Which Diet is Healthiest – Plant-Based, Vegetarian or Both? – Baptist Health South Florida

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March 22, 2022
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Before you choose a plant-based or a vegetarian diet, you should plan and educate yourself about each, decide which foods you are going to eliminate, and ensure that you replace them with the same key nutrients.  “The easiest way to think of it is that if you’re removing something, try to replace it with foods that replace the nutrients you’ve removed,” suggests Amy Kimberlain, RDN, LDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health’s Community Health.
“Someone who follows a plant-based diet will possibly include animal protein such as chicken occasionally and focus on consuming less animal protein, while someone who is vegetarian will not,” Ms. Kimberlain says. To create a healthier eating pattern, she reminds us to go back to the basics. “Consume lots of fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds and foods that are rich in fiber and low in saturated fat,” she advises.
Many people assume that a vegetarian will automatically make you healthier, according to Ms. Kimberlain. “That’s not always the case – not all vegan/plant-based/vegetarian items are created equal,” she explains. “There are a lot of products to choose from these days but, unfortunately, some of them aren’t all that healthy. Read the labels.”
What is a plant-based diet?
“You’ve probably seen the term many times,” says Ms. Kimberlain. “But books, articles and interviews that discuss ‘plant-based diets’ use it as an umbrella term and are often referring to different things.” Everyone has their own definition of what plant-based really means, she says, but plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants and on consuming less animal protein.
Ms. Kimberlain says that plant-based followers can include vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and flexitarians – people who may not be willing to go vegan or vegetarian but simply wish to include more plants and less animal proteins in their diet. “Following a plant-based diet does not equate to being a vegetarian or a vegan,” she adds.
What is a vegetarian diet?
According to Ms. Kimberlain, vegetarians can be divided into different types of vegetarians. Lacto-ovo vegetarians allow dairy and eggs, lacto-vegetarians allow dairy and ovo-vegetarians allow eggs. The common denominator for all three is that they exclude meat, poultry and seafood from their diet.
People choose a vegetarian diet or eating pattern for many different reasons, Ms. Kimberlain says. Among them are:
“If you decide to become a vegetarian or begin a plant-based eating pattern, you need to choose the plan that best matches your needs and lifestyle,” says Ms. Kimberlain. 
Easy steps to starting a “plant forward” diet
Watch Your Proteins and Nutrients
If you’re starting to phase out animal protein and replace it with plant protein, Ms. Kimberlain warns that certain nutrients are more abundant in animal protein sources. “That’s not to say you can’t obtain these nutrients from plant protein, because you absolutely can,” she says, “but pay attention to the following nutrients, especially if you’re a woman.”
Regarding supplements, Ms. Kimberlain says it’s always encouraged to try and obtain your nutrition via food first. But, she adds, the nutrients above would be the ones to pay attention to, particularly vitamins D and B12.
“Regardless of whether you choose a vegetarian or a plant-based eating pattern, there are significant health benefits when compared with non-vegetarian diets,” Ms. Kimberlain says. “If you’re on the fence, a combination of the two might be best for you.”
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