Plant-based diets are known to very healthy but also very difficult. If done correctly, having a plant-based diet can drastically improve a person’s health. Keep reading to find out if a plant-based diet is the right choice for you!
Should I Try Plant-Based?
If you’re looking to make a change, first think of what your overall goals are. Here are some of the most common reasons people make the plant-based switch:
- Weight loss: Plant-based diets are generally much lower in calories than regular meat-based diets.
- Health: Plant-based diets have numerous benefits, including reducing inflammation, reducing risk for chronic diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer), and supporting your immune system. Plants are naturally high in fiber, which as multiple health benefits. Please read our other blog post about the benefits of fiber!
- Moral/Environmental: Many people chose to stop eating meat and animal products for an ethical and environmental stance. Plant-based diets are less harmful to the environment and require no commercial use of animals.
Vegan vs. Vegetarian
There are two main types of plant-based diets: vegan and vegetarian. While both of them are very similar, they have distinct differences.
- Vegetarian: This diet is entirely plant-based and contains no meat products. Meat products include beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and seafood. Fruits, vegetables, oils, grains, dairy, and plant-proteins are allowed. There are several variations to a vegetarian diet; however, they allow people to have animal products.
- Lacto-vegetarian: this diet does not allow meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs, but it does allow dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarians: this diet does not allow meat, poultry, dairy, or seafood, but it does allow eggs.
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: this diet does not allow meat, poultry, or seafood, but it does allow eggs and dairy products.
- Pescetarian: this diet does not allow meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy products, but it does allow seafood.
- Vegan: this diet is entirely plant-based and free of animal products. It does not allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Other its that are considered animal products include honey (made from bees, so technically an animal product), gelatin (contains animal fat), and mayonnaise (contains egg).
How Should I Start?
If you’re transitioning from a meat-eating diet to a plant-based diet, it’s best to go slowly! Try changing individual meals to plant-based one at a time. For example, try making breakfast plant-based for an entire week before moving on to the next meal. Going slowly is also the best way for your body to become accustomed to the changes. Gradual changes are the best way to create lasting change!
Nutrients to Keep an Eye On
Certain nutrients are more commonly found in animal products than plant products. While it does not mean that you can’t get a balanced diet when on plant-based, it does mean that you have to keep an eye on individual nutrients. Here are the nutrients many plant-based foods lack:
- Protein: While most people consider meat to be their primary protein source, there are many protein-rich plant-based foods to reach your minimum protein requirement. Foods such as nuts, seeds, soy, and whole grains are excellent sources of protein.
- Iron: Iron found in plants and animal products are absorbed differently by the body. Plant-based iron is more difficult for the body to absorb, but is still considered a great source. Foods such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, seeds, quinoa, and raisins are high in iron and work best when paired with foods high in vitamin C (which aids in iron absorption).
- Calcium: Calcium is most commonly found in dairy products, but if you are restricting dairy, it can be hard to get an appropriate intake. Broccoli, black beans, kale, and almonds are all high in calcium and can help you reach your minimum recommended intake. Additionally, many foods, such as breakfast cereals, drinks, and plant-based milk, are fortified with calcium.
- Vitamin B-12: This vitamin is difficult to supplement naturally, as it is primarily found in animal products. Many vegetarian milks, meat substitutes, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeasts are fortified with B-12.
Switching to a plant-based diet is not for everyone, especially if you rush into it. If you’re interested in making the switch, make sure you take your time and make the best choices for your body!