More people are choosing to eat a plant-based diet, whether it be a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet; a pescetarian diet (includes fish), or a more flexible diet that includes a mix of plant-based meals and those that include meat and poultry (the “flexitarian” diet, or other options like Mark Bittman’s “vegan before 6”). People are including more plant-based meals in their diet for many reasons including health, environmental, religious, personal, economic, and compassion for animals. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has affirmed that a vegetarian diet can meet all known needs for nutrients. In fact, vegetarians generally have fewer occurrences of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer.
A Healthful Plant-Based Diet
Simply eating removing meat from your diet does not ensure that you are living a healthier lifestyle. The key to a healthy plant-based diet, as with any other diet, is to eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes (peas, lentils, and beans).
- Move your dial: Whether you eat meat daily, are a strict vegetarian, or fall somewhere in between, most people can benefit from adding more plants to your diet. Aim to make one additional meal per week a plant-based one – both health and environmental benefits are seen with small changes.
- Include a wide variety of whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits: Don’t get in a rut with the same foods day after day. This will not only lead to boredom but may cause you to miss some important vitamins and minerals.
- Beware of higher calorie and lower nutrient vegetarian selections: Even vegetarian diets can be high calorie and low nutrient if it is filled with processed foods, sweets, and too many servings of high-fat dairy products. As with any diet, eating mostly whole foods from a variety of plant sources is the foundation of a healthy plan.
- Be relaxed about protein: As long as calories are sufficient and the diet is varied including plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products, most vegetarians easily meet protein needs. Don’t rely too heavily on cheeses as a primary protein source.
NECESSARY NUTRIENTS IN A PLANT-BASED DIET
Whether you occasionally include animal products in your diet or follow a strict vegan diet, planning meals is essential to ensure you are eating adequate amounts of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin B12—sources include fortified soy beverages, cereals, and nutritional yeast. There are no plant sources of B12 unless fortified.
- Vitamin D—sources include fortified soy, nut, or rice beverages, some margarine, and as always a bit of sunshine.
- Calcium—sources include tofu processed with calcium, broccoli, seeds, nuts, kale, bok choy, legumes, greens, lime-processed tortillas, soy beverages, grain products, and beverages such as orange juice and nut milks enriched with calcium.
- Iron—sources include legumes, tofu, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, whole grains, and iron-fortified cereals and breads, especially whole-wheat. Absorption is improved by vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, peppers, dark-green leafy vegetables, and potatoes with skins
- Zinc—sources include whole grains (especially the germ and bran), whole-wheat bread, legumes, nuts, and tofu
Plant-based diets can be simple and nutritious as long as you keep in mind the basics of balance and variety. Look for items in the café that are marked with the vegetarian or vegan icon and don’t be shy to ask questions about ingredients in specific dishes. Your Bon Appétit staff is there to help you to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
The Vegetarian Resource Group. www.vrg.org. Accessed July 2016.
Today’s Dietitian Nutrients of Concern for those Following a Plant-Based Diet. www.todaysdietitian.com. Accessed April 2015.