Is a Plant-based Diet Sustainable?

I often get asked if a plant-based diet is healthful and sustainable for living. The answer is yes, a plant-based diet can be sustainable. It’s our approach and how we go about monitoring our health that determines if it will be.

Plant-Based Eating

Plant-based eating is a term used for those who eat foods that are mainly grown from  the ground. These individuals may or may not consume animal meat or food derived from animals.

There are different types of plant-based diets and the differences between them can get confusing. Below is a quick reference guide:

Sustainability of plant-based diet comparison chart: vegetarian, pescatarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, vegan

*Going forward in this post, when I reference vegetarians, I’m including semi- lacto-ovo, lacto-, and ovo-vegetarians.

Why be plant-based?

Being plant-based has its benefits. Studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets can improve your cholesterol and blood pressure, can be protective against certain cancers, and can help lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The reason for these health advantages is likely due to the higher levels of fiber, vitamins C and E, folate, magnesium, potassium, and phytochemicals in a plant-based diet.

I am plant-based. Am I doing it right?

A quality plant-based diet doesn’t just mean eating grains and meat substitutes.

If you take a look at what you’re eating and it consists of a variety of vegetables, fruits, plant-proteins like nuts and beans, and whole grains, chances are you’re doing a good job. However, if you look at your meals and they consist mainly of things  like bread and pasta with a few vegetables, fruits, and plant-proteins, you might want to switch it up a bit.

Variety is the key component  of a balanced diet. Eating a diverse diet, containing all essential food groups will help you maintain good health.

The Concerns

Vegetarians generally have an easier time meeting their nutrition needs compared to vegans because they have a wider variety of foods to choose from. To get adequate nutrition as a vegan, it’s important to know which nutrients are difficult to obtain in a vegan diet and which foods contain them.

NUTRIENT FUNCTION NON-VEGAN SOURCES VEGAN SOURCES
PROTEIN Helps to build and repair cells in the body.

Important for your bones, muscle, skin, and blood.
Fish
Fowl
Meat (beef, pork)
Dairy (milk, yogurt)
Eggs
Tofu
Tempeh
Soy milk
Pulses (beans, lentils, peas)
Nuts & Seeds
Nut butters (peanut, almond, etc)
Whole grains
OMEGA-3 Heart health

Eye and brain development
Fish
Eggs
Walnut
Flaxseeds
Chia seeds
Hemp seeds
Canola oil
Soy
Microalgae supplements
CALCIUM Bone strength and mass Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
Sardines
Tofu
Green vegetables (mustard, turnip, bok choy, kale)
Fortified juices and foods
IRON Helps red blood cells supply oxygen to our muscles Red meat
Organ meat
Fowl
Fish (salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines)
Seafood (clams, mussels, oysters)
Nuts
Beans
Whole grains
Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, collards, bok choy)

- Nuts, beans, and grains that have been soaked or sprouted promote a higher absorption of iron

- When these iron-rich foods are consumed with high vitamin C foods like citrus fruits and bell peppers, iron is absorbed into the body better
VITAMIN D Used to help absorb calcium into the bone

Maintain bone strength
Sunlight
Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
Egg yolk
Fortified milk
Sunlight
Fortified non-dairy milks and orange juice
Mushrooms
Supplementation from Vitamin D2 or D3 derived from lichen

- Be careful, Vitamin D3 can also be derived from animal sources
VITAMIN B12 Helps to produce healthy blood cells

Prevents damage to the nervous system
Red meat
Milk
Fortified foods like cereals, soy products, non-dairy milks
Nutritional Yeast
Vitamin B-12 supplementation of 1-25 mcg/day is recommended
ZINC Maintain healthy immune system

Helps to enhance the senses of smell and taste
Oysters
Red meat
Poultry
Nuts
Beans
Whole grains
Fortified breakfast cereals and non-dairy products

- Nuts, beans, and grains that have been soaked or sprouted promote a higher absorption of zinc

Takeaways

  • It’s possible for vegetarians and vegans to get adequate nutrition from food and supplementation.

  • Food first. Food is the best form of nourishment. Working to incorporate a diversity of foods is critical to get a majority of your nutrients.

  • It’s highly recommended that vegetarians and vegans take vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplements because food sources alone cannot provide what the body needs.

  • Even if you’re someone who doesn’t want to consume a vegetarian or vegan diet, aiming to eat more meatless meals throughout the week can help you reap the health benefits.

 

Questions? Feel free to comment in the box below.
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