Canadian Cycling Magazine

Nutrition

Why you should get vegetables, legumes and grains to play a bigger role in your diet

- By Matthew Kadey

Why you should get vegetables, legumes and grains to play a bigger role in your diet

You’ve probably heard a lot about Paleo, keto and gluten-free diets, but one of the most buzz-worthy eating styles at the moment is plant-based. The term plant-based has been bandied about ( and heavily invested in) with much gusto lately. Even the government has given the thumbs-up to the plant-based trend. The latest Canada’s Food Guide places a strong emphasis on eating more items that sprout from the soil. Such a diet is not just for treehugger types. Here’s everything you need to know about the disease-deterring, performanc­eboosting powers of plants.

This diet can help you live longer

Eating plants isn’t just hype. A number of current research studies show that a plant-based diet really can help extend your cycling lifespan. For instance, a 2019 study in JAMA Internalme­dicine that followed almost 71,000 middle-age adults for an average of almost 20 years found those who ate the most plant protein were 13 per cent less likely to die early in general and 16 per cent less likely to die from cardiovasc­ular causes, compared with those who ate the least. Plantbased diets tend to supply higher amounts of fibre, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and phytochemi­cals, all of which play a role in disease prevention by improving health measures, such as cholestero­l numbers. Fuelling on more plants can also improve your microbiome – the collection of bacteria in your digestive tract that is increasing­ly linked to longevity.

It only works if you eat the right plant foods

As with any diet, it’s certainly possible to eat poorly following a plant-based lifestyle. Do so to the peril of your health and waistline. A 2019 study in the Americanjo­urnal ofclinical­nutrition showed that people who followed a “healthful” plant-based diet (emphasizin­g legumes, whole grains and nuts) gained less weight throughout four-year intervals than those who ate what was considered an “unhealthfu­l” plant-based diet: richer in refined grains, sugary drinks and potato chips. A separate investigat­ion in the journal Circulatio­n showed that individual­s who improved their plant-based diet quality throughout a 12-year period benefited from a lower risk of early death from disease, whereas increased consumptio­n of an unhealthfu­l plant-based diet was associated with a higher risk of mortality. Make it a goal to fill your plate mostly with minimally processed plant foods, which doesn’t include the influx of heavily processed, packaged plant-based products, such as meatless burgers.

You don’t have to go full-blown vegan “Plant-based” has just become the term de rigueur for eating more vegetables, legumes, whole grains and anything else that sprouts from the earth. It doesn’t necessaril­y mean you can’t eat anything that comes from species with feet, hooves or fins. The goal is to simply scale down the amount of meat you eat and, in turn, wedge in more servings of plant-based foods. You can accomplish this change by serving up a couple of meat-free days each week or by making it a goal to consume only plant-based foods before dinnertime.

You can build muscle on plants

The latest dieta ry science is debunking the myth that you can’t build muscle properly and maintain it when noshing mostly on plant protein. Recent research conducted by Canadian and Brazilian scientists discovered that there was no difference with respect to lean body mass and muscle strength gains among 19 vegan and 19 omnivorous young men enrolled in a 12-week, twice-aweek resistance training program when they were all provided 1.6 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, regardless if that protein came solely from plant sources or mostly from animal sources. It’s the total amount of protein you eat in a day, not the specific type you eat, that matters most. Good sources of plant protein include beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, hemp seeds and plantbased protein powders.

You’ll save cash

Trading in beef for beans more often can put less strain on your savings. A study out of the University of Washington, Seattle, involving nearly 1,700 individual­s determined that despite an overall increase in diet quality, eating fewer servings of animal-based protein, including red meat, poultry and dairy, in favour of plant protein can have a noticeable effect on reducing the cost of a diet. Dropping more tofu and less steak in your shopping cart can leave more wiggle room for that sleek new kit you’ve been eyeing.

You can help save the planet

A warming world might be good for extending our outdoor riding season, but it’s bad news for the health of the planet. Modern research suggests that altering food consumptio­n patterns could be a key area for reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. A study in the journal Foodpolicy determined that households that spend more of their weekly food budget on beef, chicken, pork and other meats are generating more greenhouse gas emissions than households in which more of the food budget is used to purchase plantbased foods. Other science shows that the water required to produce our food could be reduced by up to 55 per cent if more people switched to less meat-heavy pescetaria­n and vegetarian diets.

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