June 15, 2022

Ultrarunner Scott Jurek runs 100+ mile races in some of the world’s least hospitable environments. He’s won the 153-mile Badwater Ultramarathon twice, billed as the toughest footrace on the planet.

Lewis Hamilton is the seven-time Formula One World Champion, often considered one of the best racing drivers ever to compete in the sport.

Speed cyclist Dotsie Bausch has won eight U.S. national championships, two Pan American gold medals, and an Olympic silver medal.

What do these top-performing athletes have in common? They all eat a plant-based diet. And if a plant-based diet can fuel these competitors to victory after victory, there must be something to it!

As long as you include a wide variety of plants that meet your nutritional needs in your diet, eating plant-based can absolutely be healthy and nourishing.**

What Are the Differences Between Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based?

While these three diets often get lumped together, each has a unique definition.

Vegetarian: A diet that includes no meat, but may include animal products like milk and eggs

Vegan: A diet that includes no animal products or byproducts, including meat, eggs, dairy, and honey

Plant-Based: A diet that prioritizes plant-based ingredients like vegetables, grains, and nuts; may or may not include animal products

Farmer holding fresh carrots and other vegetables

The Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

A plant-based diet focuses on whole plant foods with minimal added oils, sugar, and processing. This type of diet is naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Studies show that this type of diet may lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive problems, and some cancers, including colon and breast cancer. Some people also report additional benefits, like reduced inflammation which may ease the symptoms of chronic illnesses including eczema, arthritis, and ulcerative colitis, per multiple clinical trials.

In short? It appears that eating a diet high in plant matter and low in animal products (or entirely devoid of them) may help your body to function at its best. And this is great news, whether you’re a professional athlete or a professional chef!

Shane Witters Hicks, Escoffier Boulder Graduate“I think that just by incorporating more plants into your diet, you are tackling three very, very large issues: animal welfare, health, and the environment.”*
Shane Witters Hicks, Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate and Private Chef, The Soulful Spread

 

A mushroom and walnut tart with fresh thyme and pickled mustard seeds by Escoffier student

A mushroom and walnut tart with fresh thyme and pickled mustard seeds by Escoffier student Xander Z.

Can You Get Enough Protein with a Plant-Based Diet?

The protein question is sure to come up when you assess the health implications of going plant-based.

You can meet your body’s protein needs when you move away from animal products. According to The National Academy of Medicine and Harvard School of Public Health, adults should get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. That means a 140-pound person should consume about 50 grams of protein each day while a 200-pound person should consume about 70 grams of protein each day. Older people and regular exercisers have slightly higher protein needs.

When you eat meat, getting enough protein is easy. A small 3 oz serving of chicken breast contains 26 grams of protein. Add two eggs (12g of protein), 3 oz of flank steak (24g of protein), and an ounce of yogurt or cheese (7g of protein), and you can easily hit your daily protein intake.

In a plant-based diet, this can be more of a challenge, but it’s certainly doable! Plant-based meat alternatives like seitan, Beyond Meat, and the Impossible Burger may have about as much protein as their animal-based counterparts. And some plants are naturally protein-rich, like nuts, seeds, and beans.

Plant foods with high protein content:

  • Tofu – 20g protein per cup
  • Edamame – 17g protein per cup
  • Lentils – 18g protein per cooked cup
  • Beans – approximately 15g protein per cooked cup
  • Green peas – 9g protein per cooked cup
  • Nutritional yeast – 8g protein per ½ oz
  • Hemp seeds – 3g protein per tablespoon
  • Quinoa and amaranth – 8-9g protein per cooked cup
  • Sprouted grain bread (like Ezekial) – 8g protein in 2 slices
  • Nuts – 5-7g protein per ounce

When you make sure to include a few of these high-protein foods with each meal and snack, you can get enough plant-based protein in your diet to stay healthy and fit.

A Mediterranean spread including protein-rich hummus and tabbouleh by Escoffier student

A Mediterranean spread including protein-rich hummus and tabbouleh by Escoffier student Fara A.

Eat a Wide Range of Plant-Based Foods to Cover Your Nutritional Bases

There’s a misconception that a plant-based diet is limiting. Not so, says Escoffier graduate and plant-based personal chef Shane Witters Hicks. “You should never feel stuck in a rut with a vegetarian diet,” Shane says. “By adopting a more plant-centric diet, you’re going to be forced to be more creative, or you’re going to be forced to investigate ingredients that you never thought you’d cook with. And as a result, I think it’s actually kind of an expansion of your culinary capacities to cook plant-based.”*

Using a wide range of ingredients is also the best way to ensure you’re getting all of the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that you need to stay healthy.

Maria Rodriguez, Plant-Based Culinary Arts Student“I’m gluten-free, and I didn’t know you can find more than 20 different types of gluten-free grains. That was incredible!”*
Maria R, Escoffier Plant-Based Culinary Arts Student and Certified Functional Health Coach

Those following a plant-based diet may want to take a vitamin supplement or include some fortified foods in their diets, as there are a few trace vitamins that are only available in animal products. Vitamin B-12, for example, is almost exclusively found in animal products. But it’s also found in fortified nutritional yeast, which adds a savory nuttiness to foods, or in fortified non-dairy milk. A simple daily multivitamin can fill any of the gaps for these micronutrients to prevent deficiencies.

Non-Dairy Milk in a glass next to oats and almonds

Non-dairy milk like soy, almond, and coconut milks can be fortified with vitamin B-12 to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

No Matter the Lifestyle, Plant-Based Eating Can Keep You Fueled Up

Is plant-based eating healthy? Whether your idea of fitness is running 20 miles on Sunday—or just going for a leisurely stroll around the block—a plant-based diet can provide the fuel and nutrition you’ll need.

And for aspiring chefs who want to turn their passion for plant-based eating into a career, a degree or diploma in plant-based culinary arts may be a good place to start. With coursework in vegan substitutions, plant-based baking, seasonal eating, and much more, these programs can help future chefs, cooks, and even holistic nutritionists to develop delicious and healthy recipes.

Get all the tuition and financial aid details you’ll need to see how culinary school can fit into your specific life circumstances!

To learn more about plant-based and vegan cooking, try these resources next:

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

**This article is intended to be informative only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a physician regarding your specific medical needs before making any dietary changes.