B1 Teaser Pic: Fresh fruit

Editor's note: This is Part 1 of a two-part column about plant-based diets.

A person recently asked about the pros and cons of plant-based eating. It’s a lifestyle that many people are attracted to for its health benefits. A plant-based diet is potentially lower in calories and saturated fat than the standard American diet and also provides more dietary fiber and higher amounts of some vitamins and minerals.

Here are potential benefits of a plant-based diet:

  • improved cardiovascular health (decreased blood pressure, lowered heart rate, reduced risk for cardiovascular events)
  • lower risk of hypertension
  • reduced carbon footprint
  • lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • improved glycemic control (reduction of hemoglobin A1C in people with Type 2 diabetes)
  • weight management
  • protection from colon and breast cancer

Though potential health benefits may be gained from a vegetarian or vegan diet, it's important to meet nutrient needs, especially for protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and iodine. To ensure optimal nutrient intake, those following a vegetarian diet must plan carefully to consume these nutrients through foods or supplements if they’re unable to meet daily requirements through diet alone.

These are potential drawbacks of a plant-based diet:

  • low protein intake
  • iron deficiency
  • decreased bone mineralization and increased risk of fractures from lower intake of calcium and vitamin D
  • vitamin B-12 deficiency; an
  • lower essential fatty acid intake

Always consult your health care provider before starting a new diet plan. If you want more information on plant-based eating be sure to google trustworthy websites such as eatright.org, mayoclinic.org, clevelandclinic.org, or dietaryguidelines.gov.

Next month I’ll go into more detail on the nutrients of concern and why they are a concern.

Peg Christenson is a registered nutrition and dietetic technician at Hutchinson Health.