9 Investigates

9 Investigates: The benefits of a plant-based diet

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s one of the biggest food trends in years -- the plant-based diet. There’s strong research that a plant-based diet can lower your risk of heart disease.

Followers credit it with a lot of other health benefits too, but if you’re considering going plant-based, there are some things to consider so it doesn’t backfire.

A plant-based diet includes only foods that come from plants, which means no animal ingredients such as meat, milk, eggs or honey.

Researchers cite three major benefits:

1. Weight loss and management -- They say plant-based foods make it easy to lose weight without counting calories.

2. There’s less environmental impact than from animal-based foods.

3. Research shows eating whole, plant-based foods can reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, Type 2 Diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Officials said because there is more awareness of the health benefits from a plant-based diet, the food industry is shifting to accommodate the need.

In fact, the plant-based business has grown 31 percent in the past two years into a $4.5 billion industry. Products such as meatless burgers are soaring in popularity, but dietitians warn to make sure to read the labels.

“Many of these meatless items can be highly processed with lots of added sugars, added processed oils, sodium, preservatives so just because it’s meatless doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice,” dietitian Kayla Fisher said.

In the Strobolakos home in south Charlotte, dinner time is a lot different now with no meat or dairy on the menu. The family has been on a plant-based diet for over a year.

Dave and Judy Strobolakos said it has been a transition, one that they have approached quite differently.

“I was hesitant because I just really enjoyed Chick-fil-A and steak and chicken,” Dave Strobolakos said.

Instead, they have replaced that with quinoa and chickpeas, both of which provide protein. Their entire family now eats only plant-based foods.

For Judy Strobolakos, it began as an effort to address some health issues.

“I was having a lot of allergies and just couldn’t resolve them with medicine,” Judy Strobolakos said. “I was also having some skin issues and both resolved and went away. They both completely resolved on their own.”

Nothing is processed in their home and since the change, the family said their oldest daughter no longer gets ear infections. Judy Strobolakos said she has more energy and sleeps better.

“I noticed my energy levels go up and I noticed my cough go away,” Dave Strobolakos said. “I actually started losing some weight.”

The couple said both of their daughters made the transition pretty easily to plant-based foods, but it took Dave a year to get on board. Now, he’s become an advocate.

With a plant-based diet, you do need to make sure you’re getting enough protein, but there are lots of options such as beans, lentils, broccoli and almonds.

A plant-based diet is different from being a vegan because the diet refers to foods. Most vegans eliminate animal products from all aspects of their lives.

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