5 Things Dietitians Want You to Know About Plant-Based Diets

by Julia Malacoff
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5 Things Dietitians Want You to Know About Plant-Based Diets

You’ve probably heard about the plant-based diet, especially if you’re interested in improving your health or losing weight. Though the term “plant-based” makes it sound like you can only eat fruits and vegetables, there’s actually a wide variety of foods that can be incorporated into a plant-based diet, including whole grains, legumes, nuts and more.

Most dietitians won’t push the plant-based lifestyle on a client who wants to keep eating meat, fish and/or dairy, but they do think it’s a great way to eat. “As a whole, I think that our health and our environment would be better off if we all ate less factory-farmed meat, fish, eggs and dairy and consumed more greens, beans, nuts and seeds,” says Megan Ware, RDN. That being said, there are plenty of misconceptions about plant-based eating that dieticians want to clear up. Here’s what they want you to know:.

1. PLANNING IS KEY TO SUCCESS

Switching from a diet that relies heavily on animal products to one that reduces them or eliminates them completely isn’t easy for most people, which is why a lot of people who try a plant-based diet end up going back to their old eating habits. “Obviously, there are less protein options on a plant-based diet, which makes it easy to skimp on protein,” explains Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD of Nutrition à la Natalie. “With the fewer protein choices comes more carbohydrate choices. If, instead of eating a sandwich with turkey, you eat a sandwich with just cheese, you are skimping on the protein and will likely be hungry again soon after eating.” If you’re hungry all the time, you’re likely going to end up eating foods you weren’t planning on eating. “This is why I advise anyone who makes the switch to a plant-based diet to meet with a registered dietitian for proper nutrition education,” Rizzo says.

Plus, a pro can let you in on ways to make sticking with your new eating style easier. “Vegetarian and vegan options are limited at sit-down and take-out restaurants,” notes Rizzo. “Sometimes the only vegetarian dish is pasta or a sandwich with cheese. There aren’t always vegetarian or vegan restaurants in every area, so sometimes eating out means planning ahead.”

2. IT’S EASIER IF YOU LEARN A LITTLE BIT ABOUT NUTRITION FIRST

In addition to making sure you’re getting enough protein, carbs and fat in a plant-based diet and learning the plant-based sources of these macronutrients, you also want to be sure you’re getting enough micronutrients, like vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and more. “Nutrients of concern for vegetarian and vegan diets include protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids,” says Linzy Ziegelbaum, RD, CDN. It’s important to choose foods that will help you get all the nutrients you need, but that’s not always easy if you don’t know which foods contain them. “For example, if someone ate a salad with grilled chicken and vegetables every day for lunch, and thinks that just taking out the chicken will allow them to eat plant-based, they will be missing protein in their lunch,” Ziegelbaum explains. “If someone just switches to a plant-based diet without realizing the importance of a well-planned diet, they won’t get all of the nutrients that their body needs.”  


READ MORE > ASK THE DIETITIAN: ARE MICRONUTRIENTS HELPFUL FOR WEIGHT LOSS?


3. IF YOU DO IT RIGHT, IT COULD IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH

There’s a reason so many health and nutrition experts approve of a plant-based eating style. “Well-planned, plant-based diets have been shown to provide health benefits including preventing some diseases,” Ziegelbaum says. “There is research showing well-planned, plant-based diets can lead to weight loss, in addition to decreased risks of both heart disease and cancer.” Research also shows that plant-based eating may help to prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes, which is on the rise worldwide.

4. WEIGHT LOSS ISN’T GUARANTEED

Lots of people switch to plant-based eating because they think it will help them lose weight, but that’s not always the case. “There are some people who go plant-based and stick to unhealthy options, like tons of pasta, desserts and sodas” says Rizzo. “If you cut out meat and eat all these other foods, you likely won’t lose weight.” On the flip side, if you overhaul your diet and replace meat with vegetables and legumes, you may lose some weight, she says. “I think going plant-based can be a good way to lose weight, but it has to be done properly. Make sure you have the knowledge about proteins and carbs and make proper food choices. Realistically, if you do this while eating meat or not, you will probably lose weight!”

5. DON’T SWEAT IT IF IT’S NOT RIGHT FOR YOU

There isn’t just one way to eat healthy, so if you don’t want to eat a plant-based diet, don’t feel like you have to. “If you switch to a plant-based diet and all you’re craving is steak, there is probably a reason why,” Ware points out. That doesn’t mean you should give up completely, but if after upping your plant-based protein and iron intake you’re still craving meat, it might be a sign you’re better off as a meat-eater. “Some people thrive off of a vegan or vegetarian diet, and other people are miserable,” she says. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all way of eating that works for everyone. “We now know that genetics plays a huge role in what will work best for you.” So instead of forcing yourself to stick to a diet you don’t like, “pay attention to your energy levels, mood and digestion.” The most important thing is to listen to your body.

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  • Christine

    This is a terrible article written by someone who isn’t plant based and is thinly veiled to make going plant based seem too difficult.

    • Christine

      P.S. if you’ve gone plant based and still craving steak you’re probably not eating enough calories, a common mistake people make when switching to plants. A plant based diet tends to be much lower in calorie density and higher in nutrients – meaning you can eat more and feel fantastic.

  • Pascale

    This article is just… not good. If you’re going plant based i would expect you have some kind of desire to end animal cruelty and help the environment. If you feel the “need” to eat steak you are probably not adopting this lifestyle for the right reasons. Also, if you do it right it is a diet that can make you thrive. So dissappointing.

  • Kaydee

    I’m a Registered Dieitian who’s been vegan for over 3 years and this article is so dissapointing. Are dietians seriously still obsessing over protein? The only points I agree with are that vegans need to be conscious about B12, and that a well planned/educated diet is key to success. Most dietitians are fed misinformation which is heavily influenced by the animal ag industries. Find yourself a VEGAN dietitian if you want to make the switch.

    • Toni

      Yes!!! Thank god I’m not the only RD weighing in on terrible piece. The whole time I was thinking, was this sponsored by the meat and dairy industry?? There are so many plant-based dietitians they could’ve reached out to who could’ve given more accurate information. So disappointing!

    • Liana

      Thank you Kaydee, I echo exactly what you said. I am still surprised that dietitians harp on the protein. The myth that a human body needs to eat meat for protein has been debunked. Educating your self on the sources of ALL carbs and protein is the root of a successful plant based diet. I’ve been vegan for over 4 years now, and I never lack protein. Avoiding processed foods with added sugar and salt is my personal key to living healthy. I just recently started a weight training schedule to do some shaping and body sculpting. Life is a journey, one that cannot be peaceful while taking the life from others.

    • Cornflake

      Umm, I’m not a dietitian but also not naive to the fact that muscle makes up the vast majority of soft tissue in the human body and that the vast majority of it is made up of protein and water sooo… might explain why dietitians, doctors and just about everyone is still obsessing about protein. That and the fact that both fat and protein are essential macronutrients (carbs are not) to ensure cellular survival. BTW, there are plenty of vegan and plant protein sources for plant based dieters, I don’t think this article is a thinly vialed advert for the meat and dairy industry.

  • Michael Johnson

    Wow, this is one of the worst articles for someone considering a plant based diet. I’ve been vegan for over 6 years and can tell you it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This article seems to be written by someone who really isn’t educated in a plant based diet, but rather by someone who just wants to keep spreading misinformation. If you’re serious about getting healthier, you should definitely read How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger.

  • Derek Reeve

    Hard to believe with all the information available these days that people in a position of influence are still fixating on the protein myth. Go and listen to Dr Greger.

  • Cortney

    How many times can I roll my eyes skimming over this short price? Wow, so much misinformation. Please, let’s move beyond the protein discussion. Vegans get protein from the source instead of recycled protein from animal tissue. No one is better off eating meat.

  • Brian

    Hey Julia stick to fashion blogging cuz you don’t know much if anything about what people should be eating let alone some of the “challenges” peiple might face eating a diet RICH in plant based foods. SERIOUSLY BUT ONLY HURTING YOUR CREDIBILITY!! KAYDEE U ROCK

  • Brian

    Dang auto correct for me again haha

  • Brian

    GOT* ahhh dam