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Three Mistakes to Avoid While Moving to a Plant-Based Diet

Mar 01, 2020 11:46AM ● By Bridgitte Carroll

by Bridgitte Carroll

While diets comprised of mostly plants have many health benefits, one may want to consider if a complete plant diet or plant-based diet is right for them. Plant-based does not have to be fully vegetarian. If switching to a more plant-based diet means eating more vegetables, it may be a great option. Yet, that isn’t always the case. Here are three common mistakes made when switching to a plant-based diet:

Not eating enough protein – To get the same amount of plant-based protein as compared to animal protein may also mean higher calories and carbohydrates. A cup of lentils has the same amount of protein as about 2.5 ounces of chicken, but much more calories (230 kcal vs. 150 kcal) and carbohydrates (40 g vs. 0 g). Activity level, age and hormonal health will all determine the specific amount of protein a person needs. In practice, I notice that people do best when consuming 15 to 30 percent of their calories from protein. Sources of plant-based protein include beans, lentils, organic soy and small amounts from nuts, seeds and vegetables. For those with insulin sensitivity or blood sugar imbalances, balancing these protein sources that also include carbohydrates with enough non-starchy vegetables and fat is especially important.

Consuming packaged, nutrient-poor foods like pasta, chips, or meat alternatives – Processed carbs are one of the biggest causes of heart disease, diabetes and common symptoms like fatigue and brain fog. When going more plant-based, opt for carbohydrate sources like sweet potatoes, squash, fruit and whole grains like quinoa. Additionally, the new plant-based burgers are a great example of plant-based gone wrong. Check out the ingredients and ask yourself if lab-made food is healthier for you than food raised on grass.

Balanced meals If meals and snacks aren’t balanced with enough protein, fat or fiber, hunger levels may be elevated throughout the day. Make sure if you have starches or grains, that you also include plenty of fat like from avocado and seeds, fiber like kale and cauliflower and protein such as tempeh.

It is important before embarking on a significant diet change that an expert that has in-depth personal health metrics for you is consulted. Tests that health practitioners can evaluate are serum B12 (a nutrient low in a plant-based diet), ferritin (a marker of iron), protein status and more. For individuals that are completely vegetarian, B12  and iron may be supplements to consider adding to their routine.

Plant-based has a different meaning for everyone, but it may be best to not completely eliminate meat. If one does, consider having preliminary blood work done and discuss personal health goals and metrics with a functional medicine provider.

Bridgitte Carroll, MS, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham, MA. She works one-on-one with clients utilizing a systems approach to get to the root cause of bodily imbalances. She sees clients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness and appointments can be made at Calendly.com/Bridgitte-Carroll.  

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