Whether you’re looking to get started with a plant-based diet or just curious about its potential benefits, here are the top seven questions we receive about plant-based eating.
1. What are the different types of plant-based eating?
There are many different classifications of plant-based eating, but the most common types include lacto-ovo-vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian and veganism.
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume a variety of plant foods as well as dairy products and eggs. A pescatarian consumes seafood in addition to dairy, eggs and plant foods. A flexitarian diet is a term for those who regularly consume plant-based foods but do not exclude meat and animal-based products entirely from their diet. Finally, vegans consume only plant-based foods and exclude all animal products, including meat and by-products like dairy and eggs, from their diet.
2. Should I be concerned about meeting my protein needs?
Vegetarians and vegans alike need to pay attention to how much protein they consume. Having a good protein source and appropriate portion sizes can help with satiety and energy levels throughout the day.
Some great plant-based protein sources include: soy (tofu, edamame, soy milk and tempeh), legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds. The serving size of these will vary from person to person, but a good rule of thumb with beans and legumes is to aim for three-quarters of a cup per serving.
3. Do I need to take supplements when following a plant-based diet?
Whether you need to take supplements will depend on your specific pattern of eating. Some nutrients to pay attention to when following a plant-based diet include: calcium, omega 3, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, as well as a few less common ones, such as zinc, iodine and selenium. For example, if you are a strict vegan, then a B12 supplement or fortified food product will likely be needed.
4. What about my iron needs?
Iron needs of non-meat eaters are higher than their meat-eating counterparts as plant-based iron sources are not as readily absorbed by our bodies. There are, however, plant-based foods that contain significant amounts of iron.
To optimize absorption of plant-based iron sources, consume a vitamin C-rich food at the same time. Some notable plant-based iron sources include hemp hearts, cream of wheat and white kidney (cannellini) beans. It’s best to speak with your primary care team about your individual iron needs and note that additional iron supplementation may be needed.
5. Where can I get my calcium from if I am not consuming dairy products?
For most adults aged 19 to 50, having two servings of a calcium-rich food meets the body’s bone health needs.
Most commercially produced non-dairy milks, like almond, soy, rice and coconut, are fortified with calcium. One serving of fortified non-dairy milk is equal to one cup. Other good non-dairy sources of calcium include canned salmon with bones in and tofu that is set in calcium.
6. I am really active. Am I able to meet my needs on a vegan diet?
With careful planning, most people can meet their dietary needs through plant-based eating no matter their activity level. It’s best to speak to a registered dietitian to come up with an individualized plan that best suits your requirements.
7. Is there therapeutic use to plant-based diets?
Plant-based diets like vegetarian and vegan eating patterns have been linked to weight loss and can be used in the prevention or as part of the treatment for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and constipation.
As with any pattern of eating for therapeutic reasons, it’s important to speak with your medical team to ensure you can enjoy it and that you have a high chance of sticking with it over the long term.
If you’re interested in starting a plant-based diet, or any new diet, speak to your registered dietitian to ensure you’re following a healthy eating plan that best suits your needs.
If you’re looking to add more vegetables to your diet, check out this article on how to eat more veggies.
Are you interested in learning more dietitian-approved tips for all ages? Check out our definitive guide to