Published on 09/03/21
Thinking of switching to a plant-based diet?
It’s no secret that eating plants and cutting back on meat is a good choice for the health of both people – and the planet1. As a whole, plant-based diets are quickly becoming mainstream, with Beyoncé and Tom Brady as examples of high-profile converts. Beyond Meat burger, anyone?
The reasons for choosing a plant-based diet vary from person to person – perhaps you are an animal lover, an environmental advocate – or maybe you just want to live your healthiest life. Whatever your reasons, cutting back on, or eliminating animal meat or by-products, is less of a diet and more of a general approach to eating, health and lifestyle. Common plant-based diets include the following:
Vegetarians consume products made by animals, such as cheese, eggs, and milk – but they don’t eat meats. A vegetarian diet can include fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans2.
Vegans eat no animal products or by-products whatsoever, meaning no milk, cheese, or honey. A vegan diet consists exclusively of plant-based foods2.
As the name implies, a flexitarian diet is varied but may include eggs, dairy foods, and occasionally meat, poultry, and seafood2.
Whatever they’re called, plant-forward diets come in many flavours but they all have one thing in common – proportionately choosing more of your food from plant-based sources.
Much of the research supporting the health claims of a plant-based diet come from studies of Mediterranean and vegetarian diets. The Mediterranean diet, which could also be called a flexitarian diet, is based primarily around plant-based foods – but also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt a few times a week3. The occasional serving of meats makes this a true flexitarian diet. In both large population studies and randomized clinical trials, the Mediterranean diet has been associated with a whole host of health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and cognitive function for older adults3,4.
Vegetarian diets have been shown to support similar health claims in clinical trials. For example, health benefits include lower risk of developing coronary heart disease as well as lower body mass index (BMI) and blood cholesterol5. These benefits contribute to a healthier lifestyle and promote longevity.
A plant-based diet can be delicious – picture grilled vegetable and tofu kebabs, with a quinoa and spinach side salad! While a balanced vegetarian diet provides all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, supplementation with Vitamin B12 and omega-3s may be required by some6. Achieving adequate omega-3 intake through plant-based sources can be challenging, simply because of how the human body converts common plant-based sources of omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) such as flax, green leafy vegetables and nuts (such as walnuts)7,8. These contain an omega-3 fatty acid called α-linolenic acid (ALA) which our body must convert into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) before their benefits can be fully obtained8. That can make it a challenge to get enough beneficial omega-3 on a vegetarian or vegan diet – studies show that we convert ALA into EPA at a rate of only 5% and even less for DHA.9,10
Nature’s Way NutraVege is an omega-3 supplement derived entirely from algal oils high in beneficial omega-3 EPA and DHA. This makes it easier for those on a plant-based diet like vegetarians to get the benefits of omega-3s such as EPA and DHA for the maintenance of their cardiovascular health and brain function. If you’re looking for a product with the added benefit of vitamin D3, try NutraVege +D – available in a delicious grapefruit tangerine flavour. Even the vitamin D is sourced from vegan-friendly lichen sources, instead of the more common lanolin from sheep. We always recommend consulting a health care provider before making any changes to your diet.
Now pass the spinach-orzo salad please – all this talk of vegetarian diets is making me hungry.
2 Vegetarian Nation. 2021. Q: What are the types or levels of vegetarianism?. Wordpress, 2021. Retrieved from <https://vegetarian-nation.com/resources/common-questions/types-levels-vegetarian/>
3 Gotsis, E., Anagnostis, P., Mariolis, A., Vlachou, A., Katsiki, N., Karagiannis, A. 2015. Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: An Update of Research Over the Last 5 Years. Angiology, 66(4), p. 304-318.
4 Psaltopoulou, T., Sergentanis, T., Panagiotakos, B., Sergentanis, I., Kosti, R., Scarmeas, N. 2013. Mediterranean diet, stroke, cognitive impairment, and depression: A meta-analysis. Annals of Neurology, 74(4), p. 580-591.
5 Key, T., Davey, G., Appleby, P. 1999. Health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 58(2), p. 271-275.
6 Rathod, R., Kale, A., Joshi, S. 2016. Novel insights into the effect of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids on brain function. J Biomed Sci, 23(17), p. 1-7.
7 Willis, L., Shukitt-Hale, B., Joseph, J. 2009. Modulation of cognition and behavior in aged animals: role for antioxidant- and essential fatty acid–rich plant foods. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), p. 1602S-1606S.
8 Lee, S., Lim, D. K., Baek, S., Seo, D., Park, J., Kwak, B., Won, J., Lee, J., Kim, B. 2020. Quantitative analyses of essential fatty acids in cereals and green vegetables by isotope dilution-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Journal of Analytical Science and Technology, 11(1), p. 1-8.
9 Plourde, M. and S.C. Cunnane. 2007. Extremely limited synthesis of long chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 32(4), p. 619-634. 10 Brenna, J.T. 2002. Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to long chain n-3 fatty acids in man. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 5(2), p. 127-132.