’s really only one proven way to know if a plant-based diet works for you:

Try it.

Treat it like an experiment. Define what plant-based means to you. Then dive in—for at least two weeks.

After at least 2 weeks, take this short quiz—it’ll help you assess if your eating strategy is working. You can come back to the quiz time and again—and for any diet approach—so you might want to bookmark it.

No matter your results, remember this: It’s all okay.

As we mentioned earlier: You can always turn down the “volume.” Rather than eating plants for most meals, you might try for half of them. Or for just breakfasts. Or one dinner a week.

Or whatever other option feels doable to you.

This isn’t about earning awards for plant-based perfection. It’s about being consistent—with whatever incrementally better habits you can manage.

And if you decide that plant-based eating just isn’t for you? No biggie!

There are many other ways to eat well. (You might consider Mediterranean, Keto, Paleo, reverse dieting, or intermittent fasting as other options).

Or try the “anything” diet laid out in our Precision Nutrition Calculator. Keep experimenting and trying new things. Eventually, you’ll land on the best diet—for you.

References

Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

The post Plant-based nutrition: A complete guide for vegetarians, pescatarians, flexitarians, and more. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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Is your current way of eating working for you?

And how do you know?

Let’s say you’re following a Paleo or vegetarian diet.

Or maybe you’re practicing mindful or intuitive eating.

Or you’re adding back carbs after doing keto for a few weeks.

Or you’re switching from strict calorie counting to using hand portions.

How do you know if those efforts are REALLY paying off?

Yes, you could just go by the scale or your measurements. But that doesn’t tell you much about your energy level, ability to think clearly, or how you feel.

It also doesn’t tell you whether the benefits you’re noticing outweigh any mental, physical, emotional, or social costs they might come with.  Because even if a diet gets you super pumped or lean, it may or may not be worth it to you if it means giving up nachos for the rest of your life.

(Watch this video to learn more about the kind of costs we’re talking about.)

That’s why we developed this quick and easy 16-question quiz.

It can help you decide whether to keep doing what you’re doing, make a few dietary tweaks, or abandon the approach altogether (ideally, for something that works way better for you).

How and when you use the quiz depends on the current state of your eating affairs. Consider which of the following describes you:

1. You’re wondering if your status quo is okay.

Maybe you’re not on a specific diet at all. You just eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Is that working?

Take the quiz now to find out.

2. You’re thinking about starting a new diet.

Bookmark this page. (People still do that, right?) Start the diet, keeping notes on what you eat, how you feel, and any issues or frustrations that pop up.

After at least two weeks, come back and take the quiz.

3. You’ve recently started a new eating approach or diet.

Maybe you’re counting macros, using hand portions, increasing your consumption of whole foods, or something else.

If you’re at least two weeks in, go ahead and take the quiz now.

4. You’ve been following a diet or new approach for a while.

Many weeks or months (or years!) in, you’re wondering: Is this eating plan meeting ALL of my needs? Can I stay on this plan long term and remain healthy, energetic, and happy?

Take the quiz now to find out.

The self-assessment

Choose the number that best matches how strongly you agree with the following statements.

On a scale of 1 (never) to 10 (always), most of the time…

1. When I eat this way, I feel pretty good in general.

Never
Always

012345678910

2. When I eat this way, I have reliable, sustained energy without crashing.

Never
Always

012345678910

3. I try to choose the best quality foods available.

Never
Always

012345678910

4. This way of eating is easy to do and fits into my everyday life.

Never
Always

012345678910

5. I know what kinds of foods to choose and eat.

Never
Always

012345678910

6. I feel confident and capable cooking and preparing food and meals.

Never
Always

012345678910

7. When I eat this way, I rarely struggle with food cravings or urges to overeat.

Never
Always

012345678910

8. When I eat this way, I digest my food well.

Never
Always

012345678910

9. I’m performing and recovering well.

Never
Always

012345678910

10. On social occasions, such as going out with friends to a restaurant, I can almost always find something I enjoy and feel comfortable eating.

Never
Always

012345678910

11. I truly enjoy the taste and experience of what I eat.

Never
Always

012345678910

12. I feel calm and relaxed about my food choices. It’s no big deal, just part of my life.

Never
Always

012345678910

13. The way I’m eating matches my specific goals for health, fitness, and performance.

Never
Always

012345678910

14. The way I’m eating measurably helps me progress towards my goals.

Never
Always

012345678910

15. The way I’m eating reflects my deeper values, or the way I want to live.

Never
Always

012345678910

16. Even if other people pressure me to do something differently, or my style of eating doesn’t match others around me, I’m able to follow my own cues or goals.

Never
Always

012345678910

Total score:

128 and above: Crushing it!

This way of eating is working beautifully for you. Keep on doing your thing.

104 to 127: This is promising.

Overall, things are going well with your eating experiment. You might consider making some small changes, but it looks like you’re moving in the right direction.

80-103: Mixed results.

This approach might be working well for you in some areas, but you’re probably struggling in others. Consider if there are any tweaks you could make that would make it feel more sustainable.

Less than 80: This isn’t working for you.

Based on this assessment, you’re experiencing some issues. But don’t feel bad about that. Instead, think of it as an experiment that helped you understand something important: This eating approach may not be for you—at least not right now.

Where do you go from here? That ultimately depends on you.

Success depends on a plan you can stick with consistently that has trade-offs you’re comfortable with. (To learn more about what we mean about trade-offs, check out: The cost of getting lean.)

With that in mind, you might decide to:

Read up on other diets.

Maybe you’re interested in learning about:

Or perhaps you just want to follow a well-balanced diet that allows you to consume a wide range of foods—with no hard exclusions. (In that case, use our Nutrition Calculator and check out “the anything diet.”)

Get a customized plan.

Plug your info into the Precision Nutrition Calculator. This FREE macro calculator provides you with an individualized plan based on your personal diet preferences and goals.

Make one small change.

For example, you might:

Whether you make a big change or a small one, keep an experimentation mindset. Try something that seems like it might work for you. Test it out for a couple of weeks. Use the above tool to evaluate how it went—and keep moving forward from there.

Over time, you’ll keep some strategies and jettison others.

Eventually, you’ll arrive at the best diet—for you.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

The post Best diet quiz: Is that diet REALLY working for you? appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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