People choose a vegan or vegetarian diet for a multitude of reasons. Regardless of your reasoning, eating a plant-based diet has been shown to have positive health impacts. But before making big changes to your diet, talk with your doctor about your plans. When going vegetarian or vegan, there are some special considerations to keep in mind:
Eat Mostly One-Ingredient Foods
As with any diet, there are good and bad food choices when it comes to vegetarian options. Try to focus on eating foods that are minimally processed, or are one-ingredient foods — such as vegetables, quinoa and beans — or foods that have as few ingredients on the label as you can find. For example, look for peanut butter with no added sugar or oils.
Eat A Variety of Foods
Eating nothing but pasta can be considered a vegan diet, but that does not make it healthy. Aim to incorporate a variety of whole grains, protein sources and vegetables in your meals. “There are a lot of easy-to-prepare vegan and vegetarian recipes available online to help you experiment with new foods and how to prepare them,” says Dr. Sharon Wasserstrom, a lifestyle medicine specialist as UCF Health.
Limit “Substitute” Foods
While it is perfectly OK to satisfy a craving with some fake bacon, don’t make these “substitute” foods part of your regular diet. “Many of these substitute foods are highly processed, and while they might be vegan, they aren’t necessarily healthy options,” says Dr. Wasserstrom. She recommends using substitute foods sparingly and instead focusing on eating more one-ingredient foods.
There are many myths about supplements you need to take when you’re eating a plant-based diet. Have a conversation with your doctor to ensure you are getting the proper nutrition. In general, vegetarians are advised to take B12 because it’s not found in high enough levels in a plant-based diet. “When eating a plant-based diet, there is a high likelihood that you will become B12 deficient if you don’t supplement. This can cause side effects like tiredness, confusion and feeling unbalanced,” says Dr. Wasserstrom. Talk to your doctor about how to best supplement your B12 intake.
After adopting a plant-based diet, some patients are able to reduce their reliance on medication and reduce their risk for diseases. Patients with chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes can benefit the most from a plant-based diet. If you’ve made the decision to adopt a plant-based diet, let your doctor know so he or she can evaluate your individual needs.
UCF Health offers Lifestyle Medicine and other primary care specialists to help patients live a healthy life and reduce the risks for disease.
Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at UCFHealth.com, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.
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