Ask a dietitian: What do we need to know about vegan, vegetarian diets? – Monmouth Daily Review Atlas

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CANTON — Danielle Sausaman, clinical dietitian/outpatient diet educator at Graham Hospital, is better versed than most when it comes to eating choices, including whether to be a vegan or vegetarian.

Some are confused as to the difference between the two, but Sausaman explained, “Overall, vegetarians tend to focus on a more plant-based diet while avoiding animal products, but there are many types of vegetarians. Some more common types of vegetarians are lacto (vegetarians that eat dairy products), ovo (vegetarians that eat egg products), even some who avoid land animal meats, like pescatarians that eat fish, or different combinations such as lacto-ovo vegetarians. Vegans are a type of vegetarians that do not eat any animals or their byproducts, so foods like eggs, dairy or even honey may be avoided.”

What health benefits are associated with the two ways of eating?

“Most research suggests a more plant-based diet can help prevent or delay the progression of different conditions,” Sausaman said. “For example, the DASH diet, a diet often recommended for those with high blood pressure, encourages doubling common recommendations for fruits and vegetables. Even the Mediterranean diet focuses on a more plant-based diet that includes healthy fats and reducing red meats.”

Like most anything, there are drawbacks. What drawbacks are associated with being a vegan or vegetarian?

“I wouldn’t say there are health related problems, per se, but there are some considerations that need to be made due to the fact that certain food groups are being avoided, whether all animal products or some,” Sausaman said. “When a food group is removed from the diet, one must make special efforts to prevent nutrient deficiencies from developing by including other sources of those nutrients in the foods they eat. Certain conditions or medications may also be a factor to consider. For example, those who must monitor potassium or vitamin K may need to be more mindful of foods high in the nutrients. Likewise, those who have iron deficiency may need to increase the amount of iron they eat or increase its ability to be absorbed by the body.”

Does a vegan/vegetarian need to take supplements to compensate for something their body may be lacking?

“Possibly. The chances of needing additional supplements decreases if we are eating a diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, etc., but it is a possibility,” Sausaman said. “Nutrients that are more likely to be lower in those consuming a vegan or vegetarian diet are protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium and iron.”

Considering checking out the vegan or vegetarian way of eating? The first thing to do is check with your physician.

“I always think it is a good idea to consult your provider before starting any kind of diet or supplement,” Sausaman said. “There can be a lot of conflicting information out there and your provider may be able to help you understand that information or point you in the direction of someone more familiar with the diet you are interested in. They may also encourage or discourage eating certain foods due to conditions you may have.”

Having been with Graham Hospital for four years, what is Sausaman’s advice for someone considering embarking on one of these particular ways of eating?

“My biggest pieces of advice are choose whole foods and eat a variety of them,” she said. “If you are still choosing more processed foods, you are not going to be getting as great a benefit from this diet change. Our more processed foods tend to be higher in sodium, added sugars or saturated fats, which can contribute to health problems, whether vegetarian or not. When using more whole ingredients, we can control what goes into our food. Choosing a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins can not only add diversity by way of more options, but also covering more of the vitamins of minerals we need for our bodies to work their best.”

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