3 Common Plant-Based Eating Questions

by Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Last Updated: April 19, 2021

Curiosity surrounding plant-based eating continues to gain traction for its anticipated benefits to our health as well as the planet. Plant-centered eating has also spurred on fresh ideas in new product innovation, with exciting novel plant-based products landing each week on grocery store shelves. Along with general plant-based nutrition, interest comes unique questions regarding the best sources of antioxidants, supplementing while pregnant and vegetarian, as well as whether it’s still okay to include dairy in our diets. Here, we set the record straight with answers to these specific plant-based questions.
  1. A lot of articles and media stress the importance of antioxidants. Can you tell me more about why I need them and the best ways to get them?
    Antioxidants combat oxidative stress from our environment and body processes, which can damage cells and are linked to inflammation. Some of the most common antioxidants are vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A). You can ensure you are getting adequate amounts of these antioxidants through a plant-centric diet inclusive of healthy fats (like avocados, nuts, seeds, and peanut butter), citrus, peppers, green vegetables, and orange or red-colored produce.
  2. I am pregnant and a vegetarian. Could you recommend nutrients or supplements that I should be taking?
    Whether omnivore or herbivore, most nutrient needs increase for mom by about 1/3 when there is a little one on the way. The vitamin folate should receive extra attention in any expectant momma’s diet as folate has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in fetal development. Insider tip: a way to remember where you can find this nutrient is knowing the root word is “foliage” (leafy plants!), but it is also abundant in beans, peas, oranges, and fortified foods/supplements.

    However, vegetarian (including vegan) mothers want to also be sure to hit the mark for zinc, iodine, choline, iron, protein, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fats. Specifically, daily iron intake needs make a big leap from 18 milligrams to about 48 milligrams, while omega-3 fats from chia seeds, flax, or algal oil supplements should make a regular appearance in your food & supplement routine. Vitamin B12 is always a consideration in vegetarianism as vitamin B12 is not found inherently in plant foods.
  3. I love dairy, cow’s milk, and cheese, but there are so many mixed messages on it being good or bad for me. Is it all about moderation?
    You had me at “moderation.” Yes, just like many food decisions we make, having a balance of different nutrients and food groups makes all the difference. A healthy eating pattern can include dairy products. However, there is good evidence pointing towards more low-fat (3 grams of fat or less per serving) rather than high-fat versions of our favorite dairy-based items like fluid milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurts in the quest for optimal health. Strive for about three servings per day of low-fat dairy or calcium-fortified soy alternatives like soy milk or soy yogurt. Look for options with twenty-five percent or more calcium per serving and at least five grams of protein per serving.

This additional guidance about an antioxidant-rich eating pattern, vegetarian pregnancy nutrition, and how to best include dairy products in a more plant-centered eating style should build on your confidence in plant-based nutrition. For more customized support for your personal nutrition needs, meeting virtually 1:1 with a Kroger Health dietitian is free as a service to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us help you be and stay well! Book your visit with one of our expert dietitians here.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Molly can help you simplify eating, all while building excitement around good food and freeing up time for all the things that really matter in your life. With a knack for food labeling and regulations, weight management, food intolerances, and plant-based eating, Molly is ready to help you make sense of food again. When not on the clock, Molly can be found hip-hop dancing, cuddling up with her two mischievous cats, playing trombone, or honing in on her food photography skills.