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Talking to Your Clients About Plant-Based Eating

Nutritional science and healthy eating guidelines increasingly encourage plant-based eating, however many people may not always be clear on what this really means.1-3

By definition, a plant-based diet consists mainly of foods derived or made from plants (such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, plant oils and products made from these foods). However, it’s important to keep in mind that plant-based diets can also include small amounts of animal-based foods, such as lean meats, dairy products and eggs – so remind clients who may be put off by the idea of going vegetarian that they don’t need to be.3-5

In any diet, it’s also advisable to limit the consumption of “non-nutrient dense” foods that deliver mainly empty calories, such as, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, and other foods high in saturated fats, sugars and sodium, even if they are plant-based.1

Consider the science: Health benefits of plant-based eating

There is a solid body of evidence that continues to grow substantiating the many health benefits of plant-based eating. For instance, extensive research shows that consuming vegetables and fruit reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke.6

It has also been reported that plant-based diets help protect against atherosclerotic coronary artery disease,7 reduce cholesterol, specifically low density lipoprotein (LDL)and are associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer compared to animal-based diets.9

Additionally, a recent study in the JAMA Internal Medicine that tracked more than 70,000 people over a period of about six years, found that vegetarian diets are associated with lower all-cause mortality and some reductions in cause-specific mortality.10

Good for health, good for the planet

More than ever before, people are thinking about how their food choices affect the environment. This is a complex issue with many things to consider.

Generally speaking, along with being good for human health, plant-based eating is better for the health of the planet.A recent comprehensive review of the literature suggested that higher consumption of animal-based foods negatively affects the environment, while plant-based foods have a lower impact.11 Ruminant meat (beef and lamb) in particular was identified as having the largest impact on the environment, generally in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and/or land use.11

Plant-based foods often use fewer natural resources and exert less pressure on the environment compared to animal-based foods.1,3,12 A shift towards plant-based eating could be a game changer, leading to less climate change, a decrease in energy use and water waste, better use of soil and reduced use of chemicals in agriculture.11,13,14

Why plant-based eating matters right now

Based on data from Canada and the U.S., about two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese and approximately half have preventable chronic diseases. These problems are often due to poor quality eating combined with lack of physical activity.1,15,16 Plant-based eating is one step that can help combat these kinds of diseases. 3,5,9,15,17-20

Recent updates to North American and international nutrition and medical guidelines underline the health benefits of plant-based eating.1-3,15, 21-23 Specifically, Canada’s 2019 Dietary Guidelines, plus the American (2018) and Nordic (2012) nutrition guidelines emphasize that plant-based eating can have a protective effect on health by reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.1,2,15

Help your clients embrace plant-based eating with this 7-day meal plan

Shifting away from typical animal-based Western diets toward plant-based eating can be challenging for many people, who think it will be more time consuming or may not give them adequate nutrition. However, once armed with some specifics, most people can quickly realize that plant-based eating is worth embracing.

Myth: “Plant-based diets don’t have enough protein”

Reality: Plant-based diets can still include small amounts of fish, meat and dairy, but there are also plenty of sources of plant-based protein. These examples each include about 8g of protein each:

  • Tofu (3.5 oz/100 g)
  • Tempeh (1.8 oz/50 g)
  • Legumes, including beans, lentils and edamame (1/2 cup/125 mL, cooked)
  • Nuts or seeds (1/4 cup/63 mL)

When moving to a plant-based diet, protein quality should also be top-of-mind. Not all dietary proteins are the same. Some foods from animal sources, such as dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry and seafood, are known as “complete proteins,” because they contain adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.

“Incomplete proteins,” on the other hand, don’t always contain enough of these amino acids. Most foods from plant sources, such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, are incomplete protein sources. However, when certain foods are paired together, they can complement each other and become a complete protein source. For example, when grains and legumes are eaten together, they form a complete protein.24 Including either small amounts of animal proteins or complementary plant proteins will ensure sufficient high quality protein in the diet.

It’s a common myth that plant-based eating is expensive. However, getting the benefits on a budget is possible, including through frozen and canned options. According to Canada’s 2019 Dietary Guidelines, nutritious plant-based foods can be fresh, frozen, dried or canned.1 With three meals and two snacks a day, the daily requirements for protein can easily be met. (An adult male weighing 80kg (176lbs) needs about 64g of protein per day while an adult female weighing 65kg (143lbs) needs about 52g of protein per day.)25

Myth: “Preparing plant-based meals is time-consuming”

Reality: Healthy plant-based meals can be prepared in as little as 10 minutes. Examples include a simple tofu and vegetable stir fry with brown rice; pasta with roasted pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and basil, vegan quinoa ratatouille, and spinach tomato and feta cheese penne, to name a few.

Looking for more suggestions? Check out for more plant-based recipes.


  1. Health Canada. Canada’s dietary guidelines for health professionals and policy makers. 2019. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers. Nordic nutrition recommendations. 2012. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  3. World Health Organization (WHO). A healthy diet sustainably produced - information sheet. 2018. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  4. BDA The Association of UK Dietitians. Plant-based diet. 2017. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  5. Satija A and Hu FB. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health. Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine 2018;28:437–41. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  6. Boeing H, et al. Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases. Eur J Nutr 2012;51:637–63. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  7. Tuso P et al. A plant-based diet, atherogenesis, and coronary artery disease prevention. 2015. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  8. Ferdowsian HR and Barnard ND. Effects of plant-based diets on plasma lipids. Am J Cardiol 2009;104:947-56. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  9. Steck SE, et al. Index-based dietary patterns and colorectal cancer risk: A systematic review. Adv Nutr 2015;6:763–73. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  10. Orlich MJ, et al. Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med 2013;173(13): 1230–38. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  11. Nelson M, et al. Alignment of healthy dietary patterns and environmental sustainability: A systematic review. Advances in Nutrition 2016;7(6):1005–25. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  12. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Part D. Chapter 5: Food sustainability and safety. 2015. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  13. Baroni L, et al. Total environmental impact of three main dietary patterns in relation to the content of animal and plant food. Foods 2014;3:443-60. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  14. Pimentel D and Pimentel M. Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. 2013. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  15. US Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Eighth edition. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  16. Statistics Canada. Measured adult body mass index (BMI) (World Health Organization classification), by age group and sex, Canada and provinces, Canadian community health survey – nutrition. 2015. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  17. Satija A, et al. Plant-based dietary patterns and incidence of Type 2 diabetes in US men and women: Results from three prospective cohort studies. PLoS Med 2016;13(6): e1002039. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  18.  Alexander S, et al. A plant-based diet and hypertension. J Ger Cardiol 2017;14: 327-30. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  19. Dinu M et al. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Crit Rev Food Sci Nut 2017;57(17). Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  20. Rizzo NS, et al. Vegetarian dietary patterns are associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome - The adventist health study 2. 2011. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  21. Health Canada. Canada’s food guide consultation phase II. 2018. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  22. American College of Cardiology (ACC)/American Heart Association (AHA). 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014;63(25):2960-84. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  23. Anderson TJ, et al. 2016 Canadian Cardiovascular Society Guidelines for the management of dyslipidemia for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in the adult. Can J Cardiol 2016;32:1263e1282. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  24. Food and Drug Administration. Interactive nutrition facts label – protein. 2019. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
  25. HealthLink BC. Quick nutrition check for protein. 2015. Sourced Dec 4, 2019.
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