The evidence is clear that plant-based diets can support improved health in a variety of ways. But does adopting a plant-based diet mean never eating meat again?
Not necessarily, says Holley. “Plant-based diets are versatile and can be adapted based to individual preferences and needs. For example, one person may include certain animal proteins, like eggs or fish, while another may exclude them completely.”
For the diet to be considered plant-based, “fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains remain the primary sources of nutrients,” Holley says.
That said, she also notes that “plant-based diets are less about what we should be eliminating and more about what should be increased.” The Mediterranean, Nordic and Ornish diets are all good examples of plant-based diets that can be adapted to individual tastes and preferences.
In fact, Dr. Brian Quebbemann, a weight loss expert, bariatric surgeon and founder of the N.E.W. Program in Orange County, California, notes that including small amounts of meat or other animal products in your diet can be a smart move. “Many of the benefits of a vegan diet have been also shown to be true of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (someone who eats dairy and eggs) and a Mediterranean diet.”
There is a potential downside to going entirely plant-based, Quebbemann adds. “Exclusively plant-based, or vegan, diets are lacking in vitamin B12, which is very important in early brain development, central nervous system health and also in maintaining a healthy supply of red blood cells.” If you’re going 100% vegan, speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian about supplementing with B12.
“Exclusively plant-based diets also are very low in iron, increasing the risk for anemia as well as increasing the risk of developing early cognitive decline,” he says, so talk with your doctor about iron as well to make sure you’re getting enough.
All that said, Quebbemann notes that both of these problems “can be prevented through diligent use of supplements, or simply by eating a plant-based diet that includes limited quantities of eggs, dairy products, fish and sometimes chicken.” Smart planning is the key to making it all work.