The Plant Craze: Facts on the Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based Diets
We have heard the terms vegetarian and vegan thrown around for years, and more recently the plant-based diet has emerged. The question is: should you be following one of these diets to improve your health?
A lot of the research surrounding animal based foods vs plant-based foods is conflicting and it can be hard to determine what is best for you. So let’s explore the different dietary patterns that might work best for you.
Vegetarianism and Veganism
Vegetarians abstain from eating meat. Some also exclude anything made with animal byproducts like the gelatin in Jell-O. Some vegetarians do consume foods or products with animal origins.
The Different Types of Vegetarians are:
- Lacto vegetarians: Consume dairy products
- Ovo vegetarians: Consume eggs
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Consume dairy and eggs
- Pescatarian: Consume fish
- Flexitarian: Occasionally consume meat or foods with animal byproducts, but mostly follow vegetarian restrictions
Vegans do not eat anything with animal origin. Some vegans even exclude honey because it is made from bees. Veganism goes much further than just the diet and aims to exclude all forms of exploitation or cruelty towards animals such as in the make-up, clothing, pharmaceutical, and entertainment industries.
Can I Still Get Enough Protein With These Diets?
Most people worry about protein intakes when it comes to vegan and vegetarian diets. There are many ways to get complete proteins from plant foods but it will involve eating more variety and adding protein supplements if needed.
If you are planning to try out a vegan or vegetarian diet, you might want to start by meeting with a registered dietitian who can help determine what you protein needs are and how you can meet those needs through plant foods.
The plant-based diet emerged back in the 1700s but was mostly used as part of social justice movements to promote peace, equality and fellowship. As things have changed over the years, including the health of our nation, it is now looked at as a dietary intervention for health.
Colin Campbell, PhD coined the term back in the 1980s while doing work with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He came up with the term “plant based” as a way to encompass the importance of consuming low fat, high fiber diets, which is best achieved through a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
It was not called vegan or vegetarian because you can still achieve a low fat, high fiber diet without excluding all animal foods and products.
At this time, there is no one right way to do the plant-based diet. Many follow a combination of vegetarian and vegan principles while others still include some animal proteins. Most would agree that red meats, processed meats, and dairy products like milk and cheese should be limited or excluded when following this dietary pattern.
Advantages to Plant-Based Diets
Advantages to following these dietary patterns include increasing fruit, vegetable, and legume consumption. These foods are high in fiber which can help to support good cardiovascular and digestive health.
Plant foods are also abundant with micronutrients that can support your immune health. However, switching over to a vegetarian diet does not mean that you will automatically start consuming more fruits and vegetables.
Like any other dietary or lifestyle adjustment, you will have to plan more meals with fruits, vegetables and plant proteins like beans, lentils, and tofu. If your goal is to improve your health this year, then following one of these dietary patterns might be for you!
Any dietary pattern that increases your consumption of whole foods and decreases your consumption of processed foods with added sugars and unnecessary fats is going to have positive effects on your health.
You don’t have to change all at once though. Start by omitting meat and other animal products 1-2 days per week. Many start with a “meatless Monday” to test the waters.
Check Out These Great Plant-Based Recipes To Get Started:
- Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal
- Gingerbread Overnight Oats
- Avocado Veggie Sandwich
- Basic Tuscan Bean Soup
- Bibb and Bean Burrito Bowl
- Blanco Huevos Rancheros
Mary Cate is a dietitian with CHI Health Weight Management. Her love of food and nutrition stems from many years of playing sports and growing up in a family that loves to cook. Her goal is to help people learn that nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated and that it should be an enjoyable part of our lives.