NYS Certified Nutritionist

Plant Based Eating 101

The evidence is growing that eating a plant based diet reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, and certain cancers.  With their abundance of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, plant foods are uniquely suited to provide humans with protective qualities.

Then, there is that issue of protein.  Protein is comprised of 20 building blocks called amino acids.  Nine amino acids are considered essential to consume because human cells cannot manufacture them.  To be a healthy vegetarian, one must eat a diet providing those 9 essential amino acids.  This is accomplished by eating a variety of plant foods daily, each one containing some [not all] of the amino acids, or incomplete proteins.  One need not combine vegetarian sources of protein at the same time to make complete proteins.  The body knows how to combine them, as long as they are consumed within the course of the day.  All animal products contain complete protein, which is considered high quality.  Soy and certain grains also contain high quality protein.

Tofu, veggie burgers, fortified almond milk, soy milk, and seitan are products found commonly in supermarkets that can make the vegetarian’s diet easy to follow and interesting.  Legumes, grains [like oats, rice and corn], nuts/nut butters, and seeds are all examples of plant foods that, when substituted for animal protein, may result in weight loss, and lower risk of disease.  Start with one vegan [all plant food ingredients] dinner a week.

If you decide to go completely vegan [no dairy, no meats, no chicken, no eggs, and no fish or shell fish], you risk a Vitamin B12 deficiency which can lead to serious consequences.  Many dry cereals are fortified with nutrients, including B12.  Other food labels will inform you if the product has been fortified.  Adults should aim to take in 30-200 mcg [micrograms…not mg or milligrams] of B12 per day, with those over 50 aiming for the higher levels.  A conservative multi-vitamin, B12, or B-complex tablet should take care of this issue.  Occasionally, people have difficulty processing this important vitamin.  This problem can be easily remedied with the help of a physician.

[Dateline-  Latham, Albany County, NY]