By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
The Hong Kong-based Ovolo Group has gone vegetarian and vegan at all locations. Their hotels and restaurants will maintain these menus for 365 days, which they say their customers support. Plant-based diets have surprising pros and cons.
Ovolo Group, a Hong Kong-based hotel group has switched the menus in all its hotels and restaurants to vegetarian and vegan for one year. With properties in locations like Hong Kong and Sydney, they will offer meatless dining options to international diners.
Like most diets, exclusively plant-based eating comes with its own unique set of rewards and challenges. Adding more plants to the diet is nutritionally beneficial, but if a person chooses to become vegetarian or vegan, they must compensate for certain vitamins and minerals generally only found in animal products.
In his video series Changing Body Composition through Diet and Exercise, Dr. Michael Ormsbee, Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University, said that plant-based diets may offer solutions for people who have different nutritional needs than the standard recommended fare.
The Spectrum of Plant-Based Eating
Contrary to popular belief, vegetarianism isn’t an absolute lifestyle or engraved set of dietary restrictions.
“There is actually a whole continuum of plant-based eating,” Dr. Ormsbee said. “For example, some plant-based eaters don’t eat meat but do eat fish, dairy products, and eggs. Some avoid meat, fish, and eggs, but will eat dairy products.
“Some will just avoid red meat, but eat chicken and other poultry, and fish; other plant-based eaters still eat meat, but just not much of it.”
Veganism is the strictest form of plant-based eating. Vegans avoid any animal products, including any food an animal produces, such as milk or honey. However, so many recipes involve milk and eggs that veganism can be a difficult road for some people to take.
Pros and Cons of Plant-Based Eating
Eating more plant-based foods is good for us, nutritionally, hence the long-time campaign by parents for their children to eat their vegetables.
“Typically, plants come along with good doses of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—molecules that help maintain your cellular health,” Dr. Ormsbee said. “We also know that if you are eating more plants, you likely will eat less sugar and fat. So it’s a big benefit to eat more plants—whether you eat meat or not—and there might ultimately be fewer incidences of heart disease and cancer just by eating more plants.”
At the same time, cutting meats from your diet comes with some complications. There are 20 amino acids, nine of which are considered essential for us to eat, since our bodies don’t make them. According to Dr. Ormsbee, some of those amino acids are found much more easily in animal products like meat, milk, and eggs. Plants often have “incomplete proteins,” meaning they lack some essential amino acids necessary to maintain and build muscle tissue.
“The thing to do is to combine plant sources of food in order to create a mixture that is a complete protein,” Dr. Ormsbee said. “The most common example of food combined to make a complete protein is rice and beans.”
Additionally, some plant-based foods are low in other nutrients our bodies need. Some of the usual suspects often lacking in vegetarian diets include vitamin B12, iron, and vitamin D.
The only source of vitamin B12 classified as “good” comes from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. The most readily absorbable form of iron, called heme iron, makes up 40% of iron in meats. Nonheme iron found in plants is less absorbable in our bodies. Finally, vitamin D is often added to dairy foods and is found in the sunlight, so a vegan in a rainy or wintry area may find themselves needing to supplement vitamin D into their diet in other ways.
In other words, leaning into plant-based eating can be very nutritious in important ways, but may also require some additional planning beforehand. For the Ovolo Group to succeed, it would behoove them to offer carefully balanced meals at their restaurants.