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Is Plant-based the Same as Vegetarian?

August 8, 2017 by Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian

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Is Plant-based the Same as Vegetarian?

A bowlful of berries. A handful of cherries. A plateful of salad greens that endlessly varies.

If Dr. Seuss had written a nutrition book (and no, “Green Eggs and Ham” doesn’t count), I’m certain he would have thrived as much as I do on summer and its possibilities for stacking meals and snacks with a variety of fresh produce. It’s a good time for reflection, a time to deliciously re-evaluate whether you’re following a plant-based diet.

What is a plant-based diet?

Simply, a plant-based diet is a way of eating that focuses on vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), nuts and seeds, i.e. foods that come from plants. It is not a vegetarian diet that avoids meat, but it de-emphasizes meat and its contribution to our meals.

The known benefits of a plant-based diet are increasing and becoming clearer with time. This way of eating has been shown to lower rates of chronic diseases including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. For those taking medications to treat chronic illness, a plant-based diet may lead to a reduction in medication. And when we look at preventing illness, focusing on plant-based foods can help you manage your weight and improve your overall nutrition and health.

How to start a plant-based diet

One of the simple truths of eating is that you’re more likely to eat foods you enjoy. Best intentions only take us so far. Therefore, following a plant-based diet may require a shift in thinking. If you grew up in a household like mine, meat was the centre of the meal and everything else was its side dish. And while there is nothing wrong with picking your high-protein food first and building a meal around it, it does lend itself to planning only the meat and leaving everything else as an afterthought. Enter a meal of boiled peas and steamed rice. Kind of boring, right?

A great way to change how you eat is to flip how you think about your meals. Make plant-based foods the focus of the meal and treat meat as the side dish. Aim for half of your plate being filled with vegetables and fruit you can’t wait to eat!

Most mainstream recipe sites have hundreds of plant-based meals to choose from; start by looking for dishes that use your favourite ingredients. Or let all-star chefs like Michael Smith inspire you. What about trying some different ethnic flavours like Greek, Indian, Italian, or Middle Eastern? Another thing to do is ask your friends for their favourite vegetarian and plant-based recipes. Recipes that are tried-and-true are always great places to start!

For more tips and ideas on how to follow a plant-based diet, check out HealthLink BC’s Plant-based Diet Guidelines, or call 8-1-1 (toll free) to speak to a registered dietitian. And remember…

Making change doesn’t have to bring fear.
Start with one goal, and when you get near,
Add a new goal, a new change to get done,
And before you know it, your food will be healthy and fun!

What are you having for dinner?


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Answers to Four Common Nutty Questions
What Makes Vegetables and Fruit So Special?
Hop on the Vegetable Bandwagon
For the Love of Fruit and Veggies
Knock the Wind Out of Your Beans

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