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Explore Plant-Based Eating

February 22, 2021

By: Marnie Stober, Dietetic Intern, Meredith College and the Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Center Nutrition Team.

Plant-based eating has become a popular lifestyle change in the past few years as people have noticed the health benefits, from weight loss/management to a decreased risk of heart disease, it can provide. However, plant-based is a broad term that could include a variety of dietary patterns.

food bowl filled with fresh and roasted vegetables

Today we go over some of the most common of these dietary patterns and tips and ideas on how to make the most of each.

Vegan

This dietary pattern is entirely plant-based that contains no meat or other animal-sourced products (such as milk, eggs, or honey). A balanced, vegan lifestyle consists of many fruits, vegetables, whole grains as well as dairy-alternatives (like soy products) that can provide a source of calcium and additional protein. Though it is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, it is often recommended that those following a vegan lifestyle incorporate certain nutritional supplements like iron, vitamin B12, calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Identify strategies on how to eat closer to the earth while maintaining your weight with the upcoming Nutrition Smarts Session: Spring into a Healthy Weight.

Vegetarian

Potentially the most well-known of the plant-based lifestyles, this dietary pattern (also known as Lacto-Ovo vegetarian) includes eggs and dairy products but restricts the consumption of meat and seafood. This can vary depending on the individual — some may choose to include fish or exclude eggs and/or dairy — but generally provides a great balance of nutrients and fiber. Similar to a vegan lifestyle, additional vitamin and mineral supplements may be recommended to meet adequate intakes of essential nutrients, such as iron and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Pescatarian

A pescatarian eating pattern is similar to vegetarian and focuses on plant foods, but with the addition of fish and seafood. This modification has the benefit of another source of protein, as well as Vitamin B12 and iron which may be lacking in a vegan or vegetarian diet. Seafood is low in saturated fat and rich in Vitamin D and other nutrients. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and trout are excellent sources of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. It is important to be aware that some larger types of fish (higher on the ocean food chain) can be high in mercury, therefore the FDA recommends that these be avoided. Consider choosing from the many widely available varieties that are low in mercury such as shrimp, scallops, tilapia, flounder, canned light tuna, sardines and herring, while avoiding swordfish, mackerel, and bigeye tuna.

Flexitarian

If you are interested in plant-based eating but still would like some flexibility to choose meats and other animal products at times, consider a concept called Flexitarianism. With this eating pattern, the focus is on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and plant sources of protein, but allows meat, fish or dairy on occasion. This less rigid option can make things easier when eating out or when you don’t want to eliminate a favorite food. Flexitarianism provides a healthy eating framework but allows moderation and may be easier to sustain for some people.

Whichever pattern one might choose, opting to choose more plant-based foods is a common recommendation to support good health. Some simple ways to get started include:

1. Making sure to incorporate a fruit or vegetable at every meal.
2. Deemphasize the meat portion on your plate and build a meal around vegetables.
3. Try fruit for dessert.

About Nutrition Smarts:

Enhance your nutrition knowledge with a live webinar hosted by our highly experienced Duke Health and Well-Being Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. Nutrition Smarts is a monthly nutrition webinar program that will discuss and review the most up-to-date nutrition recommendations regarding weight management, chronic diseases such as Diabetes and Heart Health, simple meal planning strategies, and healthy cooking.

Register for Nutrition Smarts

About the Duke Health & Well-Being Nutrition & Lifestyle Services:

Our individualized nutrition services are utilized to treat specific health conditions, manage weight healthfully, and attain optimal vitality through a wholesome diet. Our nutritionists understand that getting on the right path toward your health goals is a process that requires support, adjustment, and taking small steps to make lasting and positive changes. Work with a nutritionist to discover the connection between food, movement, stress, and rest and make strategic changes to your diet that will help you achieve your goals.

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