The Real-Life Diet of Plant-Based Nutrition Expert Simon Hill, Who Says Tofu Is Just a Flavor Vehicle

The Real-Life Diet of Plant-Based Nutrition Expert Simon Hill, Who Says Tofu Is Just a Flavor Vehicle

The Real-Life Diet of Plant-Based Nutrition Expert Simon Hill, Who Says Tofu Is Just a Flavor Vehicle

I’ll also get some protein from nuts and seeds and whole grains, especially quinoa. But these are a lot less protein-dense than those other protein sources that I mentioned. So I have some focus on protein, and that’s because I’m training a lot and I want to support that training. And then, in addition to that, I’m thinking about what are the other plants that I’m consuming throughout the day, I think diversity is really important. There is quite a bit of literature showing that diversity of plants is really critical to nourishing the microbiome. And when you do that, those microbes reward you by producing chemicals. In a way, the microbiome is kind of like our own personal pharmacy, and we can either nourish it or neglect it. I’m looking at making my plate colorful, and throughout the day trying to change exposure—different plants at lunch and dinner than I had for breakfast, and even thinking about the days previously, so that over a week, I’m exposing my microbiome to lots of different fruits and vegetables. I think that’s sometimes overlooked. There’s a lot of focus on macronutrients like protein and carbs and fat. But there are so many compounds in our food that don’t provide calories that are really important.

I do have a particular focus on some fruits and vegetables, I think cruciferous vegetables like broccolini, broccoli, and cauliflower are really powerful, there’s quite a bit of literature showing that they’re associated with reduced risk of cancers. Dark leafy greens and berries are another two food groups I’m trying to make sure that I’m consuming on a daily basis—those are particularly good for brain health. There’s evidence that some of the compounds in those food groups will help you with your focus, clarity, and memory on a day-to-day basis, but also protect you from neurodegenerative diseases like dementia in the long term.

The term is used differently by different people, so can you just define how you use the term “plant-based?”

Plant-based for me is an overarching term that encompasses multiple different types of diets. And they can be plant-rich, plant-predominant, all the way to plant-exclusive or what someone might describe as a vegan diet. So a Mediterranean diet, or a DASH [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension] diet, that some people might be familiar with, those are technically plant-based dietary patterns, as is a pescatarian diet, as is a vegetarian or vegan diet that is focused on whole, minimally processed foods.

When I think about a plant-based diet, I’m thinking of any diet that is plant-rich or plant-exclusive that has a focus on whole, minimally, minimally processed plant foods. It doesn’t contain a lot of ultra-processed foods, which can also be plant-based, but are not associated with good health outcomes.

Depending on who you’re talking to, that can almost be the plant-based pitch, like “you can eat junk food, there’s a lot of good approximations of meat products in plant-based vegan junk food.” There’s a huge industry trying to approximate that.

Yeah, it depends on what someone’s goal is. If someone’s just wanting to remove animal foods from an ethical perspective, then they might not have so much focus on the quality of the food that they’re eating. Whereas if your goal is to improve your healthspan, how well you’re living, how free of disease you are, how long you’re living, or both, then the literature is clear, when you’re seeing this association between these dietary patterns, have an abundance of plant foods, and good health outcomes, these are dietary patterns that are whole or minimally processed plants and not ultra-processed foods that are plant-based.

The point that you’re getting at is a good one in that sometimes there’s what’s called a halo effect, or health halo. You assume just because a product is gluten free, or high protein, or vegan, because these are often called out on the labels, that it’s healthy. And that’s not the case. That’s the food industry sort of playing on these buzzwords or keywords. It’s more marketing than science.

What cuisine you find to be most amenable to a plant-based diet that you enjoy?

Mexican.

And what do you usually get?

I mean, usually the big ingredients in any kind of Mexican dish are going to be beans, some avocado, corn, probably some type of grain in there like rice. It could be in a burrito, could be a taco, could just be a plate. Hot sauce? Big fan of hot sauce.

I was hoping you would say Indian, that’s the one I hear most from people who are veg or plant based.

I do love Indian food. And I’ve spent some time in India. So that’s that’s up there. You know, Mexican, Indian, and also, believe it or not Japanese.