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© 2017 Vancouver Dietitians

Blog & Recipes

  • by Danica Davies, Alexandra Inman, Stephanie Dang

Should you follow a plant based diet?


Plant based diets have gained popularity over the years on social media with celebrities like Beyonce, and through sensationalized documentaries such as “What the Health?” But what exactly does ‘plant based’ mean, and should you be incorporating a plant based diet into your lifestyle? Let’s explore together!

The term plant based can mean a variety of things. Whether it means not consuming any animal products or just consuming less of them, eating more plants can significantly benefit your health. Diets which incorporate more plants (such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, soy, legumes, and nuts/seeds) have been shown to reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

There are many versions of plant based diets, so what are they?

  • Vegetarian – avoids animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy)

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian – eats dairy and eggs

  • Lacto-vegetarian – eats dairy, no eggs

  • Ovo-vegetarian – eats eggs, no dairy

  • Vegan – vegetarian diet as above but with no dairy, eggs, or other products associated with animals, such as honey and/or gelatin

  • Flexitarian – eats meat occasionally, but sticks to vegetarian norms for a majority of the time

  • Pescetarian – eats fish and/or seafood, but no other types of meat

There are many reasons why people may choose to follow plant based diets, ranging from improving health, to animal welfare concerns, to wanting to improve environmental sustainability.

Many people have turned away from consuming animal products to lower their environmental footprint. A study in the Climatic Change Journal states that approximately 18% of greenhouse gas emissions around the world are from livestock production (2). Like the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says, “the conversion of plant foods to foods of animal origin is an intrinsically inefficient process,” (3) because the crops we grow to feed livestock could actually just be used to feed people. Choosing more plant based foods can help lower the environmental impact of your diet.

Some planning may be required to ensure you are meeting all of your nutrient requirements on a plant based diet, particularly protein, iron, calcium, omega-3, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc. Here are some common plant based food sources:

  • Protein

  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts, seeds, meat alternatives (textured vegetable protein, veggie burgers), dairy products (if included), eggs (if included), and soy products such as tofu and and tempeh (click here to learn more about tempeh and try our delicious recipe!)

  • Whole grains have protein as well! Examples include oats, quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, and whole grain bread.

  • Iron

  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils), soy products, meat alternatives (textured vegetable protein, veggie burgers), fortified grain products (breads, cereals, pastas), nuts (cashews, almonds), seeds (pumpkin, sesame), prune juice, dried apricots, dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens), potatoes (with skins), and blackstrap molasses (can be used as a sweetener in baking!).

  • Iron tip: Did you know vegetarians need almost twice the amount of iron than non-vegetarians? This is because the form of iron found in plants is harder for your body to absorb than the form of iron found in animal products. Eat iron rich plant based foods with a source of vitamin C (e.g. bell peppers, guava, orange, pineapple, kiwi) to increase iron absorption from plant sources!

  • Calcium

  • Dairy products or fortified milk alternatives (soy, almond, or rice milk), fortified orange juice, soy yogurt, soybeans, navy beans, white beans, tofu (check ingredients list for ‘calcium sulphate’), almonds, sesame seeds, dark green, leafy vegetables (e.g. bok choy, okra, turnip greens), blackstrap molasses, and figs.

  • Omega-3

  • plant based foods are rich in ALA omega-3 fat (which can be converted into EPA and DHA, albeit inefficiently): flax seeds/oil, hemp seeds, canola oil, soybean oil, non-hydrogenated margarine (made with canola or soybean oil), soy products, and walnuts/oil.

  • Fatty fish (if included) is the best source of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats, such as: salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring, arctic Char, and anchovies. Health Canada recommends including these types of fish at least 2 times per week. If you do not include fish in your plant based diet, you may want to consider an omega-3 supplement containing EPA and DHA - we suggest booking an appointment with Alex or Stephanie today to discuss.

  • Vitamin B12

  • Dairy products or fortified alternatives (soy, almond, or rice milk), eggs, Red Star nutritional yeast, and fortified meat alternatives (textured vegetable protein, veggie burgers, imitation chicken/fish).

  • If you are vegan, you are at increased risk of inadequate vitamin B12 intake - we recommend having your family doctor check your serum vitamin B12 level. If it is low, book an appointment with Alex or Stephanie today!

  • Vitamin D

  • Dairy products or fortified alternatives (soy, almond, or rice milk), fatty fish (see omega-3 section above for examples), eggs, fortified orange juice, non-hydrogenated margarines, and cod liver oil.

  • Due to our geographical location and limited food sources of vitamin D, most Canadians will benefit from a vitamin D supplement - we suggest booking an appointment with Alex or Stephanie today to discuss.

  • Zinc

  • Soy products, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), peanuts/peanut butter, nuts (cashews, pecans), pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, whole grains, fortified cereals.

Here are some tips to help you integrate more plant based foods into your day...

Breakfast

  • Brighten up your morning yogurt by trying plain Greek yogurt (for extra protein) with a spoonful of chia, hemp, or flax seeds on top – or try a mix of all three! Alternatively, turn your daily yogurt into a delicious smoothie with added greens for a fun colour and morning dose of vitamins

  • Oatmeal is great filling breakfast item and a source of iron. If you’re rushed in the mornings, give our Overnight No Cook Oatmeal a try. Add protein to the meal by including Greek yogurt, hemp hearts, nuts, or seeds to get your mornings started on the right foot!

Lunch & Dinner

  • Try various types of lettuce in your salads. You can easily make a salad of half spinach or kale with your usual lettuce to incorporate more vitamins and minerals, but not notice too much of a change

  • In the mood for burgers? Try bean burgers instead of beef, you might be surprised how tasty these can be! Another great alternative is our Salmon Burger recipe.

  • Substitute quinoa for rice to add more protein, iron, and fiber.

  • Substitute your chicken for lentils - delicious curries can be made with lentils. Try this spicy red lentil curry recipe.

Snacks

  • Have you tried kale chips before? As weird as it sounds to have a leafy green turn into tasty chips, we can promise you it’s true! They are crunchy, delicious, and a great source of fibre, calcium, and iron. Check out this kale chip recipe.

  • Roasted chickpeas are a fantastic way to get plant based protein while satisfying your crunchy food cravings. The flavour possibilities are endless!

  • Wanting something sweet? Try out our No Bake Quinoa Cookies that will for sure satisfy your sweet tooth!

Meatless Mondays, or any day a week you don’t consume meat, is a fantastic way to start introducing more plant based foods to your plate. If you’re wanting to add more plant based foods into your diet or ensure your plant based diet is meeting all of your nutritional needs, make an appointment with Alex or Stephanie today!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, where we share easy and delicious vegetarian/vegan recipes!

Works Cited

  1. Nutritional Update for Physicians: plant based Diets

  2. Climate benefits of changing diet

  3. Sustainability of plant based diets

  4. A plant based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes

  5. What is the impact of ascorbic acid intake on non-heme iron absorption and is there an effect on iron status among healthy adults? (PEN)

  6. Vegetarianism Evidence Summary (PEN)

#plantbased #vegetarian #vegan #healthyeating