Summary of a seminar by Dr Rosemary Stanton on plant based eating

Guest Post by Sally Marchini, Dietitian

Recently I went to a presentation called Paleo versus Plant based diets. I really wanted to share some of the information I was reminded of there with you.  Upfront I’d like to make clear that I’m not sharing these to make you feel bad or guilty, so please don’t go there! Just to help you to reconsider and be mindful of what you put in your mouth due to the effect on your overall wellbeing as well as your diabetes management.

There were three key speakers. Dr Kate Marsh, a dietitian and person with type 1 diabetes who is passionate about plant-based diets, Dr Rosemary Stanton who is probably the most well-known dietitian in Australia and Brenda Davis, a Canadian Registered Dietitian. The day wasn’t about diabetes, but they made several key points that I thought worth sharing with you related to improving your wellbeing by eating more plants. This doesn’t necessarily mean going vegetarian or vegan, but just cutting down on the animal-based foods.

Dr Kate Marsh showed us the evidence of how plant-based eating can improve diabetes management, and help people to avoid chronic disease in general.

Brenda Davis made direct nutrient comparisons between the Paleo and plant based diets, in many cases demonstrating how close the modern Paleo diet was to a vegan diet. But in this blog, I don’t want to discuss the Paleo diet as a ‘diet’ is not sustainable and although it has some strengths it’s not suitable to recommend on a population based level such as this blog. If you’re interested in this for your own health, I recommend a personalised consultation with your Accredited Practising Dietitian as some aspects of it may be dangerous for people with diabetes, especially in the longer term.

Instead I want to focus on Dr Rosemary Stanton’s presentation which was entitled ‘Why so many controversies?’ because it’s really a common sense (and of course evidence-based) approach to healthy eating.  The changes she suggests are not too hard to try and really make sense when you think about.

Dr Stanton is a great advocate of the Australian Dietary Guidelines due to the enormous amount of research (over 55,000 pieces of peer reviewed published scientific research) and work by a committee of leading experts in the field of nutrition, public health, industry and consumer issues, and overseen by the Council of NHMRC that went into it to ensure that the Australian population would have not only the right amount of energy (calories/kilojoules) to maintain a healthy weight, but also would have the vitamins and minerals needed to keep us well and to help prevent chronic disease.

She began by explaining how we get so many mixed messages through the media and how important it is to check on advice that you read, as many of the people who talk about nutrition aren’t university trained experts in the field even though they may have passion on their side.  Then she got to the part that I really wanted to share with you about own diets.

Dr Stanton explained that in comparison with Australian consumption patterns when the guidelines were being reviewed, the evidence suggests that we need to eat more:

  • Vegetables and legumes/beans – a variety of different coloured vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grain (cereal) foods such as wholegrain breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese – preferably reduced fat varieties (except for children under 2 years)
  • Fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • Red meat (young women only)

There were also many areas as population that we could do with eating less of, and most of these related to our diabetes health such as:

  • Refined grain (cereal) foods such as white bread and low fibre cereals (these will spike our BGLs without providing our nutrient requirements)
  • High and medium fat milk, yoghurt and cheese (let’s stick with low fat to avoid the saturated fats and extra energy that we don’t need)
  • Red meats (adult males only)
  • Energy-dense and/or nutrient-poor foods and drinks which are high in saturated fat, added sugars, added salt and/or alcohol, such as sugar sweetened drinks, fried foods, hot chips, many take-away foods, cakes and biscuits, chocolate and confectionery and crisps.

Dr Stanton made the point quite strongly that although the foods in that last bullet point are referred to as ‘discretionary’ items in the guidelines, really it’s just ‘junk’ food and we’re better off without it and taking any extra energy needed from the main food groups of the guidelines themselves.

She talked about how our Modern Western diets currently emphasis:

  • foods and drink high in added fat, sugar, and salt
  • highly processed grains
  • meat dominates dinner
  • vegetables are only an accompaniment (often chips)
  • fruit juice preferred to fruit
  • full and medium fat milk, cheese, sweet yogurt , ice cream
  • alcohol (with or without food)

And if you think about this it’s just so true! For those of us who are not vegetarian, if you ask us what we’re having for dinner, the answer is ALWAYS a meat-based one.  It’s just the way we’ve learned to think about our meals – maybe it’s time to consider this, recognise that it’s not doing us any good, and try to improve what we’ve in the past.

Dr Stanton suggested that the main changes needed are:

  • much more vegetables and legumes
  • more fruit
  • include nuts and seeds
  • far less junk (currently 36% of adult’s and >40% of children’s calorie/kJ intake)

Do many of you try to include ‘Meat Free Monday’?  Here’s a link to a website dedicated to this idea with recipes from some of the top chefs that you might like to take a look at.

If you start to enjoy some of these, you might see how you can move closer to a plant-based diet without compromising on your enjoyment of the meals you’re eating. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite steak – just try cutting down the size of it and increase the vegetable sides, or your pizza night – make it at home with healthier toppings, or even your night off cooking nights – by having frozen pre-prepared meals that you’ve made a batch of earlier.

Have you read my blog called ‘Learning to Love Legumes’? It’s full of some great ideas and those legumes will provide you with more than enough protein to keep your tummy satisfied hunger-wise and those tastebuds happy too.

Dr Stanton’s ‘Take Home’ messages were a great reminder to us all when there is just so much conflicting information available via the internet.  She says:

  • education is important and ongoing
  • get information from trusted sources (NHMRC), without a conflict of interest
  • don’t trust Dr Google
  • be sceptical of those with something to sell
  • with scientific papers, read the whole paper, not just the newspaper headlines or blog comments

And what sensible advice that is!!

Hoping this has helped you to consider some positive changes you can make to your own diet.  Sally 🙂

Sally is owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too. 

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