Now more than ever I have been working with many clients who are wanting to add more plant-rich food sources into their diets. There are a variety of ways to do this. One way is to simply focus on adding more fruits, vegetables or plant proteins (beans, lentils, soy products) into the diet. Others may want to take it a step further and adopt more of a vegetarian lifestyle where they limit animal products.
Before we begin discussing these vegetarian-based diets, it is important for us to also be mindful of those who are already vegetarian because of cultural or religious beliefs and that not all choose to be a vegetarian for these purposes. For those who choose to be vegetarian later in life, they may do so because their health benefits, environmental benefits or that it is just a diet they want to try!
Today, research supports the health benefits of diets rich in fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins. Here we will discuss the different types of vegetarian diets, ways to add more plant-based foods into your daily fueling plan and how to best supplement to make sure you are meeting optimal nutrient needs!
Below you will find a list of plant-rich diet options and common terms.
- Vegan (total vegetarian): One who eliminates all animal products (meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy)
- Vegetarian (may or may not eliminate certain animal products): Different types are listed below.
- Lacto-vegetarian: One who consumes dairy products but eliminates red meat, pork, eggs, seafood and poultry (Will still consume Greek yogurt, cheese and cow's milk).
- Ovo-vegetarian: One who consumes eggs but eliminates red meat, pork, dairy products, seafood. turkey and chicken.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian: One whoe consumes dairy products and eggs but eliminates red meat, seafood, turkey and chicken.
- Pesca- tarian: One who consumes fish but eliminates dairy products, eggs, red meat and poultry.
- Whole food diet (does not eliminate meat) rich in plant-based food sources: These individuals can keep consuming meat but will put an extra effort into focusing on consuming lean meat sources (pork, ground beef—95% lean, ground turkey—93% lean, chicken breast without skin), limit the amount of days they consume animal products, increase their consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables while incorporating sources of plant-proteins such as lentils, beans and soy products. When we use the term "whole foods" we are encouraging readers to choose just that-- foods in their whole form rather than processed alternatives.
- FitBliss Tip: Keep an eye out for local Farmer's Markets. Choosing to purchase produce occasionaly at local markets helps not only support farmer's but most of the products sold are in their whole form and are in season-- Healthy and fresh all in one!
Goals and health benefits of the plant-rich diet:
A plant-rich diet aims to maximize consumption of nutrient dense plant foods, while minimizing animal products. Naturally, plant-rich diets are lower in saturated fats, cholesterol and are high in fiber which helps prevent chronic disease risk like heart disease, cancer and stroke.
Plant-based meals have been shown to help control blood sugars in diabetics and play a role in managing weight. Since a plant-rich diet encourages a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, individuals will be consuming more phytochemicals which produce antioxidants and antioxidants as we know can help prevent or delay cell damage and provide a variety of benefits for recovery whether it be from surgery, physical activity or harmful effects of the environment.
In addition, to its health benefits, consuming more plant-based meals are better for the environment. For example fruits, vegetables and whole grains have less of an impact on the environment compared to animal product alternatives.
FitBliss Tip: If you are not ready to dive into a full vegetarian diet just yet, you can always begin by choosing one or two days during the week where you consume little to no animal products such as starting off with a "meatless monday". Every effort counts for both health and the environment!
What NOT to do on a plant-rich diet:
Sometimes we make the mistake of increasing carbohydrate consumption to feel full after eliminating animal products. Be mindful of portion sizes and the quality of food sources consumed. Whether on a plant-rich diet or one where individuals are still consuming meat, an excess consumption of foods high in sugar and low in protein can cause unwanted weight gain.
It will still be important to be mindful of food choices and pick foods in their whole form (with limited ingredients), foods rich in protein, rich in fiber, low in saturated fats and sugars. Following this, in addition to staying physically active, will ensure goals are being met in the healthiest way!
Supplementing on a plant-rich diet:
- Although there are a variety of health benefits when following a vegan diet, individuals are at risk of not getting enough protein, B12, calcium, vitamin D and Zinc.
- A plant-rich diet can also be low in lysine which is an amino acid.
- Legumes are the best sources of lysine.
- FitBliss Tip: Add a 1/2 cup of tempeh/tofu, 1 cup of soy milk, ¼ cup of peanuts, ½ cup beans or lentils to your day to meet lysine needs!
- For supplementation (especially for vegans): It will be important to look for a multi-vitamin and talk to your doctor or dietitian about supplementing your diet with the above nutrients.
- FitBliss Tip: When choosing supplements, look for those with "USP" on the label. The "USP" label on the supplement bottle indicates that the manufacturer of the product followed standards set by the US Pharmacopoeia during the preparation process of the product.
Where do we begin?
- Be open minded: Remember-- meat doesn't always have to be at the center of our plate. Be open minded to trying different protein sources in place of meat (beans, lentils, soy foods, nuts, nut butters) and focusing more on veggies and grains!
- FitBliss Tip: Begin adding hummus or quinoa to your bowl of veggies to help get in extra protein and fiber! For those who are still consuming dairy, try adding Greek yogurt to breakfast and blendinh it up with some homemade granola!
- Work with foods you already love:
- For foods like meat-rich lasagna: Swap the meat out for more veggies (squash, carrots, eggplant) and choose a pasta higher in pasta (look for quinoa, lentil or soy-based pastas) while pairing it with a salad topped with cashews!
- For foods like tacos: If you're pescatarian focus on making homemade fish tacos loaded with fiber-rich beans and a side of heart-healthy avocado. Or make veggie tacos but choose a tortilla rich in fiber and protein!
- Rethink protein:
- Aim to get at least three servings per day of beans, tofu, tempeh, soy nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, soy milk or a veggie/soy-based meat (if on a animal-free diet) and if limiting meatless days to once or twice a week, choose the above protein-rich sources 1-3 times per week!
- Reach out to your resources:
- Look for vegetarian-based cookbooks, dietitians and vegetarian-focused restaurants to learn more about fun recipes to experiment with the family!
- No pressure:
- You don't have to change your diet drastically to get a variety of health benefits. Begin by adding an extra serving of vegetables to lunch or dinner and extra fiber whether from fruits or grains to breakfast!
Yasi Ansari, MS, RDN, CSSD
Yasi currently works as a Clinical Dietitian through Sodexo at Hoag Hospital Newport Beach, Hoag Orthopedic Institute and Hoag for Her Center for Wellness in Southern California. Yasi’s previous work includes a position as the Clinical Nutrition Coordinator at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Athletics fueling student athletes and nutritional work at USC Norris Cancer Hospital. Yasi also works as a health and nutrition content writer for local dietitians and physicians. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication Studies from UCLA and a Master of Science degree in Family and Consumer Sciences with an emphasis in Nutrition and Dietetics from Cal State University, Northridge. She is passionate in educating clients, corporate wellness facilities, patients and students on the importance of optimal nutrition for performance, wellness and longevity.
Follow @spoonfulofyaas on Instagram for more information.
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 Tuso PJ, Ismail MH, Ha BP, et al. Nutritional update for physicians: Plant-based diets. Perm J. 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61-66. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/12-085