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Plant-Based Diet and Its Incredible Benefits for Women’s Health: An Interview with Lauren Talbert

Plant-based diets have gained a lot of interest in the last few years because of extensive research. In this interview, Lauren Talbert, a clinical dietitian certified in oncology nutrition, explains the many ways women’s health can benefit from a plant-based diet, talks about different variations of plant-based diets, and even shares some recipes.

The plant-based diet is making a majority of your diet whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, but not being completely vegetarian, so having some sources of animal products like cheese or eggs, or maybe even fish. But the plant-based diet, generally, is low in processed, added-sugar foods. And it's also more beneficial in terms of providing more fiber and vitamins.

Because a plant-based diet is high in nutrient-rich foods that have fiber and antioxidants, it can help with energy levels. It can also help with balancing digestion and with overall appearance and skin because a lot of these plant-based foods have a lot of different vitamins and nutrients that we need to function at our best.

If you try a plant-based diet, you're only going to benefit. Including more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds in your diet is only going to benefit your health in terms of your energy, your digestion, even your mood. There's some research studies that show that it can help improve your mood.

Particularly, the research with a plant-based diet is more cohort studies. So they're basically following people that have followed a plant-based diet for a lot of years, and then they just look at their health and see specific trends in terms of diseases and stuff.

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But two of the bigger studies are the Physicians Health Study and the Nurses Health Study, and they've both shown a lot of benefits from following а plant-based diet, including depression. So that could be something that could help older people that follow a plant-based diet with their overall mental health, to make them feel happier.

A lot of people have issues with either constipation or not feeling like they've actually emptied all the way when they go to the bathroom. And when you eat more of a plant-based diet, without knowing, you're eating a lot more fiber, both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber kind of forms a gel in our intestines. I kind of explain to my patients that it can sort of stick in your stool. That may be helpful to somebody who has diarrhea. Insoluble fiber is kind of more roughage, so it doesn't absorb water and adds more substance to stool. 

The other thing about the plant-based diet is it contains prebiotics. A lot of particular fruits and vegetables have what we call prebiotics that feed probiotics, which are the healthy bacteria in our gut. And when we eat more prebiotics, it really helps with our digestion. We can absorb the nutrients we need and then excrete what our body does not need.

The way that I explain it to my patients is that by eating more of a plant-based diet, without even knowing, you're eating less unhealthy, processed foods. And there's pretty good information out there to link unhealthy, processed foods, such as sugar, snack foods, or desserts, with skin issues.

So when you start eating more of a plant-based diet, it definitely can provide certain vitamins, like vitamin E to help with our skin.

In terms of having hirsutism, I see a lot of patients with PCOS, and there's definitely studies that show that if you are eating more of a plant-based diet, like a Mediterranean diet, it can help manage your hormonal balance, which is a big contributor to the issue of extra hair growth.

I think that following more of a plant-based diet may be able to, in the big picture, help manage that.

The Mediterranean diet is basically a plant-based diet, but it’s heavy in olive oil. It includes a good amount of fish, but there's less desserts and sweets and much less red meat in the Mediterranean diet.

And the Mediterranean diet, actually in 2019, was named the world's best diet by the U.S. News Best Diets.

They ranked diets not just on how you could follow them or if they can help with weight loss. They also ranked them based on the research to back them up with fighting diseases. And the Mediterranean diet received the award for the best overall diet.

The Mediterranean diet is basically a plant-based diet, but it’s heavy in olive oil. It includes a good amount of fish, but there's less desserts and sweets and much less red meat in the Mediterranean diet.

Basically, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to help lower heart disease, lower risk for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and also cancer. There's research that has shown that those who follow the Mediterranean diet have less risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

And again, back to depression, it was shown that in older people, if they followed the Mediterranean diet, they were less frail; they had better mental health, and they felt more physically strong.

So the Mediterranean diet has definitely gained popularity, especially since these awards came out in 2019.

The vegetarian diet has different classifications. You could be a vegan, or you could be a pescatarian, which basically means that you eat fish, dairy, and eggs. Also, some people refer to themselves as a semi-vegetarian, which is kind of a new thing where they are trying to eat more vegetarian foods but, occasionally they will have some chicken, or once in a while they would have fish or red meat.

So if you follow a vegetarian diet, lacto means you consume dairy, ovo means you consume eggs, and pesca means you consume fish. Personally, I'm a lacto-ovo-pescatarian. I eat fish. I eat eggs. I eat dairy. But I do not eat poultry, and I do not eat red meat. There's just different ways to kind of define it.

I like to transform vegetables and eat them in ways that most people would generally eat carbohydrate foods.

One of the examples that I would give is zoodles. Basically you take zucchini and you get a spiralizer, which just cuts the vegetable in the shape of pasta, and then you can use that in place of pasta any time you’d eat pasta.

You can add marinara sauce, or you can make a cold salad with an Asian vinaigrette. So I really like zoodles.

The other snack I like to make is roasted chickpeas. I take my chickpeas, and I add whatever spices or seasonings, like garlic and cumin, and roast them in the oven, and they are a good crunchy snack to get some vitamins and fiber, but obviously plant-based.

I also recommend cold salads. Basically, you start with some type of vinaigrette. You could do a lemon vinaigrette or lime vinaigrette, and then you add a legume, so you could add a chickpea, or a lentil, or a whole grain, and then you add whatever type of vegetables you want and then finish it off with some type of oil.

Another common thing that I recommend actually year round is roasted vegetables. Whatever vegetables you have. Generally, I recommend buying based on the season. Cut them up, put some olive oil, garlic, pepper, a little bit of spices, onion powder — things like that — and then roast them in the oven for about 300 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and then throughout the week, you can eat them in different ways.

You could put them in a wrap. You could put them on some whole wheat pasta. You could throw them on a salad. You could mix them with some whole grains and make another cold salad.

Another one that I really recommend is cauliflower and using it in substitution for rice. One of the recipes that I frequently talk to patients about is cauliflower fried rice. Basically, you make fried rice, but instead of using the rice, you use cauliflower. It has a lot less calories and a lot more nutrition.

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